Smart technology can keep you connected, help with everyday tasks and make it easier to call someone in an emergency. There are lots of different devices available and many can be adapted to your needs.
What is smart technology?
Smart technology describes electronic devices that connect to the internet and can be set up to do some things automatically. It includes devices like computers, smartphones, tablets and smart speakers.
Depending on the device, you can use smart technology at home or while you’re out and about. You'll need an internet connection to make the most of any smart device – see the Choosing an internet package section later on this page.
What can smart technology do?
Most smart devices use computer programs called applications or ‘apps’. Apps can help you with daily tasks like:
- booking GP appointments
- shopping or banking online
- making calls or sending messages to friends and family
- setting reminders, for example, to take medication
- listening to music or watching films
- finding information.
Read our pages on what you can do online or visit our page Starting on the internet for information on how to begin.
Types of smart devices
There are lots of different smart devices available. Some common ones include:
- tablets and smartphones – these are portable devices that you touch the screen to use. Using them is fairly simple, but there are options designed to be easier for older users too
- smart speakers – these are very easy to use because you can simply speak to them. Smart speakers can do things like call or message people, play music or radio, and set reminders or alarms. If you need help and can’t reach your phone, you can tell the smart speaker to call someone
- fitness trackers – these are often worn like a watch and are connected to a smartphone or tablet through the internet. You can check your health with them, for example, counting your steps or seeing how well you’re sleeping
- smart home technology – you can connect the things in your home to the internet by using smart adapters, or by upgrading to a smart model. This lets you control things like your heating, TV, oven, lights, kettle and even vacuum cleaner from a smartphone, tablet or smart speaker.
The exact details of what each device can do will differ between models and companies.
For more information, see our factsheet Technology to help you at home.
Choosing a smart device
Most people find that a smartphone, tablet or smart speaker is enough for what they need. But it depends on your particular needs and what you’d like to do on a smart device.
Try to consider:
- uses and features – what do you want to use the device for? For example, if you're making video calls, you'll need a device with a camera. If you want to make life easier at home, you may want a device to work with other smart home technology
- battery life – for laptops, tablets or smartphones, how long can you use it before you'll need to charge it up?
- screen size – for example, some people need larger screens to easily see what they're doing
- ease of use – some devices are designed to be simpler to use, such as tablets or smart speakers. You can also adapt devices, for example by making buttons larger or text bigger
- toughness – some devices are water resistant or shock proof, so they can cope better if they're accidentally dropped, for example
- insurance cover – how long is the warranty for and what would be covered? You may want to see if a device can be covered in your home contents insurance, if you have this
- budget – how much can you afford to spend on getting smart technology and for ongoing monthly costs, such as paying for internet?
It's worth trying a device out before you get one for yourself. You could ask a friend or relative if they have one you could try. Or you may be able to get advice and try out devices in some shops.
You can also look for independent reviews to help you make a shortlist – for example, by reading computer magazines or on technology review websites.
If you're helping someone to get online, talk to them about what they need. Having the same model can make it easier to help if there are any problems.
Where to get smart technology from
Large technology and electronics shops will probably sell most of the products listed here. It's important to shop around as prices can vary. If you’re considering buying a new device online, follow advice to shop online safely.
If you're on a budget, there may be cheaper models available that suit your needs. You could also look at second-hand, refurbished or older models, which are usually cheaper. Bear in mind that technology companies may eventually stop providing software and updates for outdated models – see Staying safe online for more on software updates.
Some local councils, libraries and charities run schemes to help people get online. They may provide you with some support to get started, and in some cases, with a simple device, such as a tablet or smart speaker.
Choosing an internet package
The main ways to connect your device to the internet are:
- broadband – a high-speed internet connection that you can use at home
- mobile internet – an internet connection that can be used while you're out and about, as well as at home.
Whichever one you go for, there are different packages available. When choosing or switching provider consider:
- internet speed – faster internet costs more, but you can do things quicker. Think about how you plan to use the internet – for example, a faster connection is helpful if you plan to make lots of video calls, play games or watch films. But it may not be right if you'll use it less, or only want to do things like send emails and browse websites.
- data limits – some packages provide a certain amount of internet use per month. This can cost less, but you may pay more if you go over the limit. You can set some devices to turn off the internet when you reach the limit and turn it back on the next month
- costs of the package – such as one-off setup fees and monthly costs. It's also worth checking if the price would change when the contract ends
- contract length – check if there are fees if you have to cancel your contract early
- where you live – some providers may not cover certain places – for example, if you live in a remote area or your road doesn't have certain cables
- any extras – many broadband packages come with services like landline call plans, TV subscriptions and mobile contracts.
Some internet providers might offer special deals for older people. However, it’s best to shop around, as these special deals might not be cheaper.
You can use comparison sites such as Uswitch to find the best deals on broadband or mobile internet.
If you receive certain benefits, you may qualify for special package deals. For example, BT provides a low-cost Home Essentials package for people who get Pension Credit.
Setting up your internet
It's usually simple to get your internet connection set up.
- For home broadband – you should get a box, known as a router, from your provider. This plugs into your home's master phone socket and connects to a power socket. Most home broadband comes with security turned on. So, once it's switched on, you should be able to connect your device to the wireless (WiFi) network using the password and network name provided. See our Starting on the internet page for more information on how to do this.
- For mobile internet – generally you'll place a data (SIM) card into the correct slot on your mobile or tablet. To connect to the internet, you'll need to turn your device on and make sure 'mobile data' is switched on in settings.
It's best to check the instructions for your specific device or from your internet provider if you're doing this by yourself. Some home broadband providers may offer a setup service.
AbilityNet also offer free help and support for older people across the UK if you need help to get set up.
Keeping yourself safe
Smart technology has many benefits, but it’s important to take steps to keep yourself and your devices safe. This includes setting strong passwords, installing the latest security updates and staying alert to scams.
Visit The National Cyber Security Centre for information on using smart devices securely at home. Or read our page Staying safe online.
For information on choosing smart devices for older people, visit AbilityNet or Digital Unite.
Ofcom has a comparison of different internet providers if you're looking to switch.
Find out more about Starting on the internet and Adapting your devices to make them easier to use.