Dear Savvy Senior: Can you recommend some simple devices that can help tech-challenged seniors with video calls? My 80-year-old mother has been isolating herself for months now in fear of the coronavirus, and I haven’t been able to see her face-to-face in quite a while. — Concerned Daughter
Dear Concerned: Video chatting is a great way to stay connected and keep tabs on an elder parent when you can’t be there, but it’s even more important now during this pandemic as many isolated seniors are also suffering from chronic loneliness.
To help connect you and your mom virtually, there are various products on the market that offer simple video calling for seniors who have limited ability or experience with technology. Here are four devices to consider.
>> GrandPad: This is a top option for simple video calling, and much more. The GrandPad is an 8-inch tablet specifically designed for seniors ages 75 and older. It comes with a stylus, a charging cradle and 4G LTE built in so it works anywhere within the Consumer Cellular network — home Wi-Fi is not required.
Ready to go right out of the box, GrandPad provides a simplified menu of big icons and large text for only essential features, providing clutter-free, one-touch access to make and receive video calls, send voice emails, view photos and videos, listen to personalized music, check the weather, play games, browse the internet and more.
A GrandPad tablet costs $250 plus a $40 monthly service fee and is sold through Consumer Cellular, or call 888-545-1425.
>> Amazon’s Echo Show: With its built-in camera and screen, the voice-command Echo Show also provides a simple way to have face-to-face chats with your mom, but she’ll need home Wi-Fi installed.
Echo Shows, which come in three screen sizes — 5-inch ($90), 8-inch ($130) and 10-inch ($230) — will let your mom make and receive video calls to those who have their own device or who have the Alexa app installed on their smartphone or tablet.
Once you set up her contacts, to make a call your mom could simply say, “Alexa, call my daughter.” And when you call her, she would ask Alexa to answer the call (or ignore it). There’s also a feature called “drop-in” that would let you video-call your mom’s device anytime without her having to answer it.
Available at Amazon.com, the Echo Show also offers thousands of other features your mom would enjoy, like voice-activated access to news, weather, her favorite music and much more.
If you decide to order an Echo Show device for mom, be sure your ask Amazon to mark it as a gift so it doesn’t get tied to your Amazon account. For instructions to help your mom set it up, or if she doesn’t have a smartphone, go here and type in “Help Loved Ones Set Up Their Echo Show Remotely” in the “find more solutions” bar.
>> ViewClix: This is a smart picture frame specifically designed for seniors that lets family members make video calls, send photos and post virtual sticky notes with messages to their loved ones’ ViewClix from their smartphone, tablet or computer. Seniors, however, cannot initiate video calls from their ViewClix. Home Wi-Fi is also required.
Available in two sizes: 10-inch for $199 and 15-inch for $299. You can learn more about this product here.
>> Facebook Portal: If your mom is a Facebook user, a voice-command Facebook Portal is another simple way to stay connected — home Wi-Fi is needed.
Portals come in three sizes — the original 10-inch Portal ($179), the 8-inch Mini ($129) and the massive 15-1/2-inch Portal Plus ($279) — and are like Echo Shows, except they connect through Facebook. With a Portal your mom can video-call your smartphone or tablet (and vice versa) using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.