Choosing a tablet is as bad as buying a car

ipadminiSo, this is the time of year when shopping is in full swing for the holidays.  Every year, there seems to be that one standout, must have category and, so it seems, this year it is the tablet computer.  As such, I thought I would give some pointers on how to shop. I don’t want to come out and recommend a specific tablet, but I will share my thoughts on several categories of tablets.

How to determine which category you belong in

First thing to decide is who is the tablet going to go to, it is the important part of the puzzle. If it is going to a child, then skip ahead.  If to an adult, or yourself, then you need to know the following:

  • Does the recipient have an iPhone already? If they do, they, likely, already have a multitude of accessories and applications.  Things like power adaptors, bluetooth keyboards, cables, etc. will work on the iPad and, if they do not have one, that it is the best and easiest way to go.
  • Does the recipient have an Android phone? If yes, then skip to the buying an Android tablet.
  • Does the recipient have a Kindle or use the Kindle software? If yes, there are three choices: the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 inch or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch.  Here’s where you need to figure out which is better. If they have a hard time seeing, then get the 8.9 inch otherwise, the 7 inch is probably the best way to go.  Amazon has a nice ecosystem already and if they use Amazon Prime, then there is a whole world of streaming possibilities. Plus, anything you purchase from Amazon (like apps or media) will be store in the cloud and the device.
  • Does the recipient need or want an e-reader more than a tablet? If yes, then the aforementioned Kindle Fire or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD are good choices.  The Nook runs a more standard Android operating system while the Kindle Fire (and HD) run a modified Android OS.  Also, there is the KOBO e-reader with table like features and the low end Kindle and Nooks (with some tablety features) for under $80.
  • Does the recipient eschew Android and iOS (the operating system of the Apple iPad) and want something different? Well, if so, there are not many choices. You have Windows 7 tablets, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. The Windows tablets are still on the pricey side, however if you want something more like an iPad, but not iPad, the Windows RT tablet may fit the bill. There are several brands, including the MIcrosoft Surface as well as one from Asus.  Keep in mind, Windows 8 RT Store is rather new and no where near as complete as the Android and Apple’s App Store.

If an Android tablet is in the offering, then read on…

Buying an Android Tablet

Android tablets are plentiful and run the gamut from 1.0 to 4.1.  Price is a big factor here, the cheaper the tablet, the crappier the tablet, with a few exceptions.  Generally speaking, stay away from brands that you have never heard of, as well as low end names like Craig, Emerson and, sadly, Sylvania.  These are going to be cheap, slow, lack performance and battery life and, likely, the Google Play Store.  You will have to get your apps from, shall we say, more questionable sources. Plus, many of these tablets will run older versions of Android (CVS carries one – a Craig – with Android 1.6) which may be wholly incompatible with most apps.

It is better to stay with names you know, like Motorola, Samsung and LG.  Samsung has the best Android tablet, the Galaxy 10.1. It rocks the latest Android, has the performance and battery life to make it useful.  Motorola’s tablet is nice, but lacks some of the prowess of the Samsung. Others to look for include Acer (which always makes good products) and Asus.  These are going to be pricier tablet, in the $300 to $600 range, but will be worth the cash.

Stay away, far away…

…from places like CVS, Big Lots, Wal-Greens or any such store.  They are likely to have the aforementioned low end brands and nothing worth laying down your cash. (One possible exception is thesylvania7 Sylvania 7 inch in the BLACK BOX. I don’t have the model number, but it has Android 4.1 and sports a 1.2ghz processor and seems fairly responsive. I would ONLY get this if you need a spare device to use for music or internet and it’s under $80.)  Be careful if you do decide to get a tablet at one of these retailers (which I really have nothing against, they just aren’t the place to go buy a tablet) since some tablets are being sold with WINDOWS CE. Read the box, carefully. You DO NOT WANT WINDOWS CE.  Not in a tablet, phone, ‘netbook’ or anything else. Trust me on this, that is one dog you just do not want.  Also, Pandigital is a brand to now stay far away from as they are no longer an active company. You can still find their stuff in the channel, but you will get NO SUPPORT. And, I’m pretty sure that most of the other tablets will render you supportless as well.

