Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How should I equip my older parents with a smartphone and tablet?” was written by , for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th November 2014 17.11 UTC

My parents are in their mid-70s and over the past decade or so have become comfortable with email, Skype and general use of desktop computers. They are now keen to get to grips with mobile computing — a tablet for emails and Skype when they travel and perhaps at home when they are less mobile. We have identified the iPad Air (Wi-Fi) as likely to provide the best balance between usefulness and cost for them.

They are also keen to be able to use a smartphone to check bus and train times. My mum does quite a lot of texting on her current phone and they are not keen on fiddly touch screens. They will want something that they can get with a reasonably cheap contract to use by itself as well as acting as a hotspot for the iPad so they can use that on longer train journeys etc. Matt

The first problem is that, as far as I know, nobody offers a smartphone that is suitable for seniors, except the Fujitsu Stylistic S01. There’s nothing like the Emporia Click or the Doro PhoneEasy 632, if you need that sort of thing. There are apps that simplify smartphones for seniors, including Doro Experience, but I expect your parents can manage a standard smartphone. If so, it doesn’t really matter which one they buy. In fact, for ease of learning, it would be better to get the same kind of phone as the tablet.

You haven’t mentioned a budget, but you will know that an all-Apple system is going to be the most expensive solution. The minimum price for a viable iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi and 64GB of storage is £479 (because 16GB isn’t really enough, given the increasing size of iOS, and you can’t add storage via the microSD slot that it lacks). An unlocked iPhone 6 with 64GB of storage would be another £619, bringing the total price to £1,098.

If your parents don’t have much spare cash, they could get a pair of devices running Google Android or Microsoft Windows 8.1 for a third of the price. They wouldn’t have such high-resolution screens, and neither ecosystem can compete with Apple in offering such a large selection of high quality tablet-specific software. However, both can do what most people want most of the time.

Tethering

On top of the hardware price, your parents may have to budget perhaps £15-£20 a month for voice and data services, but they can probably drop an existing phone contract that costs roughly as much, if not more. However, they will have to be careful with their choice of supplier. It’s not always clear which services allow “tethering” – ie using a smartphone to create a small Wi-Fi hotspot – and how much data is allowed. (See my earlier answer: Can I use a phone as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot?)

Mobile phone networks are having problems because they sold “unlimited” contracts, only to find people used them to watch movies on Netflix or chat for hours on Skype. In other words, they were consuming a month’s worth of the bandwidth normally needed for email, Facebook etc in two hours or less. Mobile phone bandwidth is expensive and the supply is finite, so contracts may now cap tethering use at 2GB a month, unless you pay extra. (Earlier this year, 3 was probably the last to go: it stopped unlimited tethering on new One Plan contracts and introduced a 2GB cap.)

Suppliers may also “throttle” tethering at various times, according to the amount of bandwidth available. For example, 3 is explicit about the use of your “Personal Hotspot”. Its contracts allow tethering for up to 2GB of data, but traffic is “managed” at certain times, “for example, between 3pm and 12 midnight”, using TrafficSense. “We just manage it at times when it affects other people trying to use our network,” says 3.

Try to make tethering an explicit condition of the sale – get it in writing, if you can! – so that you can resort to the Sale of Goods Act if necessary.

If tethering is important, the best deals are usually “sim only”, and according to an article at cable.co.uk — What’s the best mobile network provider for tethering? – 3 is Top Dog and the rest are also-rans. Its current deals, which have replaced One Plan, are All-You-Can-Eat Data Plans that start at £7 per month. There are AYCE deals at £10 a month (1GB of data and 600 minutes, or 2GB and 200 minutes), which may suit your parents. If you buy an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, compare the options against the £15/month deals on Apple’s website.

Alternatives

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the mobile market move towards phablets with 5in and larger screens. This was led by Samsung and the Chinese Android handset suppliers, followed by Nokia with models such as the 5in Lumia 930 and 6in Lumia 1320 and 1520. The iPhone 6 (4.7in screen) and iPhone 6 Plus (5.5in) are Apple’s response to this trend. Today, you can get Android phones with 7in screens, such as the Star UleFone U7, which is a bigger screen than some tablets.

The question for your parents is whether a big-screen phone would mean they didn’t need a tablet at all, or if they did, would never need to take it out of range of their home Wi-Fi. A big-enough phone screen – which could well include the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus –would remove the need for tethering altogether.

For completeness: the other alternative to tethering is to carry your own mobile hotspot, such a 3 Mifi. There are cases where a Mifi makes sense (I use one), but I don’t think it’s the right solution for your parents.

Of course, if the UK were run by rational people, there would be very little need for tethering. All buses, trains and planes would offer fast, free 802.11 Wi-Fi, and this would provide a much bigger boost to national productivity than spending £50bn building a slightly faster railway line between London and Birmingham. There’s even a cheap way to provide city- or even county-wide wireless access using the 802.16 standard, otherwise known as Wimax. However, this wouldn’t make pots of money for the mobile network carriers.

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