Granny has no internet! Auto-answering Skype calls with a tablet

My grandmother does not have ‘the internet’. She only answers calls to her home telephone and panics if she has to type numbers into that.

But we still want to see her.

We need a non-touch solution.

Skype has a feature, which some would argue is a security risk, that allows calls to be auto-answered. This is the key.

tl;dr

  1. Pick a tablet : big screen, sim card, cheap, camera position, microphone position, loud, maybe with headphone jack?
  2. Data usage? I built a calculator spreadsheet you can use
  3. Buy a SIM card that will have enough data
  4. Install Skype (and a back up)
  5. Draw on the tablet
  6. Send it to them
  7. Call them

During the course of doing this I found this site, which is even more thorough than this writeup. I would recommend having a look:

Step 1: Pick at tablet

We need a few things:

  • large screen (for sight and to combat ‘I am all fingers and thumbs’)
  • sim card slot (again, there is no wifi)
  • decent battery life (in case charging gets forgotten)
  • dead cheap (we want function only)
  • Android (auto-answer is disabled on Apple from what we read — Update: this is no longer true though I would test this)
  • Updated: Landscape mode camera positioning
  • Updated: Microphone positioning (will hands cover it)
  • Updated: Speaker positioning that would be useful for the ‘what did you say’-afflicted

Amazon Shopping:

Doing this I went straight to amazon and made a short list. I did consider child’s tablets for a while but it was not clear to me if they have native android or some other OS running on top so I avoided them as I wasn’t sure if auto-answer on Skype would work.

Also, I decided that screen resolution doesn’t need to be great, it may even help as big screen with small resolution will have big icons.

This got me these two when I was looking around the £70 mark.

A quick comparison shows the for £10 more the Taoera really is an upgrade (if we trust the numbers reported).

As such the Taoera is the pick for me, though if you are doing this here is my handy explanation on computer stats for the non-tech-savy. Make sure you pick your tech to how you will use it.

Faulty hardware hits us all.

I got the Taoera and at first was quite happy with it, but then, after having set everything up, I found that when apps use the front facing camera, the camera malfunctions and showed a very dark image.

As such, I started looking for a different tablet and returned it.

Interesting Side Note: I started using Zino.ai. It isn’t a very friendly UX but it does allow me to investigate what is the most common products sold, reviewed and rated on Amazon and hence quickly got a new short list.

Zino.ai: This shows the tablet search categories and how the category ‘tablet 10 inch android cheap’ has 1 product that has an average 1 star rating and no products with a 2 star — in the rating groups. It also shows the dominance Amazon’s four offerings have (all >1000 reviews) compared to the rest of the market where most commonly they have 0–100 — in the review groups.

Additional considerations from the first time

  • My Gran will use this most commonly in Landscape mode, holding the sides with her hands. As such, having a camera anywhere but on the longest edge will be problematic as she will certainly put her hand on it.
  • Additionally, the speaker sound will be key here. Having the speak on the back is common but more preferably would be to have it on the side, but not a side that her hands will be. This is now a worry but something we will just have to hope for.
  • Oh and I found out that the Amazon Fire Tablet doesn’t have SIM Card slots and hence had to remove it from the shortlist above.

Shortlist

I decided to extend my budget (~£10!) hoping for better reliability. Padgene featured once again — this time with an Amazon Choice label.

This time I decided for the Padgene as it had two speakers and a headphone jack and hence lots of reviews confirming quality for price.

Step 2: How much data will it use

To guess I went to Skype and looked at their quoted data usage. I made a little calculator from that. You can access it here and put in the minutes you would expect to call on it per week:

Looking at this my assumption would be that we call weekly for probably about 3 hours in total, one hour a week being a group chat with my family and probably with two individual calls throughout the week, on average. It is a complete guess really, but you can see that most of the data cost comes from the group calls:

My spreadsheet above.

You can see the total monthly usage there is 0.12 GB per month. Now the assumption here is that my Grandmother will not use it otherwise (more likely not be able to use it).

This then ignores all tablets normal data messenging it will be doing. Looking at the amount Skype is using at when it is inactive level I would assume all apps are similar, and more over that Google apps are even more hungry.

As such, my estimation would be that 500MB may not be enough as Skype alone is 120MB (0.12GB).

Step 3: Pick a SIM card

Moving to a sim card comparison site, I simply filtered for 750MB+ and made my decision.

There are plenty of options. I was using compare the market.

Because I am already a Plusnet customer (and I like them) I decided to go with them as it will allow me to update this in the future with the amount of data the sim card consumes.

Plusnet order confirmation. Odd but good.

Set Up the Tablet:

So I knew I needed Skype on it but I also knew that I needed to declutter a lot of things to stop thumbs clicking the wrong thing. Fir step is create the google account and install Skype.

I found this guide will searching for considerations and could recommend it enough if you are not technical. https://tabletconnect.org/

Simplify

Remove all buttons she wont want to click on and simplify the background so it is easier to read.

Accessibility settings

Make the font Largest. Schedule power Off and On so charging becomes less frequent. Add high contrast font on so it is bolder.

Turn on Skype Auto Answer

Click on the users name in the top center > Settings > Calling.

Also to be a bit safer, I have only allowed calls from contacts. As such, I also had to ask all the family for their skype contact details. I also did test calls with them all so they know what to expect.

Decals: Pimp thier tablet

So I highlighted all the points of contact my gran will have — including which way up the plug goes into the tablet.

Notes and highlights.

Front indicators

I highlighted the camera and microphone so she knows where she can put her hands.

Box it up

After setting up skype, and then adding whatsapp, and sharing the details to the rest of the wider family, the penultimate thing to do was to box it up and put it in the post.

Give them a call!

Learnings

Consider buying a speaker or some headphones if they are hard of hearing.

Persevere if you struggle initially. Having regular calls certainly helps calm the nerves.

Founder of EveryHour.xyz and Product Owner @ dunnhumby; just genuinely interested in a lot of things. Built racecars, built electronics, now building software

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