A week-long visit to New York City is coming to a close. I’m here because it was my mom’s 93rd birthday this week.
My mother’s relationship with technology is unique. When people hear that a 93 year old woman has a computer, does email and is on Facebook, they assume that she must be some kind of tech wizard – and perhaps it’s true for someone her age. But in the 20 years she’s had a computer, she actually has learned very little about how it operates. She can bring up a browser and click the right buttons to look at email, Facebook and Amazon. But she has no idea of how to do a web search, doesn’t know how to forward an email (or find any email that has dropped down from the first page) and doesn’t know what cut-and-paste is. She’s still on Windows XP and uses an older version of IE. Be that as it may, she gets by.
However, at 93 years old, her eyesight is failing and she gets tired very quickly. She has trouble seeing the computer monitor and also no longer wants to sit in a chair in front of the monitor. While that might seem to suggest a laptop, that didn’t seem like a solution to me. For her, even the MacBook Air would be a heavy thing to hold on her lap and the heat would really get to her, not to mention the expense. So a tablet computer would be the way to go.
As an Apple fanboy, you’d think that I would naturally suggest an iPad for her. But I didn’t. I got her the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX with the 8.9 inch screen. Why did I make this choice? It’s very simple. I can be anywhere in the world and log into Amazon using her account and obtain content for her that will automatically appear on the Amazon device without her having to do a thing. Whether she wants a movie or a game or a book, I can do it for her.
We went for the 8.9 inch version, significantly more expensive than the 7 inch version, because she tried the 7 inch one in a shop and it was just too small for her.
There is one other thing that Amazon offers that I don’t think any other tablet maker has. You can hit the “help” icon and then click on a yellow button and you will get a live person talking to you and showing you things right on your screen. Amazon says that their staff can view the screen but not access the camera to view the person. They also say that the average wait time after pushing the yellow button until you get to a live person is 15 seconds. So far we have not tested this feature out.
She’s had it for two days now. I’ve installed Skype and Facebook and a few other odds and ends. The screen is beautifully clear (resolution is said to be just a hair less than the iPad’s retina display) and speed of opening and running apps seems good. The OS is Android, with some extensions from Amazon, and it seems to work pretty smoothly. I think Amazon has come up with a really good device here.
There are just a few issues that I want to highlight. The first is Amazon’s elegant hardware design. There are just 3 buttons for this thing – a power on/off button and two buttons for volume control. These are on the rear of the device, small with tiny white icons and very flush against the rest of the back. Basically this means that my mother can’t see them. And when I tried to teach her to slide her fingers down the back of the tablet until she felt them, that doesn’t seem to work too well either. Finally I put two small pieces of white masking tape along the top and bottom of the power button and that seems to have solved that. She’s going to have a hard time seeing where to plug in the micro-USB cable to charge the device but one of the two pieces of tape is right by the charging port so I hope she will be able to work that out.
The second is that while you can resize most things on the screen, you can’t resize the navigation icons. There’s a tiny white house for “home” and a tiny white “back” arrow key and they remain tiny no matter what you do. Once I get home I will have to search through Amazon’s app store and see if they have any accessibility apps that help with this.
I think/hope that this will work out for her.
My other new gadget is one for myself, the Jawbone UP24 fitness tracker.
I’d previously had the Nike Fuel (which I got as a gift) and stopped using it after a month or so because I wasn’t finding it very useful. The Jawbone seemed like it would be useful because it tracks sleep as well as fitness. I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea and I don’t use my CPAP machine. I knew that this probably wouldn’t be able to show exactly how the OSA is impacting my sleep (the last time I did a test in a sleep center, it showed I was waking up approximately 50 times per hour; those events are too brief for the UP24 to notice) but I was curious to see what this could show me. Also I have gained a bit of weight in the past 6 months and I know I need to lose that and I hope that this can help me with that.
After about a week with this, I’m liking it, with some reservations. The nicest thing is that the UP24 has bluetooth and is constantly connected to my iPhone as long as the phone is in range. I don’t have to take any action to sync it with the phone app.
The Jawbone app is much better in many ways than Nike’s app. Nike has this concept of “Nike fuel” and they don’t explain how that relates to anything in the real world. Jawbone stays away from such silliness. Jawbone also has an app store with a few additional apps and I expect that the device will become even more useful with iOS 8. The device has no screen of its own, unlike the Nike Fuel, just two LEDs to show status. All of the display is on your phone app.
In terms of day time use, this thing basically counts footsteps. You input your height and weight and age and it tells you approximate calories burned. But I don’t know if it can measure the difference between walking up hill or down hill. There’s no way it can know if you are walking empty-handed or carrying a 20 pound bag in your arms. And it presumably can’t tell the difference for a one mile hike in 20 degree C/50% humidity vs. 35 degree/90% humidity. You can input some of what you eat during the day to get a comparison of calories consumed vs calories burned.
The other issue I’m having with it is that you have to push a button to let it know you’re sleeping. And then it automatically makes a guess as to when you wake up. So for example, last night I went to bed at 11:30 and pushed the button. It shows me how long I took to fall asleep and how much was “light” sleep vs. deeper R.E.M. sleep. But I woke up to go to the toilet around 2:30 AM, forgot to push the button when I lay down again, and as a result it “thinks” I only had 3 hours of sleep last night.
Over all, I find this a very well thought out device. The reviews all seem to suggest that wearable tech is very flawed but that the UP24 is the best of a flawed bunch. I think it’s definitely better than the Nike Fuel.
The true test of the Jawbone UP24 will be a long term one. Once the novelty of having this wears off, will I still continue to use it? That will depend on whether or not I’m finding the information it provides useful.
Anyway, my NYC visit comes to an end today. Naturally last night was the first night in which I went to sleep at a normal time and slept for 7 hours, more or less. So I’m finally in the NYC time zone exactly when it’s time for me to return to Hong Kong, so I get to be a wreck for a few days after I get home. Oh joy.