Technow: Smart device brings access to all areas for elderly users

Irish company Cliffrun Media has released a smart tablet which is easy to use for older people, says Noel Campion

Acorn Smart Tablet from Cliffrun Media is designed to make digital engagement easier and more accessible for older people.
Acorn Smart Tablet from Cliffrun Media is designed to make digital engagement easier and more accessible for older people.

I know people in their 80s who use the latest tech including smartphones, smart home devices and tablets. However, not everyone is tech-savvy and an Irish company Cliffrun Media, is a solutions company focused on supporting independent living at home and within the community.

I’ve been testing the Acorn Smart Tablet, which is designed to make digital engagement easier and more accessible for older people. The 10.1-inch Acorn tablet is the result of more than three years of research and development by Cliffrun Media.

Acorn has been trialled and tested through a pilot study which was carried out among 95 participants living in rural and urban areas nationwide. The study was led by Age Friendly Ireland in collaboration with the tablet’s creator and three local authority partners. The study showed significant increases in the utilisation of the smart tablet, with daily usage becoming commonplace for 70% of participants.

An independent review of this study was subsequently carried out by National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and it found a significant decrease in computer anxiety among Acorn users and highlighted the key role the Acorn tablet can play in supporting the engagement of older people with services, the local community and society.

The real power behind the Acorn tablet is the software that runs on what is otherwise a standard tablet with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Critically, it does come with the hardware to use a 4G SIM and therefore you don’t need to have broadband to get online although, it does have wifi as well. If you need to use the 4G, you can subscribe to a plan for €15 per month that includes 10GB of data and phone support.

There’s a one-year commitment to this plan, but you can cancel anytime after the first year. If you have broadband and wifi then you won’t need this.

The Acorn uses the Google Android operating system with the Acorn software skin on top. This transforms the user experience to allow those who would otherwise find the technology too challenging more accessible.

The home screen has five large icons for calendar, photos, talk, explore and in the centre, date and weather. Click on say the calendar and you’ll see five tabs for the main Calendar, Public Events, My Events and Create Events.

Visually, everything is clear, with large text and it’s designed in such a way to make it easy to see items. Explore includes My Interests, which is shortcuts to your apps and these can be added to. Suggested Apps are categorised into Finance, Games, Health, Life, Local Services, Music, News, Public Services, Radio TV Film, Social Media, Sport, Transport, User Experience, Utilities and Work. For example, you’ll find all the major Irish Banking apps under Finance, Breaking News under News, Solitaire, Lottery Ireland or Sudoku in the Games category.

The Local Content tab shows a map of Ireland and all the counties and when you click on a county you should see local content information for that county. Unfortunately, I could only see information in a few counties, but I’m sure this will be updated in time to include more.

Tapping the Talk icon on the home screen will bring you to Contacts, Call, Message and Email. In here you can create new contacts and send them invites to use the free Acorn companion app, available for Android and iOS. The app allows you to make video and audio calls, over an internet connection, to an Acorn tablet. The companion app can offer more features including the ability to check the tablets last know location, last time it was active and the battery level. It can send the Acorn user reminders of upcoming events and add logs to keep track of everything that can be accessed by all Full Companions connected to the Acorn.

With the Companion App Full, instead of just recommending an app for your loved one to install you can go straight ahead and download it onto the Acorn for them; however, there is a small catch, if you want the full version of the Companion App you’ll have to pay €2 per month.

In addition, the tablet features a customisable news feed, which can be tailored to include updates from local, national and international media.

I was especially impressed with the dedicated help section on the Acorn tablet, which has more than 30 tutorial videos, allowing users to familiarise themselves with all of the tablet’s features and learn at their own pace. These videos are professionally done, providing clear and concise instructions on how to use most aspects of the Acorn.

Overall, there’s a lot I love about this age-friendly smart tablet. However, the battery life isn’t great requiring regular charging and it uses a micro-USB port, which isn’t as easy to plug in for charging as the newer USB-C cable. The screen is plenty big and bright with vibrant colours making it great for browsing the web, watching Netflix, checking your emails or catching up on the latest news.

- Available now from myacorn.ie/acorn-shop for €260 for the tablet, €15 for a protective case, €18 for the active stylus and €3 for a stand.

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