Claris Companion: Review

Claris Companion under evaluation

The Basics

Product name: Claris Companion 

Manufacturer / Distributor: Claris

Compilation: Q4 2020

 

  • TEL Discount: $25
  • Code: TEL

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This page contains our Claris | Claris Companion review.

 

 

Analyst Summary: Claris | Claris Companion

The Claris Companion is an example of a product category we call "Senior-friendly Tablets".

Senior-friendly Tablets are designed to provide the key functions of a consumer "tablet", but with an interface that is designed to be "simpler" than a normal consumer product, and designed to address some specific needs that some "seniors" and non-tech-savvy individuals have.

Our reviewers thought the Claris Companion was an excellent product, carefully designed for a very specific demographic. However, to accomplish some of the design goals of ease-of-use and security, the company has made tradeoffs that make it less flexible and capable in some areas than a conventional consumer tablet — as have its competitors in the senior-friendly tablet category.

Each of the products in the senior-friendly tablet category makes different tradeoffs between ease of use and flexibility.

The key questions to consider in deciding whether this is the right product for a specific individual are:

  • whether the individual fits the profile appropriate for a "senior-friendly tablet" at all (rather than a conventional consumer tablet); and
  • which of the available senior-friendly tablets strikes the right balance between available features, and ease of use — for the specific individual.

This product was one of three we compared in "Best "Senior Tablet": Which to Choose?". To learn how to answer the questions above for a specific situation and specific person, read that article.

Below you can read our detailed review of the Claris Companion.

     

    Claris display

    Caption: Claris Companion

     

     

    Virtual Connections: The Killer Apps

    Senior-friendly Tablets are one of several types of products that people are using to have better "virtual connections" with older adults — especially with older adults at a distance, or who cannot be visited as a result of COVID.

    The "killer Apps" for better virtual connection vary from person to person, but usually include some type of video interaction, and/or some type of photo sharing. In addition to the senior-friendly tablets, there are a variety of other tools that older adults are having success with — ranging from conventional consumer products like Amazon's Echo Show or video calling apps like Zoom or Facetime, to a variety of more special-purpose products such as digital photo frames and special purpose apps that run on a TV.

    • If you are looking for a product to help you have "virtual connections" with an older adult who is not very "tech-savvy", the "senior-friendly tablet" category (which includes Claris Companion) represents one type of solution. You can see an overview of this category — as well as other product categories that enable virtual connections — in "Virtual Connections for the Tech-Challenged".
       
    • If you need virtual connection tools for the "tech-savvy", read Best Video Call Technology.

     

    Our Key Takeaways: Claris Companion

    This is an excellent product for people who live in a facility or home and need / want a device that does not require support from staff — and see a "simplified" interface and a restricted set of features as a plus not a minus.

    It is fairly "locked down" (if you limit yourself to the basic functionality incorporated in the Claris App), which means there is much less chance of things going wrong than with a more flexible device (such as an iPad). However it has the very nice extra benefit of allowing the family administrator to add additional apps that enable capabilities beyond those of the Claris App itself.

    For the more adventurous family caregiver, you can add extra apps to improve the quality of life of your loved one. This comes at the expense of a bit more complexity for the loved one — but not much. This does entail more complexity for the caregiver to keep it all running of course.

    These aspects of the product are especially noteworthy.

    • The Claris Companion offers several ways to track your loved one’s activities by offering reminders to check-in and also take non-prescription medicine. Their response is shown on a daily calendar chart and their non-response, or delayed response, can generate a notification to a family member. Claris does provide an extensive suite of activity tracking reports, based on your loved one’s interactions, or lack of interaction with the Claris tablet.
    • It has curated messaging apps that protect your loved one from unwanted email, phone, text, and video calls.
    • Claris is missing a camera to take and share photos as well as no music player. However, these and most other apps you can think of can be added by you during the setup of the device.
    • We thought the overall "support" from the company was less good than we had hoped. But we evaluated the product during COVID, and support may well improve.
    • You can get either a version pre-installed on a tablet from Claris, or you can get your own Android tablet, and then install the Claris Companion App on it.