Buying for a child or for a family

There are many tablets for children that are really nothing more than toys. Some of these are fine and are inexpensive, like the Innotab. However, if you want a real tablet that is safe for kids, your choices are limited.  Ideally, you will want a tablet that lets you set up profiles for the kids and profiles for the adults.  Currently, the Kindle Fire and FIre HD will do this, as will the Nook and Samsung Galaxy (a combination of manufacturer software and Android.)  The Windows tablets will as well, but they are far too pricey for kids. iPad does not currently do this, but it does have the best selection of children friendly games and software, bar none.  The Kindle offering has a good selection as well.  Another thing to consider is durability. Currently, there are bumpers and cases for the iPad, Galaxy and Fire that will protect the tablet from drops and other oopsies.  Price is also a factor as well as size. The bigger the tablet, the harder it is for them to hold.  Here, the iPad MIni is a great choice. Children’s eyes are usually better than ours, so the difference in the screen won’t mean much. It is also cheaper than it’s much larger brother.

Ok, I’m still not sure what to get…

surfacertAlright, let’s look at it a different way…what does the recipient do most: play games, use Facebook or other social network, surf the net, be productive?  For simple net surfing and Facebook, pretty much any of the under $200 tablets will do that, hell, even those cheap ones I just warned you about will do that (still, stay away from them) but you want to get one that COULD do more,  Here’s where the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Nobel Nook HD would be excellent choices. Both are under two hundred bucks, both have a fairly decent ecosystem, both are easy to use.

If the recipient wants to play games, again most of the mid to upper end units will work, but the iPad has the advantage here. Every major game publisher supports the iPad and you can bet they will for a long time to come. Forget the iPad mini and get the real deal and go for the 32gb version, they will burn through 16gb in no time. The Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire and Fire HD and the B&N Nook HD also make nice game players. Not sure about Windows RT as the RT market is rather limited at the moment.

Being productive is the big limitation here.  This is the area where the Windows devices shine best. The Windows 7 tablets, while functional, should be ignored as they are nothing more than Windows 7 computers shoehorned into a tablet. Get a Windows 8 Pro device. You can use full size keyboard and mice and also use them as full desktops. Plus, they have the mobility factor.  The Windows RT devices CAN be used this way, but the PRO version is better. Also, iPad and the Samsung Galaxy are good, if not incomplete, choices.sylvania10inch

Ultimately, money is likely your deciding factor. Get the most for the least is my motto and you can do that with tablets, but you have to shop around. Best Buy will have most of them out so you can at least play around with them and their prices aren’t awful either.  Surprisingly, Target is another place to purchase them, but the selection is extremely limited.

A good resource to use for comparing features and reviews is CNet. Amazon is decent too, but can be confusing.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

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Just because the tech is old, doesn’t mean it is worthless, right?

So, it’s happened again. One more piece of technology I purchased is relegated to the dust bin. My HTC EVO Shift 4G is not only NOT listed on HTC’s current lineup for Sprint, they no longer support it! It is just at a year old (the phone, not my personal phone that is) and will not be getting the Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade to Android.  Worse, Sprint seems to be deprecating the phone as well. But, at least they will give me $68 (US) on the buy back program (compare that to the $18 for my wife’s Blackberry flip phone.)

So, once again, I find myself looking around at the technology that I have.  My Kindle Fire is the most current piece of tech in the house. EVERYTHING else, mine or a family member’s, is either no longer made, been replaced with a newer model or just plain old. BUT…just because something is old does not mean it does not have any useful life left in it.

For example, our original iPad is used everyday. I use it when I am home, my wife uses and my four year old step son uses (he probably uses it more than any of uPandigitals.)  The white 7 inch Pandigital tablet has been rejuvenated now that I got it’s Android update corrected. I found that using it in conjunction with a stylus from a Nintendo DS makes the abysmal touch screen actually work.  I installed the Go EX Launcher and an Ice Cream Sandwich theme to make it look fresh and put a 2gb SD card to store apps.  It is almost like new. Almost.

My old Palm Pre serves as a backup mini-tablet. It is no longer used as a phone, but it still works and the Wi-Fi functionality is better than the HTC.  Facebook and Twitter work fine and I have Boggle, Tetris and a couple of other games as well. Oh, Shrek Racing on the Pre works great and allows us to play two player – Pre and iPad. Works great.  Glad I did not rip it apart like I was going to do.

An old AMD Athlon based (single core, 1.8ghz) PC that was my son’s computer (with Vista shoehorned in) is still chugging along as a backup computer (currently on loan to my sister while I revive her much better computer).  It may be old and have outdated technology, but it got my sis back on the interwebs.

