Getting started with computers, laptops and tablets

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Nov 24, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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RNIB supporting blind and partially sighted people

Factsheet

Registered charity number 226227

Getting started with computers, laptops and
tablets

C
hoosing a computer, laptop or tablet

can be a confusing process.
This guide
aims to demystify some
of the

jargon and help you make an informed choice.


Jargon busting

Let’s start by explaining some com
mon
terms used by retailers to describe
their products' features
.




Processor speed
:

The speed that

a computer can process information
,
measured in Gigahertz
(
Ghz
)
. Most computers have at least 1.4 Ghz
,
some have more than 3 Ghz.




Random Access Memory

(RAM
):

The working memory of a computer
(rather than storage memory),

measured in gigabytes
(
GB
)
.




Storage or Read Only Memory (ROM)
:

T
he amount of space a machine
has for storing data
,
measured in gigabytes
(
GB
).




Contrast ratio
:
A
monitor's
(screen’s)
abili
ty to display colour contrast.
P
artially sighted people
may

find high contrast displays helpful.




Operating
s
ystems:
The
software your computer runs on.
The
two
most
common

are Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX.


The
latest version

of
Microsoft Windows opera
ting system is

called
Windows
8
, which has

various free and paid
-
for screen reading and screen
magnification software packages
.


The
latest version

of
t
he Mac OSX operating system
is called
Mac OSX
Mountain Lion
, which
comes with built
-
in screen magnifier
and screen reader
.
M
ac computers are considerably more expensive than Windows

computers
.


How much power and storage will I need?

If you
’ll
be performing sophisticated tasks

on your computer,

such as video
and audio editing or playing computer games, you

may need a
n above
average
specification machine.

For
everyday tasks
like
browsing

online
,
rnib.org.uk

email
ing
, watching movies, playing music and creating office documents, a
standard machine should be adequate.


If you

re going to us
e

a screen reader
,
screen magni
fier
or

other assistive
technology,
you may need

additional RAM.
I
f you

re using access technology,
we recommend purchasing

a machine with minimum 4GB of RAM and at
least a 2

Ghz processor.


Different types of device

There are a range of different compute
rs, laptops, and tablets available from
manufacturers

like Dell, Acer, HP, Sony
and Apple
.


Desktop computers

A desktop computer sits on a desktop or workstation, and is therefore not
p
ortable.

A

typical
system

c
onsist
s

of a monitor (or an

LCD display

),

base
unit (or a


central processing unit
’),
keyboard and a mouse or trackpad
.


Desktops
may be particularly valuable to people with low vision, as they come
with a
20 inch

or larger monitor.
They also

have a large number of
ports

for
connecting

equipment

like

printers, scanners

and

braille embossers.


A

desktop package with a
20 inch

LCD display, fast processor
,
at least 4GB
of RAM and 500 GB of storage
,

will cost
roughly £299
-
£499
.


All
-
in
-
one computers

All
-
in
-
one computers consist of one central unit
housing the display,
processor, memory and all other components.
Screen

size
s range from
21.5
-
27

inches. All
-
in
-
ones
are
ideal if

space is at a premium
, but

are more
expensive and less
easy to modify

than desktop computer
s
.


Laptop
s


A

laptop is a portabl
e computer
with

process
or
, keyboard, battery and
tilting
display all incorporated into one.
A
lso known as notebooks,

laptops

have
become very popular

as they allow you to
work
anywhere. Available
in all
sizes and colours
, laptops

typically include a suite
of built in accessories
including microphone, web camera, WiFi and
Bluetooth
.
L
ighter l
aptops will
be more expensive
than

heavier

models.


rnib.org.uk

Netbooks

Netbooks are

mini laptops

that are
smaller and lighter weight
, usually with

a
10 inch
display.
A

growing ra
nge of

notebooks have

dual core processor
s
(
two processing units,
allowing you to

run multiple programmes at the same
time
)
.
These

are faster than standard netbook
s

and offer a good alternative to
a standard laptop
.



