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Tablets—a review with random musings

Frank Ramsey
Newsletter Editor, Akron Canton PC Users Group, Ohio
www.acpcug.org
Aframsey (at) yahoo.com

Those of you that know me understand I have fallen in love with tablets. They are sweet in my mind.

This doesn't mean that all tablets are created equal.

I thought it was time for some random musings on what I've found in the tablet markets.

My tablet journey has consisted of 16 tablets with something like 10 different models.

I've owned: Apple iPad 1, Apple iPad 2 (2 of these), Apple iPad 3, (all 9.7”), Samsung Galaxy Tablet 8.9 (4 different ones, all 8.9”) a Sony S Tablet (9.7”), a Asus TF101 (10.1”), an Acer A500 (10.1”), a Toshiba AT305 (10.1”), a Acer W500 (10.1”), and a Google Nexus 7 (7”).

I’ve also spent significant time with Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet (10.1”) .

Of the tablets I've experienced, four have run Apple iOS, 10 have run Android of various versions (2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 4.x, 4.1 and 4.2) and one runs Windows 7/8.

I currently have 4 tablets, two iPad’s, the Nexus 7 and the Acer W500.

Observations
My first suggestion is don’t buy a cheap tablet. You’ll be sorry. You’d be better to wait till you can afford the $200 price of a Google Nexus 7 than spend $100 on a low end tablet.

Why you ask? The low end tablets are under powered and have very limited storage. And they typically use resistive touch screens. Without getting into the dynamics, resistive touch screens are not as sensitive or responsive as the capacitive touch screens used on higher end tablets.

With the Google Nexus 7 selling for $200, buying something less expensive to save a few bucks will only bring on frustration.

That brings another observation. Buy a general purpose tablet, not a reader.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble both sell very good tablets in the Amazon Fire and Nook Tablet.
However, all these are intended to lock you into their store. You buy your books and applications only from them. Unless you root the device. We’ll talk about rooting a little later.

Give the Google Nexus 7 is available for 200 bucks, pass on the Amazon and Nooks and go for it as a fantastic general purpose tablet.

Customizability
By this I mean your ability to change how the tablet looks and works. This should be more than just changing your wallpaper.

iOS limits the customizability to what Apple feels you should do. Change the wallpaper and organization of the applications is about all you can do. Even when jailbroke, you cannot perform a lot more extensibility on iOS.

Android allows a lot more customizability. You can change the wallpaper including live wallpapers that change while you view.

Android also allows you to change the default keyboard and other input methods and select alternate launchers. What’s a launcher? Basically a launcher is the method you interface with the tablet. Think of this as the look and feel of the screens.

Overall, Android allows more extensibility than iOS.

Applications
Applications written for tablets typically use higher resolutions.
Applications written for phones use lower resolutions.
I know duh! Right!

Screen Size
I like to hold the tablet in one hand in a vertical position and use my other hand to navigate on the tablet.

Given this, I find the traditional sized tablets of either 9.7” or 10.1” too big, bulky and heavy to hold comfortably in one hand for very long.

My favorite tablets are the smaller sized ones. 7” is a good size for personal viewing of videos. It can be a little too small when viewing web sites. The 8.9” form factor is about perfect in my opinion; videos are great and web sites show clarity.

Storage
The presence or lack of expandable storage probably isn’t too big a deal for me. Tablets typically come with some built-in memory ranging from 2 GB and up to 64gb or more.

The more storage, the more stuff you can store on the tablet. Another duh right?!

I don’t use my tablet to listen to music from. Waste of good hardware in my opinion. I carry either an iPod or Sansa device to listen to music. That’s what they were made to do and they do it very well. Music typically takes lots of storage; removing it saves a lot of space on the tablet..

I find 16gb a decent amount of internal storage. That’s enough to store 10 or so movies for viewing on long flights.

Books and applications typically don’t take a lot of storage, 16gb is a decent amount. Sure, you’ll not be much of a pack rat with 16gb,

Larger amounts of storage allow you to get sloppy.

Expandable storage can be used to back the device up which we all should do, right?

Device memory
Here you have to watch. It’s pretty easy to find the amount of storage. Much more difficult to find the amount of memory in the device. My experience is if the device has 512kb or less, stay clear. It’s going to run out of memory and slow down.

iPads and most higher end tablets have at least 768k memory. Some have 1 to 2 GB. The more memory, the more applications. On a duh role aren’t I!

CPU
Again, here you may have to search to find the specs on the tablet.

The best tablet experience also has fast multicore CPUs. Didn’t know tablets come with multiple cores on their CPU’s heh? Well it’s true.

Quad core tablets are all the rage. The Nexus 7 uses a quad core CPU and it’s fast and responsive.

Dual core tablets are normally responsive, but there may be times you experience a lag because either you don’t have enough memory or enough CPU to do the task you’re asking for.

My suggestion is get at least a dual core CPU running at least 1.0 gHz.

Battery Life
iPads have better battery life. Before you get ready to argue with me, this is my column with my observations so I can write what I feel. So there!

However, this is backed up by a number of independent studies.

Why you ask? iOS is a single tasking operating system. The application that runs is in the “fore ground”. Other applications simply pause. This saves battery life.

Android allows applications to run in the “background”. You may find the features performed by the background applications useful, but they do affect your battery life.

