Sunday, October 25, 2015

WOW! Computer... Not Just for Suckers?

As with so many offers that turn out to be scams or semi-scams, it began with a full page ad, this time in Parade magazine.


Wow!, reads the headline. A Simple to Use Computer Designed Especially for Seniors!

Two exclamation marks and not enough hyphens; generally a bad sign. But looking at the screen shot shown in the photo, it does seem possible it would be easier for many seniors to use -- larger type and a simplified interface, particularly.


It's also touch-based, more like an enlarged tablet or phone, with a keyboard and mouse for times when that's handy.

But I was still suspicious because, like so many ads directed at seniors, it was vague on details. It doesn't even list a price, just a toll-free number to call.

The primary thing I wondered was whether it runs Windows or not, because the ad implies the system is resistant to viruses (it actually says the system is "worry-free," which is a pretty big claim in computer land) and we all know that's not true of Windows, even with constant maintenance.

A quick search found the specifications, which state that the operating system is based on Linux, the open source version of Unix, so it may well be much better at avoiding infection than a Windows computer.

The WOW! computer seems like it might be a good choice for someone who hasn't used computers much and doesn't currently have one at home. A person with no old documents to transfer. A person who doesn't want to do anything like work (word processing, spreadsheets) but who wants to get photos, write and receive emails, Skype, and look at the web. Oh, and play games. Sounds like they have a lot of those, too.

That may describe a decent segment of the senior market.

The price, while not shown in the ad, is listed as $1,099 on the website, though I found other pages online that said it was $999, so not sure what to believe on that. Either of those prices is high compared to a Windows computer with better technical specs, but those come with complex user requirements and an unfriendly interface.

This ad in Parade is the first time I've heard of the WOW!, but a bit of googling quickly revealed that it's at least three years old. Which made me wonder why there aren't more people online talking about it, but it may just be that its users are not the kind of people who write blog posts or even reviews. They're too busy looking at photos of their grandkids or playing electronic solitaire.

The few spots where I've found people critiquing it seem to miss the point. They complain that it uses dated hardware and preinstalled software that you can't change, but the latter is part of the point: you don't have to worry about your software, it should just work. If you want to tinker with your computer rather than just use it, don't buy this device. But if you need to do everyday tasks reliably without things going wrong, it might be the computer for you.

Looking a little harder, I realized that the WOW! is a variant of another computer that's been around since 2011 and was reviewed by tech journalist Walt Mossberg that year. He gives it a qualified thumbs-up, but lists a bunch of glitches. Since his review is four years old, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they've been fixed by now (some were fixed before he published his review). That same computer has also been reviewed more recently on Amazon (here), which said the "user interface...is probably the most sensible thing I have ever seen" but that other problems undermine usability.

So I'm not sure. There are lots of positive reviews on Amazon as well. I tend to think that an honestly easy-to-use interface and good tech support (even if it costs you $10 a month, as it does in this case) may be worth the extra cost, compared to a Windows machine. The only better option might be an iPad with a keyboard... but even that is significantly more complicated to use, with a much smaller screen.

My main critique of the WOW! is that it's too expensive for the hardware included, and the company doesn't seem to be keeping up with improvements it needs to meet its brand promise.

All that is to say, unlike most of the ads I see targeting seniors, this ad and its product aren't completely for suckers. The computer is not perfect, but it may be worth a try if you or a loved-one has this particular set of user requirements.

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