Don't spend $1,118 on that $300 computer for grandpa

Elderly woman using a computerThere are cell phones and computer tech support for the elderly, and now a computer designed for grandparents -- the GO Computer that is clearly aimed at Baby Boomers and the elderly who don't know much about computers and are willing to pay a lot extra for help.

But at $879 for the computer and a required monthly plan of $19.95 for tech support -- adding up to $1,118.40 for the first year -- it's a lot more expensive than buying grandpa a computer and showing him how it works. A similar computer can easily be found for less than $300. The large and color-coded GO Computer keyboard, simple interface and large screen -- which are common in many products aimed at the elderly -- might be worth a few extra bucks, but not what this computer goes for.
If a 100-year-old woman with glaucoma can learn within minutes how to use the iPad, which cost $499 for a Wi-Fi model, then learning how to use a cheaper desktop or laptop computer should be easy.

The good thing about the GO Computer -- if you're willing to fork over $879 for it and pay $19.95 a month for tech support, or $239.40 per year -- is that it uses cloud computing, where your information is stored on its servers. It doesn't need much memory, the company points out, because your photos, e-mail and everything else you want to store are on its servers should your computer crash.

Adding the mandatory tech support, the GO Computer costs $239.40 per year to run after the first year. The computer only works with the tech support service because the cloud computing keeps files off the computer hard drive and on the company's servers, Bob Myers, senior director of merchandising at First Street, which markets the computers, told me in a telephone interview.

"The hardware that's with the system is almost irrelevant," Myers said.

The computer costs so much because years of developing it with the help of seniors, the cloud computing and the unique interface included, he said. And buying your own computer and hooking it up to Go Computer's cloud won't work because the interface is different, Myers said.

The interface has many features seniors want, he said, including software that lets users zoom in on something and still have good resolution. Anyone can hit Control and the + key on a Windows computer to increase the screen size, but the resolution is lost, Myers said.

Its customer-service support plan offers phone support from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. What, they think seniors aren't up after 7 p.m. and don't use their computers on weekends? Although that's not as bad as the FloH Club, started by Florence Henderson, which offers phone assistance for $250 a year from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern time, leaving anyone with a question in the afternoon having to wait until early the next morning.

But what should really set you back from buying the GO Computer is the price. The computer it sells for $879 doesn't have much power, although not much is needed with cloud computing. It has:
  • Intel Atom N270 Processor
  • 1 GB Ram
  • 160G Hard drive
  • 4 USB Slots
  • Built-in Wireless
  • Built-in speakers
Acer sells a similar laptop on Amazon for less than $300, although not all of the customer reviews were stellar. A notebook computer or one with the specs at or better than the GO Computer can be found for $300 or so easily online, and many will include a webcam that isn't included in the GO Computer. After all, isn't that what grandparents would use a computer for beyond e-mail and reading, to Skype with the grandchildren?

As for paying $240 a year for tech support and being able to return the computer if the hardware breaks, that's a good deal when compared to taking it in for repair. But for $10 more per year, Florence Henderson's company could talk you through a lot more computer problems on the $300 laptop.

Or don't buy the Go Computer or any tech support and buy another laptop in a year with the money you saved by not having tech support on your new $300 laptop. That's the best deal: a new laptop every year for not buying any of these computers or tech support services aimed at the elderly.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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