Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tablet Tribulations

The HP TouchPad Fire Sale 
It seems like a time to reassess my mobile computing needs.  I have a three year old HP Touchpad, which I bought around the August 2011 HP fire sale.  I knew when I acquired the 9.7" tablet that it was “turning into a torpedo” as HP had abandoned WebOS and had a limited array of applications.  All that being said, it could be useful for awiley Thrifty Techie.  Consider that it was a great value for money, as the Touchpad's clearance price was one third of the original MSRP.  The size of the display was great.  Moreover, it had the ability to simultaneously run built upon the  elegant WebOS architecture. Although the app store was small, it included enough software to be quite useful-- so size isn't everything in an apps store.

Even to this day, the Touchpad is my go to device to make use of times when I am otherwise disposed. It is great for web browsing and playing games.  Aside from surfing to YouTube, I haven’t watched many videos on the device, though the XGA screen size is great for the immersive video experience.  The Touchstone charging station also makes it into a great digital picture frame and a good travel accessory.

But realistically, the Touchpad is long in the tooth, along with a stillborn O/S and a dwindling cost conscious counterintutive fan base for support.  While I could continue to muddle along with relying upon a HP Touchpad, it is the content creation criteria which causes me to look elsewhere.  I have a full sized bluetooth keyboard which can be paired with the charging stand to be a laptop substitute, however the three piece ensemble is not sleek mobility.  In addition, since my office productivity software (Corel Word Perfect and Microsoft Office) was not available on WebOS, I found that I was rarely using the word processing capability. When covering events, I found myself live “tweeting” more and then piecing together articles on a laptop. Some streaming websites can not be displayed on the Touchpad and peripheral devices (and tethering applications) can be perilous.

Original Amazon Kindle
I have been a long time enthusiast about the Amazon Kindle, particularly the E-Ink devices.  "Striker" the affection nickname for my  Generation 2 device  with 3G Whispernet, which has served me well since 2010.  But the battery longevity is dwindling.   While batteries for the Kindle can be acquired, I am leery about installing it myself and I can not readily convince computer geeks to do it for me.

The easy answer would be to upgrade but that is not the right answer for me.  I inherited a Kindle Generation 3 with WiFi, which is better for reading but I can not use it for internet access to text based web sites without WiFi as can be done with a Gen 2 reader.

Upgrading to a Kindle Paperwhite has drawbacks.  Now even the 3G Paperwhite only allows access to Wikipedia and the Amazon site, so I wonder why would people pay the extra $50?  Moreover, Amazon has eliminated the headphone option on their E-Ink devices along with the Text to Speech ability.  That was a deal breaker for me. There are times when I want to consume the written word, but I can’t have my eyes on the screen.  But this “read to me” capability exists in two forms for the Kindle Fire.

As a consumer reward, I was able to get my eager hands on a Kindle Fire 2.  It is the perfect size to slip into an over-sized pocket or into a briefcase.  It is a great content consuming device.  I have read books on it and utilized the text-to-speech synthesis.  I have watched some videos on it.  While the 7" screen does not give the immersive experience, the 1220x800 resolution is quite sharp.  I have listened to streaming radio on it.  Of course, I’ve played Angry Birds and other pastime games.  Despite having a few different bluetooth keyboards which could be paired with the Kindle Fire 2, the  7" screen along with the available applications fails to  make it into a productivity device. And one of the supplemental cases which combines a bluetooth keyboard with a case makes the tablet seem bulky, which defeats the purpose of mobile computing. While I definitely anticipate using the Kindle Fire HD 2, its use will likely be as a supplemental reader and a visual content consuming device.

My digital discernment is that I should have a content creation mobile device.  Even though  smartphones are getting bigger displays, I do not think that such Phablets (phone tablets), lend themselves to prolonged productivity in mobile computing.   I am not looking for a laptop replacement as I already have a Windows 7 laptop, which suits my needs and runs software which will not work in a tablet environment.  Thus I want something in between a laptop and a tablet-- a laplet.

The Toshiba Thrive 10.1" display  Android tablet laying around the household could have been a suitable solution as it allows for a dock to connect a USB keyboard and/or mouse.  However, it  is my spouse’s pride and joy thus it is unavailable to me.  So I find myself drawn to an ultraportable tablet for content creation  which is sleeker than a laptop with more mobile battery power.

By keying into content creation, it eliminates other popular mobile tablets, such as the Apple iPad and the Nexus 7.  Conceivably, I could consider an Apple Macbook Air but as a Thrifty-Techie who has never entered the Apple universe,  cost and conversion challenges would rule it out.

Then there is the ASUS Transformer series, which has a 10.1" screen which can have up to a 1920x1200 screen.  The price point becomes a consideration as it rivals laptop price without giving a hard drive, a DVD drive, or many standard USB ports.  And to the chagrin of some discriminating mobile computing shoppers, ASUS has shifted their software from Android to Windows 8.1 thus it is unappealing.  Although I would not want to be stuck with Windows 8.1 on a PC or laptop per se, due to legacy software and not optimizing the touch screen User Interface (UI), I remain open to Windows 8.1 for a tablet.

These criteria leave room for the Microsoft Surface RT.  The 10.6" 16x9 screen is large enough for immersive video viewing, but is also a good size for productivity without becoming unwieldy.  The draw of the Surface RT is to have a complimentary full suite of Office 2013 RT available (the O/S upgrade includes Windows 8.1. and Outlook).  But as an Ultraportable tablet to optimize productivity, it requires the keyboard cover.

The original price point for the Surface 32 RT was $499 with a $119 add on for the keyboard (or $699 for the 64GB with keyboard bundled)  which put it in the iPad price point, which was overpriced for the market.  But as Microsoft took a write off in 2013 on the Surface RT and is rolling out the success tablet Surface 2 and Surface 3 Pro, there are great deals on manufacturer refurbished Surface RT units.  When one can have a 64 GB unit for 1/3rd of the original MSRP through popular auction sites, it is worth considering by the Thrifty Techie.

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