CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Looking for a tablet for your child? Check out the Nabi 2

nabi2The Tablet computer continues its ascension and there is now a tablet for pretty much every need, including children.

Since the devices can range in price from $50(US) to thousands, with most in the $300-$800, many of us do not want to spend that much for such a fragile device for our kids.  Apple and the iPad Mini come close at just over $320, while Amazon is pretty much dead on with its $159 Kindle Fire and the $199 Fire HD.  However, these devices were still designed with adults in mind (though the Fires do have a child mode built in that is pretty effective.)

The children’s tablet, real tablets, is a fairly nascent market with two entries so far: the Kurio and the Nabi.  The Kurio sells for $149 for a 4gb unit. However, it seems pretty lacking and the touch screen is so-so. Also, it does not come with any full-version games.  The Nabi, on the other hand, not only comes with full-version games, it includes 50 very kid-friendly music tracks, an easy to use interface and the touch screen is really nice. Not Kindle Fire nice, but not bad either. Plus, the device is running Android 4.0 with a kid-friendly and a parent friendly user interface. The Kurio does allow for upto 8 profiles, while the Nabi has two: Nabi and ‘Mom Mode’ (which could also be called ‘Dad Mode’.)

In Nabi mode, the device is kid centric. Very few system settings are available here, only the ones dealing with the screen and wifi are available. Plus, the child cannot do much in the way of changing the appearance of the device, delete software, purchase anything or do other things they should not do.  In other words, it is pretty kid proof.

There are games like Angry Birds included. In all, there are 25 full version games and other software plus a slew of demo games.  Also included, is something called the Treasure Chest.  Treasure Chest can be a reward for the child: do something good and get rewarded with games, puzzles, music or what ever. The Treasure Chest uses coins as its monetary system. The parent buys coins from the Nabi store (think Microsoft or Wii points) which can then be doled out to the child via the management panel. When you allot coins, they are available to the child in the Treasure Chest. They can then use the coins to ‘purchase’ something from the Chest. It’s a fun, nice way to reward the child.

For the parent, they can add the Amazon App Store and purchase and download apps there as well. Since only the parent can purchase software, only the parent can make it available to the child via the Nabi mode home screens. In the parent mode, there is an ‘add/remove apps’ app that allows Mom or Dad to add or remove an app from the child’s home screens.  That game you just got too violent for them but you like it, just remove it from the Nabi home screen. By default, software is NOT added to the Nabi home screens, you must do this yourself.

The device also includes a lot of educational software and games as well as a trial for University,  a sort of online  school. I have not looked into this, so I can only repeat what is on the web site.

Internet access is via the Maxthon Browser’s child mode. There are ten or so links already in the browser for kid friendly sites and the parent can add sites as they wish.  The full Maxthon Browser is also available for the parent as well as Android’s Browser.  While Flash 11.1 is included, Flash based sites do not appear to work or work well.

The device, a 7 inch Tegra 2 tablet, is rugged, but kid friendly. It comes with a red rubbery bumper that is adequate for gripping by the child. Graphical prowess-which, I might add, is pretty damn good, is by nVidia. The speed boat racing game looked great and was very smooth. Audio, while not loud, was crisp and clean.  Overall, this is a very nice tablet for parents as well. It also comes with 8gb of storage and has a micro-SD slot for additional storage. Connectors include micro-HDMI, power and USB.

accessories-section-cMy one gripe with the hardware is the case itself: the middle of the back has these lego like things that protrude up. They are used for these blocky letters, so you can turn the device over and use with real world blocks to spell out things. They are called ‘Kinabis’. Check out the accessories page.

For $179, the Nabi 2 is really good tablet for both children and adults. A bit more expensive than the Kurio, but it seems worth the extra $30.  If you are looking for a kid-friendly tablet, hop on over to your local Best Buy or Toys R Us and check this thing out.

So many tablets…iPad, Android, Surface or ?

surfacertA decade ago, I was hungry for what I called the ‘perfect form factor’ PC. This perfect form factor was something without a physical keyboard (but, I could connect one if I wanted), feature some kind of Palm like touch interface (because Palm did touch right) and run full Windows OR the Palm operating system. The device could be between 7 and 10 inches. Yep, I wanted a tablet.  Wanted one, really, since I first saw the PADD in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Well, in 2010, I got my wish, finally. The iPad opened the flood gates. While I purchased the first gen iPad, three weeks after its release, I still really wanted that Windows or Palm (by then, it was webOS) tablet. But, I loved-absolutely loved-the iPad. So much so that I went and bought my first new Mac (a 2010 Mac Mini) to do some development and get my feet dirty in the Apple world.