     

    Multiple Versions of Claris Companion Suit Different Situations

    The Claris Companion is a senior-friendly tablet available in several configurations, including various screen sizes, connectivity options, and even a DIY software-only version for your own Android tablet to be given to your loved one.

     

    Tablet Included

    If you are looking for a ready-to-ship version, the Claris companion is offered on a 10” tablet (I believe it is a 10” Samsung Galaxy TAB A10) — with either Wi-Fi or Cellular connectivity — and ready to be sent to your loved one. The cellular connection is via Verizon.

    In that configuration, the Claris Companion is a direct competitor to the Grandpad Tablet (see GrandPad Tablet review).

     

    Claris Companion: The Software-only Version

    For this review, I chose the software-only version of the Claris Companion, which I installed on a Samsung Tab A 8.4 with T-Mobile connectivity.

    This approach has some key differences to getting the pre-configured version on a new tablet provided by Claris.

    1. You choose your own Android tablet (it does not work with an iPad). If, like me, you are very familiar with which Android tablets work well, and know how to set them up, this is an advantage because you can choose what you consider the "best" Android tablet. For others who don't wish to have to think about such things, getting a pre-installed tablet would be better.
       
    2. You can add your own "extra apps" — any app in the Google Play Store you think might be helpful. (You can do this too on the tablet you get from Claris, but you get some extra flexibility if you do it yourself).
       
    3. You choose whichever carrier you prefer — in my case T Mobile, because I already have a T Mobile account, and because it has good connectivity in the area of the "loved one" who will be using the product.

    This approach is aimed at someone more interested in adding additional apps and providing their own remote support for loved ones.

     

     

     

    Key Questions: Senior-friendly Tablets

    Here is our table of some of the most important questions relevant to the "senior-friendly" tablet product category, and what the answers are for this product: Claris Companion. Scroll down to the "Detailed review" section to see more detail about these issues.

     

    Question Answer for Claris Companion
    How much "setting up" needs to be done in the home of the "senior", and by whom?

    Very little: You can order the pre-configured tablet that can be drop-shipped to your loved one. However, if you choose to purchase only the app, you will need to install that and configure it on the tablet you plan to ship to your loved one.

    How "fool-proof" is the connectivity?

    Good: If you have chosen a cellular tablet, it will also have Wi-Fi. If the Wi-Fi needs to be reconfigured, you can do that remotely if you install our recommended remote-control app. 

    What happens when it "doesn't work"?

    If it doesn’t work: Claris Companion provides email and phone support. In addition, you can install the remote-control app we recommend and gain control of the tablet.

    If the older adult lives in a senior living facility or has a carer, does that third party need to interact with the product?

    Not if you buy the cellular version: If you get the version with the cellular connection, the tablet gets set up in advance with all your contacts and other things you want to preset, and when it arrives at the facility you just have to plug it in and turn it on. If you want the WiFi version, someone needs to enter the WiFi settings after it has been turned on. If you have the cellular version the Claris support team says they can connect up the WiFi settings for you remotely, so long as you tell them what the password and network id are.

    However, the Claris Companion uses the normal tablet power and volume control buttons — which require your loved one to ask for assistance if they are too hard to use.

    How does it get charged, and does that cause possible "issues"?

    It charges through a USB-C connector. While this is much better than the old style, one-way-only, micro-USB connector, it still needs to be plugged in again each time you move the tablet (see below for a DIY workaround).

    Does it have a simple user interface, that can help avoid confusion when the older adult is using it?

    Yes. It has large icons that can start an app and a large back-to-exit button in the apps to get back to the main screen. There is not a way for your loved one to exit the main screen by mistake and go back to Android.

    Does it provide key functionality that makes it an important tool that goes beyond a telephone in value to the older adult and their family?

