Sunday, 28 August 2011

Of Tablets and Things

Although tablet PC's have been out for a few years, the introduction of Apple's iPad really heated up the market. It has been touted as the only useful tablet on the market and indeed, having owned an iPhone for a few years, I had a serious case of "wanna/needa".

The time finally came when my old Asus WinXT based netbook had too little battery life left for any serious use, the keys were so worn that a lot of the letters on them could no longer be seen and so I finally had to admit that I needed a new one (That sounded like a good enough excuse I thought). I went searching.

Seriously, at the start of the search I was convinced that this was my chance to get an iPad. I had looked at them many times but when I came to actually parting money, well, I type too much and the idea of doing that much typing on a screen pad put the shivers up me. I still liked the idea of the tablet though so I broadened my search. It must be noted that since the final purchase, HP TouchPad was all but given away but unless you were staff, or best friends of staff, few were able to purchase one.

So I ended up with a transformer from Asus. Yes, I was also interested in the Android market. I'd heard a lot of statistics about android but knew these to be based on cheaper phones rather than the tablet market but I felt it had matured enough for the purchase. The Asus Transformer allows me to have a keyboard, but detach the screen to have a fully functional Android tablet.

I have had this now for a few weeks, so what is my verdict? Having used windows, iPhone, and now Android for serious productive work, I still rate Windows as the basis for the type of work I do. I have been extremely surprised at the quality and usefulness of iPhone apps for on-the-go applications though and regularly enter information including mind maps, documents, and spreadsheets and keep track of my spending habits with it. I have tried to use it for reading books, but it just doesn't work - too small.

Essentially I wanted a tablet so that I can detail mind maps in my work speaking to customers, pan out presentations, and detail some notes on the go. I also want to be able to read books anywhere - I found I can't really do that on the iPhone despite some serious book reading apps.

I'm pleased with my purchase with only a little hesitation. I love the ability of the keyboard to enter in bulk text but am just a little disappointed in the quality of the applications. I have some frustrations with it as well, mainly around the use of the keyboard. Keyboards are new to Android so I eagerly await updates that will recognise this. Using the keyboard I cannot use Ctrl-Arrows to jump to the next or previous word, despite how many times even in writing this I try. The copy and paste works but not as well as iPhone (I know others disagree) but copying the right set of characters is still a little hit and miss, even with its grab-able handles.

There is a couple of very good MS-Office applications available and the Asus Transformer comes with one of them installed. I'm also pleased to find that applications like DropBox and EverNote (I'm using that now), are available for this divide so its easy to move stuff around between computers. The only true disappointment that I have come across is the Mind Map app. I use Mind Maps extensively in my work and I'd have to say is one of the main drivers for me in getting a tablet. The only one currently available on the Android market is called "Thinking Space" and looks every bit as good as the ones I'm used to. However when I use it I find the menus are confusing and not intuitive. The icons are in some cases just wrong - e.g. an icon with a plus sign means create another node as a child of the current node, and an icon with a plus and a right-arrow means to create another node on the same level. It just doesn't make sense. Also, when I do create another node, the focus stays on the previous node, I have to specifically select the newly created node to type into it, when it seems obvious that I'd want to type into the node I just created. But despite the frustrations, this does look promising and I eagerly wait for these few items to be updated to make it more intuitive and easily work.

I'd say that the Android app market still has a way to go to catch up with the quality of serious apps that is available on my iPhone. The tablet is new to Android and I find that most of the apps that I download to try out, do not make use of the extra screen space and are clearly built for the tiny mobile phone screen. I am convinced though that this will change, and soon.

While its fair to say that I should have simply got a replacement to my Windows netbook, I really want to put in the time and effort to use the tablet.

Just as an after thought - my partner has just purchased the very new MacBook Air. For the first time in many years I had to finally agree that she owned a far better computer than I did. I'll keep an eye on this very disturbing development to see where it leads.

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