In late 2010, I got my first Android tablet, a pathetic attempt by Pandigital (I see why they are history now.) In 2012, it was the Kindle Fire-by far, the best attempt at making Android usable. The Fire was brilliant: comfortable size, decent speed (I really, truly, do not understand what the speed criticism was about) and decent UI. While it is still Android under the covers, it does not feel like Android.

2013 ushered in the device I truly wanted: a full on Windows tablet. This baby, the Asus VivoTab Smart, runs full Windows 8 and runs it well. Coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard, I can use it for both fun and business. 

So, there you have the three main tablet types: Apple and the iOS, any number of Android tablets and Windows.  So, lets take a quick look at them and do a quick comparison.

Apple and iOS

ipadminiThe iPad is the predominate tablet, but Android is closing and fast.  iOS offers a fairly clean ecosystem, mainly because it is tightly controlled by Apple. Apps must undergo some kind of evaluation by Apple in order to get into the App Store.  Most of the ‘big’ app types are there: some kind of productivity suite, plethora of games and multimedia consumption and creation.  The software can be quite good, but is, mostly, just variations of other apps to varying quality. Want a fart app? Check. Want a flashlight? Got that too.  Want a word find game? Easy. Want Microsoft Office…oops! Well, you still have those fart apps.

Android

sylvania7The Samsung tablets are the best of breed with the Kindle Fires hot on the heels.  Like iOS, Android has an amazing app ecosystem, but also suffers from the same problem: Lots of junk. In Androids case, most of the software is crap and of little value.  Most of the Android tablets are crap as well. Because Android is FREE, any company with a tablet reference design can tailor Android to work on that design and these companies want to maximize any potential profit, so these designs end up being junk. Take a look at Craig, Coby, Kobo and any number of ‘off’ brands. Even known brands like Vizio have missed the boat. Samsung, Motorola, Amazon, Acer and a few others have figured it out, but, on the whole, Android is just too messy.

Windows

vivotabfrontNow, it gets interesting.  There are, currently, three flavors out: Windows 7, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Windows 7 tablets are meant for non-consumer and are targeted to medical and other business use. Windows RT is aimed squarely at consumers and the Windows 8 devices are marketed to both business and consumers. With WIndows 7 and 8, there are tons of applications out and most will work fine with a touch device. Many are less than optimal, but will work. Windows RT requires a new library of apps. This should not be a problem since most would likely buy new apps for any Android or iOS device, so why not for Windows RT?  The problem, though, is the device itself. While not quite as bad as the Android world, the Windows RT world could face similar low cost devices too. This has yet to happen, but…be on the look out for tablet that purport to be Windows. Craig and Coby both sell Windows tablets, but these are WINDOWS CE tablets and that is a HUGE difference from RT or 7 and 8.

So, which ones stand out? Apple’s latest iPads, of course, are good choices. The iPad mini is proving to be a worthy machine and one that many seem to want. In the Android world, Samsung’s devices are a good bet as is the Kindle Fire HD. In Windows land, there are several good ones: Of course, the Surface RT and Pro, Asus’ VivoTabs (RT and Smart) and Acer’s offerings.  If price is your driving factor, then the Kindle Fire HD is the hands down winner.  If you want productivity out of the box, the VivoTabs are an excellent choice and my personal favorite. But…for the best of both (and if you don’t mind starting over in the software area) the iPad Mini is the best choice. Its size, price and software offerings make it the clear winner.

It is interesting, though, to read and listen to the tech pundits write off Microsoft and, now, even Apple.  It is definitely too early to be writing off either. The big reason Android dominates in phone and tablets is because it is free. This is will bite Google in the rear if it does not do something to stem the tide of cheap and dirt cheap hardware. I know many retailers moved a ton of these cheap tablets (from Sylvania, Coby and the others) over the holidays. I have to wonder how many were either returned or are sitting in a drawer while an Apple iPad is being used instead.

2013 will be even more interesting with the addition of the Ubuntu Touch devices. For once, I’m kind of excited about a Linux based product. Ubuntu Touch does not look like something you would need a masters degree in order to use.  I hope the final product lives up to the pre-release promise. The tablet and phones could be pretty interesting and give everyone a run for the money.

After a decade, though, I am still looking for that Palm tablet. Sigh.  I missed the boat on the HP TouchPad.  Maybe LG will fulfill my desire. Sigh.

Windows 8 split personality confusion: what to do and what Microsoft should do

win8startshortcutWindows 8.  Talk about split personality.  On the one hand, you have the sleek, modern and sexy ‘RT’ interface. On the other hand, you’ve got the comfortable, somewhat aging and mellow Windows Classic interface. As with everything, ones acceptance of something new depends on how easily one can adapt. For some, this has been a real problem with the RT side of Windows 8. Others, like myself, have had little to no problems adapting.