    Yes. The killer app is video chat which is handled though a curated (private) application so that only family members can contact the user. It applies the same principle to messaging, allowing only family members to send and receive text messages & emails.  

    Is there a critical "missing functionality" (for the use case of a non-tech-savvy older adult living at a distance from tech-savvy helpers)?

    Not really: While there are some things missing from the "basic" Claris configuration (for example, there is no built-in music app), the "administrator" can add almost anything you like in the way of extra apps. Our reviewer chose to install Spotify.

    In which life situation is this product especially appropriate (more than a conventional consumer tablet for example)?

    See "Best Senior Tablet" for an extensive discussion of the appropriate senior tablet for each of several different specific life situations.

     

     

     

    Hardware, Set Up, Connectivity, Charging, Support

    The Claris Companion app is available on the Google Play Store, and the service runs $29/mo. which includes some locked-down apps and a simplified screen for the elderly.

    There is also a Claris for Caregivers app for both Android and Apple iPhone/iPad that is used by family members in communicating with their loved one’s Claris Companion. Claris provides extensive documentation (see References section at the end of the article: Ref 1).

    While this review focuses on using the Claris Companion App, installed on my Android tablet, you can also get a version that comes pre-installed on a new tablet included by Claris, as explained above. In most of the sections below, we try and address the features in ways that are relevant regardless of whether you buy your own tablet or get one from Claris with the app pre-installed.

     

    The Tablet Itself (the Hardware)

    You can purchase the pre-configured Samsung Tablet from Claris. Or you can purchase an Android tablet on your own and install the Claris Companion app from the Google Playstore.

    Choosing your own tablet will allow you to choose cellular vendor and also an Android tablet of your brand and screen size. 

     

    Setting Up and Configuring Claris Companion

    Set up varies depending on whether you purchase (tablet + Claris Companion App) from Claris, or buy the tablet separately and then download and install the Claris Companion App.

    When you order the Claris Companion (including the tablet), you will be asked a series of questions about your loved one’s needs and abilities so that settings in the Claris Companion can be made in advance of shipment.

    The Claris Companion can be drop-shipped to your loved one preconfigured with cellular connectivity. So this involves minimal setup by the family member and almost no setup by people at the location where your loved one resides. 

    If you use a tablet you acquired separately (as we did), and then download and add the Claris Companion App to this tablet, then there are some extra steps involved with setting up the App. In other words, you are taking on the role of the "administrator" in this situation.

    In the scenario in which you buy the tablet then install the app, you (as the family administrator) set up the app and the tablet, then send it to your loved one. In this scenario, the result for the loved one is very similar. The big difference is that the family administrator sets things up rather than Claris setting everything up for you.

    Setting up the Claris App is fairly straightforward if you are familiar and comfortable with downloading and setting up other apps on an Android tablet.

    Regardless of which approach you take, you (the family administrator) can remotely add contacts and pictures through the Claris for Caregivers mobile app.

    One thing to note: the Claris Companion uses the normal tablet power and volume control buttons. So your loved one may need to ask for assistance if they are too hard to use.

     

    Wi-Fi set up:

    If you set up the tablet yourself (as the adult child of the "senior" for example, then you need to get the WiFi details for your "loved one" in advance (Network name and password) and enter it into the tablet. The Wi-Fi setup is handled through normal Android OS operations, meaning there is no special Claris app for that. This can make it difficult for non-Android users.

    Presetting up the WiFi can be tricky, so if you buy a tablet that only uses WiFi, then you need someone at the facility to enter the WiFi settings. If you have the cellular version, the Claris support team says they can connect up the WiFi settings for you remotely, so long as you tell them what the password and network id are.

     

    How "Updates" are Handled

    One of the most challenging issues relating to "keeping a connected device running in a remote location where you can't touch it" is how the inevitable regular software updates are handled.

    The last thing you want is the phone call from your mother in the senior living facility who says ....

    "The tablet doesn't work anymore"

    .... because it just did an autoupdate that broke something, or because there is a message on the screen that says something like "do you want to update now?"

