To Tablet or Not

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I was really fascinated with tablets when Apple first came out with the iPad One. We got one at work and all us geeks gave it a try and each of us returned it within a couple of days, because we tried to use it like a laptop to access and administer our cluster or Linux machines. Tablets are a terrible replacement for SSH access to machines.

Some months later I gave the iPad another try, this time for reading books, magazines, simple games and reading the news on the web. The apps were cheap enough that I didn't mind spending a couple bucks now and then for sometihng I actually used. The 10 inch screen was very readable. Being able to pinch and change font size made reading far far easier than I expected. When I first experienced how much changing the font size mattered, I thought, "Paper is dead". I stopped reading paper-anything.

True, the iPad is a bit heavy, but I wasn't carrying it outside the house very often. I took it on a few vacations and it was useful to check Email. The keyboard took more than a little time to get used to - and is still a pain (my passwords are all long random strings of letters and numbers and punctuation and they are a serious pain to enter). The iPad can be pokey slow (probably because it's the first model?). When an app gets stuck, there are times when I have trouble getting it to die. I love how smoothly it seems to work, but getting pictures, videos and mp3s on it is a giant pain. iTunes is a terrible way to copy data to a device. Why can't I just plug in a thumb drive and just copy the data, Apple? Still, the iPad was usable and more portable than a laptop.

As we began planning a long trip to SE Asia, my wife opined, "Rather than carry a dozen books with me, I supposed I could learn to read on one of these tablets." I took the hint, and within a few days she had a Kindle Fire. My wife is barely computer-literate. She loves her Mac and that's allowed her to use the Internet without constant hand-holding on my part. She is, however, a dedicated reader and holding paper is an important part of that process, so I was amazed as how she took to the Kindle Fire. For almost a year now, she has consistently used it for reading books, checking the weather, reading news on the web and playing simple games - all on her own. She still gets paper books from the library, but has read many e-books from the library and when we were on our long trip, she read e-books on her Kindle. Wow - there is a future to this tablet technology!

For my part, I knew that taking a tablet was the only choice for our SE Asia trip. I was reluctant to carry a 10 inch, fairly heavy iPad. I wanted to use my tablet as a backup for pictures - a near impossibility on the iPad. No, copying pictures 'to the cloud' does not work in practice. When it takes 3 minutes to copy one picture, it is clear the cloud is not a backup choice while traveling.

After some research I decided to get a Google Nexus 7. It's small, light, and for better or worse, would always be one of the first machines to get the latest Android release. It turned out I was exactly right. At the time Android did not allow me to mount a thumbdrive and just copy the data, but there were plenty of examples of people who 'rooted' their tablet and that allowed an app to do the mount. After that, there were many apps to allow one to see the entire filesystem and copy data where I wanted it.

On my trip I brought along thumbdrives and adapters for SD cards, as well as an OTG (on the go) cable. These allowed me to plug a thumbdrive or adapter with SD card into the Nexus and copy the pictures to my Nexus where we could see the pictures we'd taken. It wasn't as good as seeing pictures on a large screen TV (see comments on the Roku), but it's better than looking at pictures on a tiny camera screen. This backup technology worked so well, I backed up pictures for everyone in our group.

I've come to really like how Android 4.x works. The Nexus is very responsive and easy to use. The return key lets me kill an app I don't want. Surprisingly, the small keyboard seems to work better than the larger one on the iPad (perhaps I'm getting trained better). There are a couple of apps on the iPad that are not on Android and that's disappointing, but I'm counting on that gap being filled since the Android market is so large.