UPDATE: We have published an updated version of this article, which you can find here.
Finding the right technology to keep our aging parents connect to family members and friends can be daunting. Luckily there are more solutions available now than ever before. From general solutions like the Facebook Portal and Alexa family of products, to very specific and focused products like the ONSCREEN Spark and the No Isolation Komp, you can be confident that the right video calling or video chatting solution for your seniors can be found.
This article will dig into the various options available as of April 2022, with up to date information of the strengths and weaknesses of each product. We will be covering:
- ONSCREEN Spark
- Komp from No Isolation
- ViewClix Smart Frame
- Facebook Portal
- Amazon Echo Show
- Google Nest Hub Max
So lets get started!
We will start this article with the product that we know best – our own. But please don’t hesitate to scroll down and read the unbiased coverage of the mane other products we’ve identified.
Founded during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, ONSCREEN, Inc. is on a mission to help family caregivers ensure a high quality of life for their beloved older family members, using innovative cloud and AI-based technology, paired with comfortable and accessible home technologies. The company’s first product, the Spark, is a TV set-top-box that turns most televisions into powerful communication devices that allows seniors to see their family and stay in touch in life-size, high quality video.
Seniors can call their family members, receive calls and even join Zoom meetings, directly from their TV. If they’re initiating the call, they can use the ONSCREEN app on an iOS or Android Smartphone or Tablet, using a feature called “Easy Mode” where the UI in the app is completely simplified. If they’re receiving a call, the system can automatically answer the call if needed.
The ONSCREEN Spark’s capabilities are:
- High quality video calls on the TV
- Set up “Favorites” which are family members for easy calling and receiving of calls
- Auto-Answer option for when Favorites call
- Auto-Answer schedule to set the times of day when the Senior is accepting these calls
- Zoom meeting join capability, accessible from calendar invitations
- Zoom start meeting capability
- New: Daily Update feature allows Senior to record a video message for the family
- Easy wifi setup using QR code
The company is based in Orange County, California and is currently funded by angel investors, with ambitious growth plans.
- $19.99 / month
- $29.99 Activation Fee
- 30-day trial before subscription starts
- Lets seniors use their TVs and have a large screen video calling experience
- Automatically turns TV on and switches to the call, and then switches back to previous source once call is ended
- Supports both video calls and Zoom group calls
- Very affordable and easy to get started
- TVs must support HDMI-CEC so it may not work with older TVs.
- Might be hard to install if the TV is bolted to a wall and HDMI ports are hard to reach
From their website:
Komp is a one-button computer, simpler to use than any tablet or smartphone, linked to an app for family members to use. From their own device, children, grandchildren and old friends can share photos, messages and make video calls directly to the person viewing Komp’s screen. With 4G internet now available with Komp, all grandma or grandpa has to do is plug it in and turn it on, making it as easy to set up as it is to use. Komp is developed with privacy and security in mind, so it is a safe, secure and closed social network for the whole family.
- No touch-screen, which older fingertips can often struggle with
- No usernames, passwords or manual updates required
- Large 21” inch screen, clear sound and in-built microphone
- Plugs into the wall, no charging required, and connects to either WiFi or an in-built 4G sim
- Stands on a surface or can be wall-mounted
The product is only available in Europe.
- $500 purchased outright
- Very simple, elegant solution
- Supports 4G internet to make it easy for setup
- Not available in the US
- Somewhat expensive
- Does not support joining Zoom calls
From their website:
With ViewClix, seniors can enjoy live video calls, receive new pictures, and view sticky note reminders. ViewClix simplifies the technology, making it easier for families and seniors to stay connected.
ViewClix simplifies the technology, making it easier for families and seniors to stay connected. Here’s how:
- ViewClix is always on and connected, showing pictures when not video chatting.
- Seniors have no login, no accounts to sign up for, and no passwords to remember.
- Auto-answer mode allows seniors to receive a call without pressing a button.
- The frames are remotely managed by family, which makes them hassle-free.
The technology is based on a “smart picture frame” that can do all of this amazing stuff. The company offers 2 sizes, 10” and 15” and really focuses on the ease of use that’s needed by seniors.
The company is based out of Portland USA, and doesn’t seem to have any investor funding, and was created due to a need that their founders experience in having challenges reaching their aging parents.
- $199 for 10” version
- $299 for 15” version
- 30 day risk free guarantee
- Easy to use
- Picture frame option allows seniors to enjoy the product when not in a call
- Potentially high upfront costs
- Does not support Zoom group calls
One of the most popular senior devices in the market, GrandPad brings a whole slew of features to help seniors stay connected. One of these features is the ability to have video calls with your senior, through the tablet interface. As of late, the company also supports Zoom calls on the tablet, allowing your seniors to be able to participate in bigger family virtual meetings.
From their website:
It’s easy for GrandPad users to join family calls, celebrations like weddings and birthdays, webinars, community events, and alike—from anywhere.
GrandPad has customized the experience so that your loved one can easily participate in meetings and be confident when connecting over video.
The company lists a very long list of features that are outside the scope of video calling for seniors, so we will not list them here. However, one nice feature of the Grandpad is that it comes with it’s own 4G LTE internet connection built in, to remove any WiFi setup issues.
According to their website, the product is available in the US, UK and Ireland. The company is the most robust looking player in this space, boasting $18 million raised from investors and over 80 employees.
- Monthly: $89/month + $29 setup and shipping
- Yearly: $680/year prepaid + free setup and shipping
- Grandpad is a complete tablet solution simplified for seniors
- Supports both video calls and Zoom group calls
- Offers lots of features that might confuse some folks
- Most expensive option available
CallGenie allows single or group video calling directly through your relative’s TV. It is specifically designed with elderly people in mind.