    Here is how Claris handles updates (on the tablet you buy from them):

    • The tablet is set so that it will not automatically update the Android operating system itself. If the Android OS does need to be updated, the Claris team can take control of the tablet and do that for you (at night, for example). The same is true for the Claris App itself. The goal has been to completely avoid the need for the older adult themself to do updates or respond to popups suggesting "update now".
       
    • One of the strengths of the Claris Companion is the fact you can add "extra" apps, for example a music app or some other app you care about. However, when it is time for such "other apps" to be updated, that will likely be something the older adult does need to take care of, or get help with.

     

     

    Connectivity

    If you buy the Claris Companion tablet, it is set up to use the carrier Verizon. You cannot get it with a different carrier as of Q4, 2020, but the company hopes to change that in the future.

    The restriction of only one cellular provider influenced my decision to order the Claris Companion app and install it on a table of my choice with my own cellular provider.

    Key observations:

    • I used a low-cost T-Mobile service at $10/month for 2 GB of data that worked well.
    • Wi-Fi 5G connectivity is also supported.
    • Signal strength can only be checked through the native Android apps.

     

    Charging

    Since the tablet is a conventional Android tablet, you charge it as you would any tablet — typically by plugging in a USB charging cable. This product does NOT have a convenient way to charge it wirelessly.

    Key observations:

    • Both my tablet and the tablets supplied by Claris support USB-C. If you are looking for a magnetic connector or wireless charging solution, take a look at a DIY solution from Frank Engelman (Ref 2).
    • There is a battery level indicator on the top of the home screen.

     

    Case

    If you purchase the pre-configured tablet, it comes with a hard-plastic case with a kickstand as the only choice. However, since this is a retail tablet, you can purchase a more suitable case on your own.

    For my tablet, I choose a soft case with a built-in handle and stand. See picture below.

    Claris Companion in case

     

    Screen & Screen Saver

    Claris chooses to present all the main icons on one screen, versus rotating through a few screens. I personally like this approach, as a loved one can remember where apps are based on the location versus scrolling through. See the image below.

     

    Claris interface

     

    Key observations:

    • The screen display is great, with a single screen containing all the icons.
    • If there are too many icons, there is a “Start” button with a secondary screen.
    • I used a workaround of adding the Fotoo app as a photo frame (Ref 3).

     

    Sound

    The sound is similar in quality to that of a typical Android tablet. In our opinion, this means the sound is neither very high quality nor is it very loud. The caregiver cannot control the sound volume remotely.

    Key observations:

    • There are mechanical buttons on the tablet. They may be too small for those with dexterity issues.
    • The loved one can turn down the sound too low to hear.
    • Most tablets do not have front-facing speakers, so the sound may be difficult to hear. Although Bluetooth speakers can be added, it's done through the normal Android controls, versus a dedicated senior-friendly control.

     

    Support Options

    We evaluated this product as a real customer (they were not aware we were reviewing the product until the evaluation was almost complete). Our verdict on the level of support was "OK but not great".

    A key point is that support comes via email or phone support, which is fine for the family member "helping" the senior, but makes it likely the sort of "tech-challenged senior" for whom this product is designed themselves might find the support hard to take advantage of.

    On the other hand, as Claris points out, older adults are used to the phone being the modality for communicating. And since the support team can control the tablet from afar, once the older adult has reported a "problem", the tech team can go in behind the scenes and "fix it".

    Key observations:

    • Email and phone support.
    • The Claris support team can take over control of the tablet and make adjustments remotely when there are "problems".
    • I added the SplashTop SOS app for family support of a remote loved one. This lets ME take over the tablet when it is in the house of my elderly aunt and adjust stuff. I really like doing it this way. But you need to be a techie. (See a DIY article on how to do this in Ref 4).

