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A smart companion for locked down seniors

Having been through a few digital photo frames over the years, I reckon the Google Nest Hub is one of the best in terms of picture quality, so I gave them a 10-inch Hub Max to live on the kitchen bench.

I set it up for them during my weekly caregiver visit to drop off groceries and showed them how to load photos directly from their smartphones. I didn’t think they’d care too much about the fact that the Google Nest Hub is also a smart speaker, considering they already have basic smartphones in their pockets but don’t use them for much more than calls and texts.

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I actually thought about leaving the speaker on mute, but I figured they should at least give it a chance. So I explained the basics of talking to Google Assistant, such as asking it to check weather forecasts, set timers when you’re cooking or convert measurements when you’re reading a recipe.

Almost as an afterthought, I also mentioned that they can ask Google Assistant to play music, streaming from YouTube Music by default and throwing in the occasional short advertisement if you’re using the free service. The hefty Google Nest Hub Max speaker pumps out much better sound than the old radio/CD player which lives on their bench.

Checking in with them a few days later, it turns out that having a digital jukebox at their beck and call is actually their favourite feature. They soon discovered Google Assistant plays almost anything they want and, once it got to know their taste in music, they could ask for one great song — think Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock — and then leave it in charge of the music for the rest of the afternoon.

They’ve always listened to the radio during the day, but they’re sick of non-stop talk about the coronavirus, so easy access to a vast music library is a welcome distraction. I offered to sign them up to a paid service, so they can avoid the ads, but they’re of a generation which is still wedded to commercial radio and television so they can tolerate a few ad breaks.

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Funnily enough my mother-in-law, who is also in her 70s and has been stuck at home alone for months, told me the exact same thing; she’s fed up with listening to the radio during the pandemic. She’s a keen quilter and her friends have encouraged her to start listening to craft podcasts in the afternoons, so my wife set her up with a Google Home Mini in her sewing room linked to a free Spotify account.

Back at my parents’ house, there’s much celebrating with the arrival of their new granddaughter last week. As the first happy snaps arrived via text they went straight to the photo frame, which will help keep mum and dad smiling until they can visit her for a cuddle.

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