Like the ONSCREEN Spark, CallGenie makes use of the TV that seniors are very often familiar with, by using a webcam and a TV set-top box, connected directly into the TV. The service uses Skype to connect the two parties due to the popularity of Skype. All you have to do is ring them through Skype and their TV will automatically switch over and connect the video call. Once the call is hung up, the CallGenie will resume their TV show. The product is purely focused on creating an easy way for a video call to take place, however it’s not clear if it supports auto-answer or whether or not it requires the senior to take some action to answer the call.
The product is only available in UK and EU markets, with European plugs.
- About $520 for HD Webcam Version
- About $574 for Full-HD (1080p) Webcam Version
- Takes advantage of the large screen TV for video calls
- Technology looks young and unsophisticated
- Expensive one time cost
Facebook, now Meta, started rolling out it’s Portal video calling products all the way back in 2018. They’ve always had 4 different products in this family, to meet different needs and use cases. The most recent lineup is:
- Portal Go
- Portal TV
The 2 options we will cover in this article are the Portal, which is a 10” picture frame device, and the Portal TV, which is the TV based video calling device.
The Portal is very much like the ViewClix Smart Frame, in that it is basically a smart picture frame with video calling capabilities. The video calling is done through either Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, and both callers require an account to these networks, which may be a privacy concern for some, given that both properties are owned by Facebook/Meta, who’s historically had many privacy issues.
One of the very nice aspects of the product is the high end camera that’s used, which has a “Smart Camera” feature, allowing it to follow its subject around, keeping them in frame, as long as they stay within the field-of-view of the camera. This allows callers and receivers to move around… however some seniors will not find this helpful as they might be seated for the duration of the call. All Portals also support AR (augmented reality) filters, that place masks and virtual backgrounds into the scene, bringing some additional fun to the call. Again, these are not necessarily useful in calls with seniors, but everyone likes to put on cat ears sometimes.
The Portal TV is somewhat like the ONSCREEN Spark and the CallGenie, in that it uses your largest screen for your video calls. It also has the Smart Camera feature on it’s high quality camera, and can connect to Zoom group calls. This product also supports apps like Netflix, so that you can watch shows and use it like a Roku type streaming box.
As one can easily determine, the Facebook Portal products are not specifically intended for the senior market, and will likely not work for seniors over the age of 75. However, for younger seniors, in the range of 65-70, they may offer a nice solution for seeing the grandkids, especially if they’re not concerned about privacy implications from Facebook.
- Portal: Retails for $179, often on sale as low as $79
- Portal TV: Retails for $149, often on sale as low as $99
- Good picture quality and reliable video calling network through Messenger and WhatsApp
- Supports Zoom group calls
- Privacy implications with Facebook
- Requires accounts on Messenger or WhatsApp
Powered by Amazon’s Alexa speech recognition technology, the Amazon Echo Show features a screen and allows your senior to start a video call by telling the Alexa to call someone, which is helpful for those who struggle to use a touch screen. However, we have certainly seen some seniors struggle with the proper wake work and sentence structure required to properly command Alexa.
The Amazon Echo Show comes in a range of screen sizes (5 inch to 10 inch) and we would recommend the largest screen for older users. You can only receive calls from friends and family who also have an Echo device with a screen, or the Alexa app on their phone. There is also the option to “drop in” to an Echo Show which offers a hands free experience for those seniors who need it.
The Amazon Echo Show has a greater range of functions than the other video calling devices on this list. Using the technology from Alexa, the Amazon Echo Show can tell your relative about the latest news, play TV shows and films, and answer questions like a traditional Alexa.
Because of the multi function use, this video calling device might be better suited for elderly relatives that are a bit more tech-savvy, as the devices constantly prompt for new and potentially unknown experiences to the senior. Introducing this technology to a more technology-skeptical relative might result in a frustrating experience.
- Echo Show 5” Screen: $84.99
- Echo Show 8” Screen: $129.99
- Echo Show 10” Screen: $249.99
- Echo Show 15” Screen: $249.99
- Great voice control options for making video calls
- Offers “Drop In” feature for hands free answering
- Can offer other functionality for technology savvy seniors
- Can be overwhelming if the only purpose is video calls
- Setting it up might be a challenge
The Google Nest Hub Max is a device similar to the Echo Show, with a screen and voice commands that allow someone to talk to the device and request services, like making a video call. Built into the product is the ability to make a group call using Google Duo, or join a group meeting using Google Meet or Zoom. With it’s calendar integration, it allows a senior to easily join a call that they were invited to via a calendar – if they’re using digital calendars.
Like the ViewClix picture frame, the product can also show collections of photos on it’s 10” screen, show weather and other things that may be of interest. Like the Echo Show, given the wide range of capabilities available, it may be overwhelming to someone who’s technologically intimidated or challenged. If using the Google Next Hub Max as a video calling device for seniors, we would recommend locking down all other functionality so that the senior does not lose the ability to perform the main task: video calls with family.
- 24-month 0% APR financing is available
- The Google Nest Hub Max is a high quality device from one of the most reputable technology companies in the world
- May be overwhelming for seniors given all the functionality
- The could be privacy implications given Google’s ad based business model
- It might be hard to make calls to/from people that don’t have Google Duo
So that covers it! This extensive line up of products is sure to help your senior stay better connected, less isolated and give them more daily joy. Plan calls to share stories with the grand kids, cook together, have game nights or any other creative ideas you may come up with. Happy calling!
Ready to get started with one of the best options out there?