     

     

    Claris Companion Apps & Capabilities: The Basics

    One of the most important aspects of the senior-friendly tablet is which apps exactly are installed on it, and whether or not you can add extra apps. A particular strength of the Claris Companion is that you can add Apps fairly easy during the initial set up.

    The system comes with a range of extra apps "installed but not visible to the user". The family member can later go in using a caregiver interface and remotely enable any of those apps. So, you can "turn them on" later if you want to.

    And, we think you can add additional apps (probably any Android app you choose) so long as you do it during the initial set up, and then "activate them" later using the same remote caregiver interface.

    We wondered about this scenario, though. The tablet gets all set up at your loved one's house, and then you suddenly realize you want to add some app that was NOT included on the tablet initially. You can do that too, but you need to download the app directly to the tablet, and to do that you need someone to be actually at the tablet and able to press some buttons.

     

    Video Calling and Messaging

    Claris has a video call capability built in. It's "OK". We think this is a very important feature, and it's worth comparing with how the competitors do this too (see best senior tablet)

    Key observations:

    • Claris uses only their curated messaging system, so that your loved one can be shielded from unwanted messages.
    • There is no voice or video message recording, just a keyboard.
    • There is a “call me” request for a callback.
    • Although Claris offers a no frills way to do calling and messaging that is adequate, it does offer a dedicated “call me” button which is a great feature.

     

    Photos

    A Photo viewer is included in the Claris Companion App. The "senior" just needs to look at them. We thought this feature worked adequately well.

    Key observations:

    • Good display of photos.
    • Plays a photo frame on the home screen.
    • Notification received when new photos are added.
    • Family members can easily upload photos using the Claris Caregiver App — which easily connects to other apps like Apple Photos.
    • You can add a screen saver app as well to show photos when in screen saver mode.
    • When photos get sent by the family to the Claris App, the "loved one" does NOT need to "accept" them. They just popup full screen.

     

     

    Internet

    Claris just offers the standard Chrome browser as part of the Claris bundle. This works fine, and is embedded in a "frame" with a big button that lets you exit the browser, but is otherwise just a normal old browser with the strengths and weaknesses that entails.

    The interesting thing about using Chrome is the whole suite of Google apps are available, if your loved one is capable of using the apps.

    Claris browsing

    Key observations:

    • No special controls on the screen for your loved one, except for a big back button.
    • No size controls in the browser.

     

    Reminders (interrelated with activities)

    If you would like some feedback on your loved one’s activities, Claris offers a great solution.

    The Claris Companion App includes quite a sophisticated set of reminders, and interactive responses. These can help remind the older adult of a variety of things (programmed by the family member). They also provide some rather valuable feedback to the family caregiver about what types of activities the older adult is engaging in and how frequently.

    We always think about privacy and autonomy. The way Claris works is that the family member gets to decide what reminders and notifications take place. The "loved one" does not get to decide, other than through a discussion with the family member. [The loved one can choose to dismiss the reminders by pushing "Skip".]

     

    Claris reminders

    Key observations:

    • Useful popup reminders for your loved one.

    Claris offers several methods to track the activity of your loved one. For example, "Check-In" presents a daily reminder to click a button to indicate that they are there.

    • Posts message when the loved one checks or fails to check-in.
    • An extensive array of alert messages.
    • Medication reminders.

     

    Calendar

    There is an "Events" section that displays things that are to happen today for the "senior". Family members add the "events" through the Caregiving App that accompanies the Claris Companion.

    Key observations:

    • As an alternative if you prefer, I was able to add the Google Calendar app.

     

     

     

     

    Apps You Can Easily Add

     

    Zoom

    In the time of COVID, Zoom is becoming an indispensable way for people to interact, and many many older adults use it regularly. Luckily, you can add Zoom fairly easily.

    Key observations:

    • Not built-in. I was able to add the Zoom app, but since invitations are emailed through Claris curated email, which does NOT allow links to be clicked, joining a meeting is cumbersome.
    • A solution would be to post the event in your loved one’s Gmail Calendar.

