AARP’s RealPad vs. the iPad: My Senior Moment


My Aunt Byrdona emailed me the other day. “I want to get this tablet,” she wrote. “What do you think?” I clicked the link she’d pasted and there it was, AARP’s RealPad, a tablet for seniors. The price was $149, about a third of an entry level iPad. It’s Android-based, and as Aunt Byrdona pointed out, they offered “24/7 phone help.”

My father-in-law got himself an iPad last summer, and I had high hopes that it might help alleviate his frustration with the computer. I’d seen him using his laptop, and his work style was very animated, incorporating lots of jerky movements, wincing, loud swearing, slapping of the table, and an anguished expression that seemed to say, “I’d rather be waterboarded with rat piss than set up a Gmail account.”

The thing he liked most about the iPad was Siri. He just had to hold down the big button at the bottom of the screen and ask a question. Siri would find the answer. “Siri,” he would say, “how many times can I wear a pair of skivvies before I have to wash them? Siri, who is Kanye West and why is everybody mad at him? Siri, where did I put that bottle of Ginkgo Biloba?”

Byrdona wanted my opinion of the AARP device, so I did a little online research. Unable to stop myself from lobbying for Apple, I told her that the iPad, while more expensive, also offers free 24/7 tech support for the life of the device. “They do?” she asked.

“Yeah. You’re talking to him.”


I told my son I was ready for a tablet. He brought me this. Photo by © Jamstock |

Like many people, she was somewhat intimidated by the iPad’s busy user interface and complex settings scheme. I wanted to see firsthand how the RealPad performed, so I ordered a risk-free trial and checked it out myself.

It does not have Siri, but it has something called Shirley. You push a big button and say, “Hi, Shirley,” and an elderly woman’s voice says, “Hi, Shirley? You don’t call for three weeks and all you’ve got to say is ‘hi, Shirley’?”

“Um, sorry. I’ll try to call more often.”


“Shirley, can you give me directions to Gull Boats in Missoula?”

“Are you buying a boat? Honey, I told you those things are just a big waste of money. Your Uncle Hi had a boat, bless his heart. That’s why your cousin had to go to a community college. If you have to go out on the water, you know you can rent a boat? It’s a lot cheaper, and you can use the money you save to buy some decent clothes for those kids. And don’t forget to wear a life jacket. I read on AOL that 88% of people who drown in the ocean weren’t wearing life jackets. Did I tell you that Tammy, the woman who does my hair, her son Kenny got a job on a fishing boat in Alaska? Can you believe that? You couldn’t get me out on one of those boats in that sea. No sir. Did you ever see that movie The Big Wave or The Big Storm or something? You don’t want a boat.”

This was definitely not Siri. “Um, I’ll just use my GPS, Shirley. Hey, what time is the playoff game tonight?”

“The Milwaukee Bucks are playing the Chicago Bulls at 7:00 Eastern in Chicago. Why do those basketball players have to beat their wives up like they do? That one player from the Tom Brady team, did you know he was found guilty of murder? I wonder if Tom Brady beats up his wife. He seems like such a nice boy.”

“Shirley, can you find me a recipe for pot brownies?”

“Oh, don’t make a snack right now. You’re going to spoil your appetite. I’m making liver and onions for dinner.”

“Shirley, I hate liver and onions.”

“Oh, but it’s chock full of nutritious nutrition. Calves’ liver contains lot of vitamin B-12 and amino acids. Plus iron. There’s plenty of iron. And protein.”

“Whatever. Shirley, do a web search for me. The keywords are hot naked Eskimo cheerleaders.”

“Oh, that’s nasty. I’m not going to do that. You know the government is reading all your email, right, mister man? Speaking of email, I just hate that Hillary Clinton. I just do not trust that woman. You know who I like? That Ellen. She is a hoot! It would be fun to have two First Ladies in the White House. I guess it’s good that we got a colored man elected, but we need to get back to a regular president now, like Mitt Romney. He’s so handsome.”

I gave up on Shirley. I navigated through the settings, which featured large buttons with simple, obvious icons. The Maps icon, for instance, featured a Bass shoe stepping on the gas pedal of a Buick LeSabre. The app determined my location and produced two routes: one to the pharmacy, and one to the surgical supply store.

The calendar function was simple and clean, and I found it pretty easy to add events and reminders. Oddly, the calendar had a permanent reminder embedded at the bottom of each day’s pane: Call Your Mother.

Navigating the Web was simple, but I found the autofill feature to be kind of pushy. I started to type in a Google search for “Adult Comedy Movies on Netflix” and the tablet filled it in with “Adult Diapers.” When I tried to type “Movies With Kristin Wiig,” it completed the phrase with “Movies by that one actor I like. What’s his name?”

At one point the OS got hung up and I stabbed at an icon several times with no result. Shirley piped up: “Don’t pick at it. It will never heal.”

The RealPad has its own music app, but when I tried to load anything that wasn’t Perry Como or pre-Army Elvis, a failure message appeared while Shirley’s voice said, “You call that music? That’s just noise.”

The RealPad’s photo app is something called GrammyGram, which plays an audio clip of Shirley saying “Aw,” every time a photo is uploaded. It has only four filters: New Baby, High School Graduation, Wedding, and Cat Wearing a Tiny Santa Hat.

I slid the RealPad into its return envelope and composed an email to my aunt. “Go for it, Aunt Byrdona. It’s perfect for you.”

“Oh, good,” she wrote back. “I’ve already ordered one. I wish you lived closer so you could come over for dinner tonight. I’m making your favorite, liver and onions.”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

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