Windows 8 RT, with the standard mouse and keyboard (i.e. non-touch) is pretty easy to use.  At least, once you understand a few things first. Same for the touch side, though I think the mouse and keyboard are easier to learn whereas touch is easier to use-once you LEARN it.

So, for everyone with a mouse and keyboard, just remember: the upper left, lower left and lower right of your screen are hotspots. All the cool new stuff can be accessed via those three corners.  Click in the lower right to activate the Charms bar.  Charms are simply context sensitive icons that let you access things like search, device settings, Windows settings, etc.  Lower left activates a toggle. You can toggle between the RT start page and the most recently used application, including the Windows Classic desktop. The upper left corner does two things: hover over it to show the last application used, hover and move the mouse down to reveal a task bar showing the last few apps used.  If you grab the top of the screen by moving the mouse up to the edge and hold down the left mouse button while dragging all the way down, you close the current application.  Right clicking will expose a button bar with more options, if any, for the current application.

Of course, there are similar gestures for touch: swipe down from the top of the screen to close the application; drag from left over most of the screen to switch to the previous app; drag for a second and let go to reveal the list of previous apps used; drag just a bit from the top to reveal options for the current app.

The not-so obvious thing, however, are the gestures-be it from the mouse or your finger. It is not intuitive and this is the hard sell for Microsoft and Windows 8. Once you show someone what to do, they generally get it. However, someone just starting and not having any advance knowledge will, likely, not know what to do.  And that’s the problem.

I almost missed the little movie that shows how gestures work because, once the operating system started to do its thing on first boot, I did other stuff. It was only when the video was nearly over did I actually see any of it.

Word of mouth and knowledgeable friends and family will help, but Microsoft needs to do more. A series of commercials that, you know, actually show people using the product is a good place to start.  Maybe something on Microsoft.com.  Certainly, more than a short video on first boot.

I find myself gravitating toward the RT side. It’s easier to use, looks much, much better and, frankly, isn’t as bloated as the Windows Classic side of the house. It makes Windows Classic look sort of dated.

The dual personality is both a plus and a major negative. It’s a plus in that you can still take advantage of what ever Windows software you have, be it Office, Visual Studio or that particular game you like.  It’s a big negative because the transition between RT and Classic is jarring, even after you have used the OS for a period of time, that unexpected transition when you forget that a function is on the other side of the house.  Microsoft made it somewhat better by getting rid of Aero (the cool, glassy look introduced with Vista-and something I miss) and replacing the ‘chrome’ chromelessbuttonsbits with RT like buttons (i.e. the title bar buttons for close, min and max.)  However, it still can be a jarring experience.

Of course, I have been writing about full on Windows, be it Pro or just Windows 8 (the ‘Home’ edition in previous releases.) Windows RT, which still has a desktop mode, is not as bad.  Windows RT (not to be confused with the RT interface) was designed to run on ARM processors (and Intel based chips as well) so your classic applications will not work. Nor should they. 

Windows RT is a shift in operating systems.  Yes, it requires you to buy or acquire all new software.  But, then again, if you bought an Android or iOS based device, you have to do that anyway. (And that’s a big problem that Microsoft needs to address: why is it OK for you to have to buy new apps for Android or iOS, yet it isn’t for Windows RT? Microsoft needs to point this out more.)

I’ve had an Asus VivoTab Smart tablet for awhile now.  I use it everyday. It is Windows 8. Not RT.  However, I find myself using the IE10RT, OneNote RT, the very addictive Wordament game, the RT video player and a number of RT apps.  I do go into the desktop, but not really as much as I thought. When I get into full Windows 8 development mode, of course, I will be in desktop much more, but for my daily use, an Windows RT tablet would probably do just fine.

surfacertI suspect most people, especially those who would buy an iPad, would get by just fine with an RT tablet.  The app selection is steadily getting better, RT is very robust and RT tablets are a little cheaper than the full Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft sold out of its Surface Pro tablets, yet the RT tablets – while popular – did not. While the Pro tablets are nearly twice as much, there is far more interest in them than straight RT tablets.  I think they are pricey and overkill for most, but, because of the software compatibility issue, most will believe that they need the Pro when, likely, they do not.

MIcrosoft, you need to get the word out about RT. And fast. If you want RT to succeed-and kill of classic, then you need to do better. Much better.