For everyday computing, a netbook can
be a good low cost option.

However
,
a
10 inch

display may be a limiting factor for low vision users.
Al
most all models include built
-
in webcam, microphone, WiFi and Bluetooth.

Many run

software called
Windows Seven Starter
, which
does not include
built
-
in

screen magnification.


N
etbook
s

cost

between £200
-
£
300 depending on
the
design, storage and
specification.


Ultrabooks

Ultrabook
s

are

higher
-
end netbook
s

manufactured by the company

Intel.
Lighter than standard netbooks, they do not

compromis
e

on
perf
ormance
.
However their smaller size means they have a limited

number of ports

for
connecting external devices
.


Tablets

A tablet is a small, thin and lightweight portable computer

with a touch
-
screen,
no keyboard and few physical buttons.
The
original Appl
e iPad

launched in 2010, and is still the most popular tablet on the market
.


S
creen

sizes

rang
e

from
5
-
10 inches, and t
yping is done
on
an on
-
screen
keyboard
. Some

people

with sight loss can

find
the

touch
-
screen
challenging,
as the l
ack of a tactile
key
board

can present a real

barrier. S
ome choose to
use their tablet with a braille display
or
Bluetooth keyboard.


They do

have

some distinct advantages over traditional hard disk technology
.
Being l
ow weight
with
no moving parts
,

they are
more durable
.
The
y instantly
‘wake up’ so you can use them immediately,
without having to wait for them
to start up.
Many have a built in rechargeable battery
that

last
s

up to
10

hours
.


rnib.org.uk

Tablets work using wireless
i
nternet or WiFi
, so they are good to use on the
move. S
om
e also offer 3G
,

allow
ing

you to access
mobile phone

networks

(
subject to subscription with a provider
)
.




iPad

The original iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad are currently the only tablets
with

built
-
in

screen magnification and screen
-
reading capability that
are

accessible

out of the box
’ (without setup), making them

a
good

option for low vision
users.
W
hen
using

the new

iPad for the first time, simply click the

home


button three times and the device begins talking straight away.


There is a

built
-
in magni
fication feature called Zoom, as
well as a facility to
enlarge fonts in
your
calendar, contacts, mail, notes and messages.
There is
a r
everse contrast feature
(creating white text on black background), plus

a
range of other accessibility features
.


iPad
s

c
osts from £329 and
are

available from
all major

retailers as well as
from
apple.com

or any Apple retail store.




Android powered tablets

The

Google Nexus 7 is one of the latest
tablets
on the market

using

Android,
Google’s operating system
. It has 8

or 16G
B of memory and offers a screen
reading
facility

without any additional setup. H
owever

it doesn’t

offer a screen
reading experience like the iPad.
O
ur testing
suggests

the Nexus 7
might
only
be
suitable

for very confident user
s
.




Windows powered tablets

Windows 7 tablets
cost
around £180
. M
ost versions feature built
-
in screen
magnification
,
controlled using on screen arrow controls. Microsoft Surface
tablets
(launched in
October 2012
)

include

a

built
-
in
screen reader and
screen magnifier.


Technology Su
pport Squad

If you've recently bought a computer, laptop or tablet, but you're having
difficulty using it, call RNIB's Technology Support Squad. We have a team of
over 1,000 volunteers across the UK who can visit you at home to help you
set up and use tech
nology, from TVs and computers through to mobile
phones and eBook readers. Call our Helpline on
0303 123 9999

to find out
more or request a free volunteer.

rnib.org.uk


More information

We’ve interviewed blind and partially sighted people about technology they
use, ho
w it works and the positive impact on their everyday lives. Watch our
short film at
rnib.org.uk/technology


The RNIB website has
more

information about
choosing the right computer
.
Visit
rnib.org.uk/
technology


For more advice

call our Helpline on
0303 1
23

9999

or email
helpline@rnib.org.uk
. You can also email
d
igitialaccess
@rnib.org.uk


Last updated
-

1 November

2012