A Few Thoughts on Tablets

4 minute read

Was in a meeting recently where everyone else had tablets. I had a Moleskine Volant and a pen and felt seriously out-geeked. Time for me to take another look at something smaller than a laptop but larger - and less fiddly - than a phone.

But I thought you had an iPad?

I do. I’ve bought it a funky Logitech keyboard cover and everything. It’s great for looking stuff up from the comfort of the sofa on a device that starts up right away without the distracting whirring noises and “toasted skin syndrome”1 associated with a full-on laptop addiction.

So… Why are you looking at buying yet more tech gear you can’t afford?

Well, I’ve had it over a year and, while it’s undoubtedly a great gadget, it’s seldom been out of the house - unless you regularly rock the messenger bag look (I don’t - too cumbersome) the 10” form factor is too big to go into a standard shoulder bag and, unexpectedly, too heavy to be casually taken out of the house on a regular basis. Plus it’s an expensive toy to risk damaging or having stolen so, unlike the Kindle, lobbing it into a cloth bag to take as an extra doesn’t feel like a good option.

Got your eye on something particular?

Sort of. Despite my misgivings about Android, I initially thought it was a straight fight between the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD. The Kindle Fire SD variant suffers from a lack of buttons (I’ve gotten used to being able to turn the volume down without fishing around in a menu) and an excess of reflections so it’s the HD version or nothing from where I’m sitting (especially if where I’m sitting is on a train - so many weird reflections to be had). Obviously the iPad Mini’s non-conformist 8” - sorry 7.9” - screen was going to make it waaay too bulky and cumbersome to be in with a shout.

What about the Surface?

Nice idea - love the USB and SD card expansion stuff - but too expensive and too heavy. (Also what’s with selling an nGB tablet where half of that’s full of the OS? No-one else does that, try again please.) Expecting to see good things from Version 2 but like most Version 1 products it’s not quite there yet. Or at least, I’m not the target market.

Fair enough. What’ll it be then?

So after playing with all the things at my friendly local department store - and a brief distraction in the form of a Reduced to Clear Sony Tablet P (eventually ruled out as being too old hardware-wise and, with the dual screen layout, ultimately too weird, to be the right thing despite having the perfect self-protecting fold-it-up-and-throw-it-in-a-bag-or-pocket form factor) - I decided I could get used to Android proper on the Nexus 7 in return for faster hardware with better future support and flexibility vs Kindle’s more user-friendly but necessarily locked-down approach. And decided to save up for an iPad Mini.

Yeah, if you see yourself as a content producer and not “just” a consumer, the Nexus unit has a lot going for it… Wait, what?!

Turns out what I really need is something that’s “small enough” - handbag sized and not too bulky - and light. Had to be lightweight. And Apple have pulled off an engineering miracle and made sure that the Mini is the lightest of them all. And the thinnest; very important factors when you’re carrying these things around. If you can manage a standard size Moleskine, the iPad Mini should provide a familiar form factor.

Oh, plus the “premium” tag of the Apple hardware ensures it’ll have the usual suspects falling over themselves to produce the widest range of accessories (read: I really need a keyboard - see also Joey Hess: “my thoughts are being forced out through a straw”).

But there’s no Retina display!

Yeah, about that. It’s the same screen resolution (and processor spec come to that) as my much-loved iPad2 but on a smaller screen so should, if anything, look even sharper. I’m not convinced about the whole Retina thing, it’s pretty and all but there are costs to this sort of thing. While I totally get the argument about the iffy value proposition of yesterday’s tech at today’s prices, I’m not trading in my iPad for performance- or screen-related issues, it’s all about the portability for me these days. We’ll see if I guessed right this time when I finally manage to find a store that’s got one in stock.

  1. I'd take the Daily Mail's claim that laptops cause cancer with a pinch of salt though - as UK readers are probably already aware, they think *everything* causes cancer