Above the Surface: Asus VivoTab Smart Windows 8 Tablet

Tablet-PC-Stylistic-1200I’ve been wanting a Windows tablet for years. I even bought two Fujitsu Windows NT (the Stylistic 1200) tablets off eBay a few years back, but could never get them working. Turns out, they used all proprietary parts that I needed-and could have gotten, but did not want to pay the price.  When the iPad came out, I thought it would satiate my desire for the ever elusive Windows tablet. For awhile, it did.

The iPad was a godsend, to be sure. But, it’s shortcomings-and there are many-got to be more than I wanted to deal with and with each release of iOS, the first gen iPad really began to show its age.

My Kindle Fire became my workhorse slate, so to speak, but, it too, was lacking in so many areas.

When Microsoft showed of the Surface, however, I knew that my ideal table would come from Microsoft. Indeed, the folks from Redmond did a nice job with the Surface. It looks great, feels nice to hold and is just nice to look at. Windows 8 RT looks and works great on this thing.  Windows 8 Pro is even better, though I did notice a bit of warmth to the body of the device, which means it could run a bit warm. There is one huge drawback to Surface: price.  At $499 and $799, they are two to four hundred dollars too expensive. I could have purchased the 64gb Pro, but, at nearly a grand for the device and keyboard cover, I just couldn’t do that for a tablet. I don’t know, mentally, I think these things should not be more than $500, no matter what’s under the hood. I could settle for the RT, but that defeats the purpose of the WINDOWS tablet.  What to do?

Enter Asus.

Asus just introduced a full-blown Windows 8 tablet for $499.  So, for the price of the Microsoft Surface RT, I could get a full on Windows 8 device.  Sweet. Open up the checkbook already!DSC_4342

So, I got my Asus VivoTab Smart tablet from Best Buy. Now, before I go on, I have to say that the buying experience was less than stellar, but not as bad as when I bought my son and wife their laptops from the same store.  First, the sales guy did not know anything about the tablet. He tried to tell me it was RT and, when I challenged him, he did go look it up.  So, then he had to figure out if they had them in stock. The web site said they did, which is why I went out of my way to go to this particular store.  Anyway, while waiting, I was bombarded with questions about Comcast! I told the lady that was talking to me about them that I was very displeased with them and if I have a viable alternative for internet access, I’d drop Comcast in a heartbeat.

Back to the tablet.

So, upon getting the device home to live internet connectivity, I proceeded to set it up. That was notvivotabfront difficult or time consuming, though I did have a hiccup with ACTIVATION. Really, Microsoft, this BS has to stop. Your products will always be pirated, get over it. All your activation silliness does is piss off your customers, it does not stop the piracy.   The problem? Well, as it turns out, if the date and time on your device are not correct, your activation will not work.  Once I realized that the date was a year out, I fixed it and tried to activate again. It worked.

Setting up my user account to be the same as my other Windows 8 computers allows me to sync my Windows 8 style apps across my devices. This involves creating a new user and using your Windows Live ID mail box.  Now, I have most of the same apps across all three of my Windows 8 devices.

OK, OK, how about the tablet?

This thing is nice. It is 10 inches wide and in 16:9 format, which means movies will play nicely on the device.  The screen is very nice, but not quite as nice as the Surface or a current gen iPad, though it still looks REALLY nice.  Audio is weak, but I don’t expect booming sound from a tablet, but the volume level could be a bit better. The heft of the device, for me, is just right. The quality of the casing is not quite as nice at the Surface or an iPad, but better than most tablets.  I think I like the rubbery feeling on my Kindle Fire a tad more. The case is plastic and feels like it. However, it does not look ‘cheap’ like some tend to look.vivotabtop

The speed of the device is a bit better than I expected. Running a dual core Atom from Intel, the machine is fairly snappy and I found web page rendering and video playback to quick and smooth. I’ve not yet played many games, and the only graphical game I’ve play, so far, is something Jetpack Joyride, a 2D side scrolling action game in the style of the old Commander Keen or Duke Nukem. The game played just fine.

Because I want to use this as a mobile work machine, I bought a 32gb SD card to increase storage to a more reasonable size.  Nearly 100gb (with 24 gb taken for OS stuff) should be enough for my needs.  I also needed a keyboard.  Interestingly enough, the RT version of the device includes the cool snappy add keyboard, similar to Surface, but the VivoTab Smart does not. In fact, the only connectors it has is the single micro-USB connector and the SD card slot.  I did buy a Logitech K400r keyboard with integrated touch pad, but it is USB (wireless, with USB adaptor) but cannot find a full size female USB to micro male USB cable. rpi3After a couple of days hunting for such a thing, I caved and purchased an iHome ‘tablet’ keyboard with Bluetooth. The VivoTab has Bluetooth built in, so this works nicely. Not as elegant as Surface, but it cost under $50 so I’m still way ahead.