     

    Music Entertainment

    In our setup, we thought a music app would be very useful for the loved one we were setting it up for, and found it fairly easy to do that.

    Key observations:

    • There is no built-in music player.
    • I was able to add the Spotify music app.
    • Opinion: Music is a critical feature and helps with level-setting for some people with dementia.

     

    Weather

    There is a weather app you can easily add, although it is just a "normal" app, rather than something specially designed by Claris. We thought it "functional" but nothing special. 

    Key observations:

    • Used AccuWeather app.

     

    Video Entertainment

    In our setup, we thought an app that allowed watching of movies and other videos would be very useful for the loved one we were setting it up for, and found it fairly easy to do that.

    Key observations:

    • None built-in.
    • I was able to add Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video apps.
    • Opinion: This may make your loved one’s time more enjoyable.

     

    Books

    In our setup, we thought a reading app would be very useful for the loved one we were setting it up for, and found it fairly easy to do that.

    Key observations:

    • None built-in.
    • I was to add Kindle Books and Audible Books apps.
    • Opinion: This may make your loved one’s time more enjoyable.

     

    Voice Assistants like Alexa

    We found it possible to add Alexa to the Claris Companion tablet, but it was a bit convoluted and probably only for the "expert user".

     

     

     

    Needs Improvement, Not "Perfect", Missing

    While we think Claris has done a good job of including the "essential apps" (see above), and making it easy to add your own selection of curated apps, there were some "extras" our reviewer would have liked to have as well, and some "room for improvement" in some areas.

     

    Camera

    While the tablet has a built in camera, there is not a way to easily access it from the Claris Companion App. However, if you want, you can add a camera app.

    Key observations:

    • There is no built-in camera. Added through Camera app and Gallery.
    • But photos are not available to share through Claris email.

     

    Phone

    There is no phone.

    Key observations:

    • Can NOT make or receive phone calls.

     

     

    Hearing or Vision Impairments

    Many older adults in the target demographic for this product have either vision or hearing impairments or both. While we did not do a detailed evaluation of how well the features worked in those situations, here are some observations.

    • Availability of an audible book app (like Audible) and of voice interaction (eg Alexa) might be desirable for those with vision impairments. With the Claris Companion, you can add these.
    • This product does offer pinch-to-zoom on most screens for those with vision issues.
    • We noted that none of the products we evaluated in the "senior tablet" category really take advantage of built in accessibility features in the tablets for things like connecting to bluetooth hearing aids, or varying text colors and contrasts, or adding speech to icons for those with vision issues. This could be a reason why a conventional tablet (an iPad for example) might make sense for people with vision or hearing difficulties.
    • The lack of any audible feedback may be a problem for those with sight issues.

     

     

     

    Learn More

    Senior-friendly Tablets are designed to provide the key functions of a "tablet", but with an interface that is designed to be "simpler" than a normal consumer product, and designed to address some specific needs that some "seniors" and non-tech-savvy individuals have.

    • If you want to compare the Claris Companion with the other products in the "senior-friendly tablet" category — and see which one we think would work best for your specific life situation — go to the "Best Senior Tablet" article.
       
    • If you are looking for a product to help you have "virtual connections" with an older adult who is not very "tech-savvy", the "senior-friendly tablet" category (which includes Claris Companion) represents one type of solution. You can see an overview of this category — as well as other product categories that enable virtual connections — in "Virtual Connections for the Tech-Challenged".

     

    References

    (1) Claris provides extensive documentation that you can access once you acquire the product. Follow the link below to the Claris website to get started.

    (2) Wireless Charging: DIY solution from Frank Engelman.

    (3) Fotoo App.

    (4) Controlling a Parent's Tablet Remotely: DIY Solution from Frank Engelman.

     

     

     

    Discount for Tech-enhanced Life Community

    Tech-enhanced Life readers can get $25 off the price of this product if they use this code: TEL.

     

     

     

    • TEL Discount: $25
    • Code: TEL

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    Last Updated: December 26, 2020.