Smart Buying

Retirees, Get Ready for Virtual Video Visits for the Holidays

Tap into virtual video software, age-friendly gadgets, video apps and accessories to make seasonal gatherings safe.

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be a holiday grinch this year. If you decide to play it safe and celebrate with virtual visits, there are plenty of age-friendly gadgets and accessories to help you do it.

By now, most people are used to virtual visits. “It became a part of my life, seeing people in two dimensions instead of three,” says Charles Heller of Annapolis, Md. The 84-year-old author has three grandchildren and serves on several boards. To stay connected, he uses his desktop and the video chat app GoToMeeting

For older users, finding the right device often involves accommodating physical difficulties such as hearing loss, reduced vision or digital dexterity. Small text is not the only challenge. It’s “behaviors, like swiping and tapping or knowing the difference between a tap and a long press,” says Sara Silver, founder of Computer Companion in Northbrook, Ill., which helps older adults master technology. 

Still, “clients are doing so much more with their iPhone,” Silver notes. According to an AARP survey, 86% of Americans age 50 to 59 own one, dropping to 81% for 60-somethings and 62% for those 70-plus.

If you want a simpler alternative to Apple’s iPhone with larger fonts, GreatCall specializes in tech devices for older adults and sells the Prepaid Jitterbug Smartphone 2 for $75. Its ease of use and well-spaced keypad drew praise from PCMag but also low marks for the camera, speaker volume and overall speed. 

But don’t snub Apple products, as you may be surprised by some of their age-friendly features. For better visibility, you can adjust font, cursor size and screen contrast. The VoiceOver feature translates the content on the screen into audio and, under Apple’s newest operating system, iOS 14, even describes images. 

Accessories like strong speakers and quality headphones can also help. Heller says his wife, who is hard of hearing, struggled at first with virtual get-togethers, so he bought her a pair of Bose headphones—problem solved. If you or your loved one could use an upgrade of some of the basics, consider these products:  

Noise-canceling headphones. Bose tops Consumer Reports ratings with its Quiet Comfort 35 Series II and 700 models ($350-$400). The magazine’s cheaper recommendations include Bose Quiet Comfort ($200), JBL 650BTNC ($150-$200) and Monoprice BT-300ANC ($50).

Mouse. Arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome can make scrolling painful. Scott Grant, founder of Graying with Grace, recommends buying a mouse that does not need a tight grip. A mouse with a trackball may be a better bet, he says, if it does not require curling a finger. His suggestions: Kensington Expert Wireless Trackball ($85), Sanwa Bluetooth Vertical ($25) or Adesso Easy Cat 2 Button Touchpad ($50)

Speakers. Look for portability, range and sound quality. Among lower-priced options, Denon HEOS 5 HS2 ($350) and Sonos One SL ($180) offer good sound and WiFi connection, finds Consumer Reports

Webcam. If your onscreen image makes you look like someone in witness protection, you probably need a better webcam. One with high marks is Logitech 920S, which sells for under $100. 

Although AARP rates Facetime as the easiest video app to use, it only works on Apple products, whereas Skype, Zoom and GoToMeeting work on any device. Most are free with some restrictions.

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