Oh, it does have a micro-HDMI connector as well. How could I forget that?  It’s another $35 cable. That is still on the store shelf.

Unlike my Kindle or old iPad, the tablet has two cameras: a forward facing camera for things like Skype and a rear facing, 8 mega pixel camera. The rear camera takes nice photos and pretty good HD video.

Battery life excellent, on par with my iPad: about 10 hours of battery life. They advertise 9.5 hours, but I got about ten out of it.

The thing that really amazes me with this tablet is that it is a full Windows 8 computer.  I can run pretty much anything I already have, including Visual Studio. It feels nice, is good looking, will work all day before needing to be charged and pretty fast for a mobile device. It is $499 and is available at Best Buy, online and from Asus.

 

Specs:

  • Windows 8
  • Intel® Atom™ Z2760 Dual-core CPU @ 1.8Ghz for best performance, power efficiency and compatibility ·
  • 10.1” IPS panel with 1366 x768 resolution for increased visual clarity ·
  • 580g light and 9.7mm thin with colorful design ·
  • TranSleeve as combined cover and stand with wireless keyboard ·
  • 9.5 hours extra-long battery life for all-day computing ·
  • NFC – Tap and Explore: simple interaction with other NFC enabled devices ·
  • Crystal clear 8MP auto-focus camera
  • 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!

    Microsoft’s new tablet finally surfaces

    Last week, Microsoft sent out invitations to the press for a surprise announcement to be made on June 18.  Microsoft managed to something it really has not done in a decade: drum up excitement and tons of press.  Speculation ran from a new XBOX (which would have been announced the week prior, at E3) to an XBOX branded tablet running Windows 8 RT.

    surface_WebWell, the day arrived and the big announcement was…a tablet running Windows 8. Wait, not just one tablet, but two. One will run RT, the other will run Windows 8 Pro. The machines look impressive.  The RT device will run a Tegra 3 chip while the Pro tablet will have Intel inside. No word on battery life, availability or pricing (other than ‘competitive with other ARM devices’ for the RT device and ‘competitive with other ultrabooks’ for the Pro version.

    So, what will they be called?  Surface.  Microsoft Surface. A fitting name, I must admit. 

    Along with the tablets, Microsoft introduced it’s version of the Apple iPad cover. Like the Apple product, these covers will attach to the device magnetically.  The difference? An in-built keyboard and touch panel.  Called Touch Cover, they will be available in a variety of colors (including Lumia 900 blue.)

    The Pro tablet also features, as an option, a pen for making notes on the screen. For storage, the pen attaches just like the cover: magnetically.

    During the presentation, Microsoft briefly showed off Netflix for Metro.  No other third party apps were shown, but Office 15 will be included with the tablet.

    Both versions are sheathed in a Magnesium shell.  The design is very clean and angular.  The Pro version has ventilation all around the device, so you are never covering up the vents for the Ivy Bridge processor. I’m guessing the RT tablet does not require much ventilation.

    Microsoft’s success with the tablet depends on many things: Windows 8, Windows Phone, XBOX and Microsoft itself.  How it’s hardware partners take this news is another question. Microsoft has been working closely with Asus, Toshiba and HP with Windows 8 and corresponding tablets.  They did not announce who was building this device (Foxconn?) but, I’m sure, those hardware partners probably are not and are not overly happy either.  Just a hunch on my part.

    So, is it going to be better than iPad? Worse? Well, it needs to be night and day better. I think the Touch Cover and the appearance of the device will be enough to garner attention, but it will be Windows 8 that will make or break the device. Judging from what I have see in Windows 8, I’m not sure the operating system will be the weakness, if any. Ultimately, though, these things need to be cheaper-and better-than iPad.  There’s no question they are already better than any Android tablet except, perhaps, the Nook and Fire, which don’t really compete anyway.

    This will be one interesting holiday season, to be sure.

    Both the Verge and Engadget have hands on reports.  Go here to see Microsoft’s official Surface website.

    Surface tablet key specs

    • 9.3mm thick
    • 676 grams/23.85 ounces
    • 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display (“Full HD” on Pro model)
    • 31.5 watt hour battery (42 watt hours on Pro model)
    • Ports: microSD, USB 2.0, MicroHD video, 2×2 MIMO antennas (microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort video on Pro model)
    • Storage options: 32GB and 64GB for Windows RT, 64GB and 128GB for Windows 8 Pro
    • Front and rear-facing “HD” cameras