Screen Resolution
The more expensive tablets come with better screens. Currently iPad 3/4 and the Nexus 10 have the highest pixel count screen.

Can you see the difference? Absolutely. This truly is a time where more is better!

What price do you pay for the increased screen resolution? You will pay a price in battery life as the more pixels to be changed, the more power that it takes.

You may not see much difference when watching movies, although you can see the difference on the iPad 1 and iPad 2 with their lower resolution screens pretty easily.

Select a table that has at least 800x600 resolution. If you can afford it, go for 1280x800 (720p) resolution.

Cameras
Tablets have built in cameras, sometimes multiple ones, front and back.

They can be useful if you’re Skypeing with someone. You will probably not use the cameras for much, although the higher resolution ones (5 mpixels and up) take great pictures.

An Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) typically has a panoramic view allowing you to have a scene that pans a wider area, much like a wide angle lens. It’s a unique feature that you might find useful. There are multiple applications available to edit the photos on the tablet.

Application Stores
Applications written for tablets typically take advantage of a tablet’s higher resolution screen.

The Apple Store has more applications than Google Play and more that take advantage of a tablet’s higher resolution screen.

Having said this, you will find both stores have selections in almost whatever type application you desire. Lots of games, utilities, weather updates, etc.

Without jailbreaking, iOS applications can only be downloaded from the Apple Store.

Android tablets can download from the Google Play store, the Amazon store and other locations. You don’t need to root the device to enable installation from other than the Google Play store however.

Rooting/Jailbreaking
Both refer to the same thing, but on different platforms. You root an android tablet and jailbreak an iPad.

So what is rooting/jailbreaking? Basically it’s removing the limitations the hardware vendor placed on you.

Jailbreaking an iPad means you can install applications from places other than the Apple Store.

Once jailbroke, an iPad can install applications from non-Apple Store locations. Additionally you can customize the iPad interface somewhat. Not as much as Android allows, but you can add things like a mouse driver.

Rooting an Android device allows more control over the hardware. Typical things you can do include over or under clocking the CPU (running the CPU faster or slower than rated). Note: you don’t really need to under clock as the Android OS does a pretty good job of slowing the CPU down when it’s not required. Another thing rooting does is allow for total backups. I know, you mean you cannot backup everything about an Android tablet without rooting? Sad but true. While email accounts typically are synced with your Gmail account, application settings are not.

Do you need to jailbreak or root the tablet to enjoy it? Absolutely NOT! I use to jailbreak/root a device soon after acquiring it. Now I’m not finding the need to jailbreak/root it. Just enjoy the tablet is my current view

Expandability
By this I mean accessories, cases, hardware add-ons, etc.

iOS takes the cake here hands down. There are simply more add-ons available that use the Apple Dock connector. Radios, speakers, video games, even piano keyboards.

Apple has complicated this with the iPad 4. The Apple Dock connector was changed from the 30 pin one that has been standard. This immediately obsoleted many of the hardware accessories out there. Yes, there is an adapter from the old to new Apple Dock.

Android tablets have suffered and continue to suffer special connectors which limits the reusability of devices. Even power connectors can be unique to a tablet.

Android allows Bluetooth connectivity for keyboards and mice while iOS only supports Bluetooth keyboards. Both support Bluetooth headphones.

As previously discussed, iPad does not support addition memory, while many Android tablets allow you to use a SD or microSD card for additional storage.
I do encourage protecting the tablet with a case and possibly a screen protector.

There are a lot of different cases available. I prefer those that allow you to have the tablet vertically and horizontally. They’re called 360 rotatable.

I also like cases that allow the tablet to be detached and protected. Not a lot of these are available in the 9.7” or 10.1” tablets. The 7” tablets have a number of better options.

Screen protectors are available for almost any tablet. Some will say if the tablet has Gorilla glass (a type of glass that resists scratches) you don’t need a screen protector. Personally I prefer a screen protector on every tablet as the screen protector can improve readability in bright light situations.

Manageability/Backups
How do you manage the tablets?

iPad makes it easy. iTunes is the universal answer. You transfer music, movies, and applications within iTunes. You back up the device using iTunes. You restore to a new device using, yes, iTunes.

Android doesn’t have an iTunes. Most of the manageability is drag and drop. Want to copy an application to the device. Drag the install file from your laptop to the device. Need to copy a movie. Same thing, drag and drop. Music? Ditto!

Backup of an Android tablet requires an application. Yes, you can “mount” the tablet’s internal storage on your laptop and copy the files from the tablet to the laptop.

Without rooting the Android tablet, backups do not include application settings. Want to preserve your high score or customized settings on your favorite game? The only way is to root the tablet and run a program like My Backup Pro or Titanium Backup Pro

Whew! Are you as tired as I am?

You’ve probably noticed a lack of Windows tablets? Ok, the Acer W500 is a Windows tablet and it’s currently running both Windows 8 and Android Ice Cream sandwich.

I simply cannot afford a Windows Surface tablet. They do look very interesting. The main claim to fame seems to be the ability to run Microsoft Office. Hummmm, is this enough to sell a $500 device? Stay tuned!.

We’ve been through a lot and hopefully you have a better idea about tablets and some pointers on what to look for when shopping for a tablet.

What other things might you find?

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