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Tablets

AARP RealPad is a tablet made for baby boomers

If you missed the boat the first time, AARP is offering a user-friendly tablet for tech novices.

The RealPad comes with a one-year AARP membership. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The AARP RealPad targets tech newcomers with a user-friendly operating system and competitively low price to stand out amongst other budget tablets. There's a variety of easy to use and competitively priced models out there, however this 8-inch tablet intentionally holds your hand through the process of getting to know your new device.

Easy to access tutorials and an in-depth manual add to its attractive accessibility. Throw in a one year AARP membership and its $189 starting price might be the deal you've been holding out for. Sadly, its lackluster build and low-res screen make it hard to recommend in an oversaturated market with better options.

The AARP RealPad is currently available only in the US and you can buy it from AARP's website, Wal-Mart, and other online retailers.

Basic build

From afar, the RealPad looks like an Apple iPad Mini. In your hands, the difference is more distinguishable. It's a bit girthy -- in comparison to similarly sized tablets -- but it feels solid. Thanks to the rounded edges that comfortably conform to your grip, holding the petite tablet is cozy. The back of the tablet is also comfy, with a silver and smooth finish.

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You can find the volume and power buttons on the top right edge. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

In a vertical position, the bezels on the left and right side are chic and thin. The bezels on the top and bottom are considerably thicker, but this gives your thumbs a place to rest when using it horizontally. Weighing in at 0.84 pound (381g), it's not one of the lightest tablet around. Despite this, I still found it easy to hold for elongated periods of time.

The AARP RealPad is far from the sleek aesthetic and premium feel of high-end models, but those attracted to the RealPad for its affordable price can't be too picky about aesthetics. For a cheap purchase, it's not half bad.

Accessible Android

Running a simplified version of Android 4.4 KitKat, the AARP RealPad starts with a quick and easy tutorial as soon as it's powered the first time. It's a guided walk-through of functionality basics and it's this type of help that makes the AARP tablet stand out.

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The toolbar provides easy access to helpful features. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The RealPad ships with enough pre-loaded apps to get you started and it even goes as far as categorizing them into folders for you. Categories include social media, games & learning, entertainment, and news. It also has the GooglePlay store so you can download other apps.

The AARP toolbar is key to the process of getting to know your way around the tablet. Accessible by touching the green arrow on the bottom left corner of the screen, the toolbar has easy access to AARP materials, video tutorials, customer assistance, settings, and more.

Free round-the-clock customer service is another attractive feature for beginners to take advantage of. Unlike the Amazon Fire HDX tablets, which feature Mayday instant customer that promptly connects you to a customer service representative via video chat, the AARP tablet requires you to call an 800 number or send an email to the support team.

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The back panel is silver with a smooth finish. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Performance

The AARP RealPad houses a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 16GB of internal storage, with about 9GB of free space. The tablet also packs a microSD card slot, so you can easily expand your storage capacity with a memory card.

Corresponding via email, watching YouTube videos, playing games, and surfing the Web run smoothly. Switching between one task to another can slow down the performance, especially if lots of apps are left open in the background. It also slows down when downloading apps and updates. For the basic uses it's built for, I found its performance satisfactorily smooth, though not incredibly fast.

The 7.8-inch screen dons a 1,024x768-pixel resolution, low by today's standards. The display looks pixelated, though readable, and the range of colors is dull. Its maximum brightness setting is also a bit dim, making it hard to use outside. HD screens tend to be a focal point for many tablets, since the use of the touchscreen is integral to the functionality, and in this category, the AARP RealPad definitely falls short.

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If the 9GB of free space isn't enough, pop in a microSD card. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

On the back of the camera you'll find a 5-megapixel camera above a pair of stereo speakers. Both are underwhelming in their performance. Photos taken with the rear camera come out a bit washed out and details tend to look fuzzy at full resolution. Aside from the commonly tragic mistake of placing the speakers on the back of the tablet, away from your ears, the pair also produce tinny weak audio that'll quickly have you reaching for your headphones.

There's also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. While it can suffice for video chats on Skype, the quality is pretty abysmal. Faces look overexposed in bright environments and sharpness is clearly lacking.

Battery life for the AARP RealPad was a bit below average. With heavy to casual use I was able to get about 5 to 6 hours. We're testing it in the CNET Lab for an official battery testing result so check back for the final result.

Conclusion

Technology moves at an excitingly fast pace and if you're new to the party, it can be hard to catch up. If you're confident about your ability to learn new tech, I suggest the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7. The 7-inch tablet is smaller than the RealPad but it knocks it out of the water with a super-slim and lightweight build, faster performance, and superior screen quality.

Currently selling for $179, the Fire HDX 7 is also cheaper than the RealPad's $189 starting price. If you're really pinching pennies, Amazon offers the $99 Fire HD 6, however only the Fire HDX line feature Mayday instant customer service.

The RealPad is a valiant effort from AARP and, as a starter tablet to get acquainted with the Android operating system, it's a fine first step to ease your grandparents (or parents) into the 21st century. Unfortunately, its underwhelming hardware hold it back from being the best choice on the market.

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