Q: My mother is going into hospital for a while. Do you have advice on any easy-to-use technology that might help keep her entertained? She can use a smartphone but her eyesight is not great, nor is her hearing. Any recommendations?
A: Yes: a Netflix subscription, a 10-inch tablet and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Netflix now has lots of genuinely good box sets and movies, easily enough for weeks of distraction.
The Netflix subscription will cost €7.99 per month for a single-screen licence. If you already have an account yourself (the regular two-screen option that most families have costs €10.99 per month) then she can simply use your account by logging in with your password.
As for the tablet, a standard 10-inch iPad (with 32GB of storage) costs €400. If this seems a little steep, I'd recommend either Samsung's Galaxy Tab A (€219 from Argos) or the Asus Zenpad Z300 (€150 from PC World), both of which have 16GB of storage memory. I'd specifically avoid getting something ultra-budget, like an Amazon Fire tablet (€70). I'd also caution against getting a smaller tablet - while this size is fine for kids and young people, with their near-perfect eyesight, it's a lot more challenging for pensioners.
If the hospital has no Wi-Fi, you might also need a mobile broadband gadget or dongle with a mobile SIM card. All operators offer this (at around €15 per month plus the cost of the dongle, which is around €50). Make sure if you're getting it with Netflix in mind that the monthly data capacity is at least 60GB. Also, before choosing the SIM card, make sure that this particular operator's coverage is strong in the actual room your mother is going to be in. (You can do this just by checking the room with a phone that uses the same operator. Download a free app called Speedtest by Ookla and tap on it. It will tell you what the mobile broadband speed is on the network. Anything over 6Mbs is fine for using Netflix.)
If getting your own Wi-Fi connection seems like a gadget or an expense too far, another option is to download a whole bunch of movies or TV programmes from Netflix on to the tablet that can be viewed whether it's connected to Wi-Fi or not. You can either do this while you're there in the hospital (using your own phone's mobile hotspot, though again make sure that you have enough monthly data to do this) or from your home Wi-Fi before going in to visit. Netflix now lets you download content as well as streaming it. Here again, though, bear in mind the tablet's storage capacity. An hour-long episode takes up around 0.7GB of storage. So if you want to download a 10-episode season, you'll need around 7GB of spare storage capacity. That should be no problem on any modern budget tablet, which comes with a bare minimum of 16GB (and usually 32GB) of storage.
Netflix, incidentally, isn't the only service that now offers downloads of popular TV series and films. If you have a Sky Movies or Sky Atlantic subscription, you can download the Sky Go app to your mother's tablet and either stream the content or download it temporarily to the device. Obviously, there's also iTunes, although that's a much more expensive way of doing it, with downloads usually costing between €5 and €15 per individual movie.
To watch the movies or TV series, it's preferable to have earphones or headphones. A bonus would be to get your mother noise-cancelling headphones. These start at around €60 in any of the big electronics stores: Philips has a budget pair (SHL3850) for €55 at PC World. The advantage to them is that they block out noise even when you're not listening to a programme.
Recommendation: Samsung Tablet A and Philips SHL3850 headphones
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