54647704My ZuneHD still works great, it is used everyday as my podcast player. I can also load it up with movies and, along with the dock, use it as a video player.  Throw it in a bag and take it with you on vacation.  No need for a pile of DVD’s.

My original Kindle (the funky wedge shaped one) still works and gets use. When we have no power, it doubles as an internet device since the browser will work on many sites (the ones I would need in such a situation anyway) and it just sips the juice.

That old Zenith CRT television is now the display for a slew of old video games.  An Intellivision, Odyssey II, NES/SNES combo thingy and two Atari Plug and Play consoles in addition to a raft of plug and play games that were popular a couple of years ago. And, since I have a VCR or two AND an old Laserdisc player, this set is still useful. Couple it with the government purchased digital converter I got in 2009, we can still watch local TV on it.  And, at 27 inches, you can see it too.

I have quite a bit more tech that is no longer in the desirable column, but it is mostly unused. Unused because the functionality is reduced to a point where it is useless, broken, rendered useless by a service (PEEK, I’m looking you) or just plain too slow to be useful (like the 1995 era Toshiba Laptop I have. It works great, but lacks an optical drive, the screen is terrible and it is SLOW. It does boot faster than anything in the house, though.  That’s some100_0862thing, right?

I hate throwing things away. Likewise, I hate looking at gear that used to be the hot thing but no longer is and is probably not worth anything.  Like the TWO Peek devices I have. They look great, the industrial design was fantastic and the screen was nice. Peek, however, is no longer around as a service (I canned it long ago anyway) but the devices, supposedly, can be hacked into little Linux handhelds.  Not sure what one would do with a hacked Peek, but it might be fun to play with. One day.

Yes, one day I will play around with some of this stuff. Like the Peek or the ZipIt 2. Yeah, ONE DAY.

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Pandigital Novel: worth it?

Until the Samsung Galaxy Tab came out, the only other real competition to the iPad was the Pandigital Novel eReader.  The Novel is a 7 inch Android based tablet that runs a custom front end that is geared toward making the device an eReader. 

The Novel comes preloaded with a browser, eReader software, Barnes and Noble bookstore, a couple of games, a few bookmarks and an audio/video player. 

The first thing you notice about the device is its smallish size. It is almost too small.  It is a handsome device, sleek and thin (but not as thin as that other device.)  Unfortunately, as soon as you turn it on, you notice its biggest weakness: the touch screen.  It is bright and vibrant, but almost not very sharp.  Again, compared to the iPad or even my Palm Pre, the screen is the weak link.  The touch aspect is also on the weak side, but a firmware update improved it tremendously.  Which reminds me, they took the time to put a card in the box telling you about the firmware update but couldn’t actually perform the update?  Really? The update did not go smoothly either. In fact, I thought I had bricked the device but it just needed to be reset.  Here, again, is a fail:  NO WHERE on the Pandigital site did it tell you how to handle any kind of problem.

The speed of the device is weak as well but passable.  Reading a book on the device, in low light, is actually OK and the speed is adequate for this purpose.  There is a day reading and a night reading setting that adjusts the screen accordingly and it does help.

The availability of a dozen or so newspapers, many magazines the Barnes and Noble bookstore make this an attractive device.  Since it features a color screen, magazines, especially, will look good and the size, though small, works well.  Like the iPad, one will grow wary of holding the device for more than a few minutes.

The quality of the audio and video are about what you might expect:  usable but barely.  You would do well to use headphones and keep the brightness turned about midway.  Resolution is OK, but not great.

There are a couple of major drawbacks that might deter you from purchasing the device.  The first, like I already said, is the screen.  The second is Android.  Why?  Well, this thing is running an old version of Android and does not have the Android store.  You can, however, ‘hack’ the device to get apps on there and, in fact, there is a bare install of Android on the Pandigital site that is open. You void your warranty by installing it, but, really, the thing can be had for way under $150 so you aren’t losing much.

Overall, it is an OK device.  For the money, however, you could do much worse. On the plus side, it is easy to hold, nice looking, has adequate speed and is a fair to decent eBook reader. On the negative, the screen is the weak link.  The on-screen keyboard, while better after the firmware update, still lacks precision and the version of Android is out of date and lacks access to the market.

For under$150, it is worth taking a look.  It is NOT an iPad, but, then again, the iPad costs three to four times more. Shop and compare.  The Novel will stand up nicely to other similarly priced devices, but falls flat when compared to iPad, Kindle or Galaxy Tab.

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