How I Chose the Tablet for Me


Tablet computing is all the rage now.  Microsoft coined it, Apple popularized it and there are many others including Microsoft itself that are vying for a piece of the large pie that Apple already owns.  It isn’t the death of the PC, but I am convinced it’s a device almost everyone will eventually own.  Some may replace their computer entirely with a tablet device, while others will just use it to augment the laptop or desktop they use.  Either way, it’s the future and I’ve decided I need to look at getting one.  Follow me along the journey of selecting my first tablet device.

About Me

If you know me, I am a sysadmin who works for a college in Central Ohio.  As a sysadmin, I am very technical and use Unix and Linux systems during a large part of my day.  At home, I run almost exclusively Linux on the desktop but I do have access to a few Windows systems including the laptop I use for work.  I enjoy the freedom that Linux gives me, but I am not completely against the idea of using a little bit of closed source software.  I prefer the open solution, but I also like the best solution.  I also commute via mass transit every day to work.  Specifically a bus, as Columbus has no rail systems yet.

Why is this important to my tablet selection?  Well what you do in your everyday life will come into play when it comes to how comfortable you are with a device.  It comes into play with how you use the device and where you use your device.  For example, I’ve been known to get a netbook or laptop out on the bus to write up a document or two or even surf the net.  A netbook or laptop is not ideal for this, but a smartphone or tablet is.  Another example of how my personal and professional life both come into play is that with a tablet I will occasionally want to use it to check servers at work.  Keep that in mind as I go over the options.

My Choices

There are abundant choices on the market now compared to a year ago.  A year ago, the iPad or a convertible laptop were pretty much the only choices out there.  That has all changed now that Google brought out Android 3.0, RIM brought out the Blackberry Playbook and HP brought out and already killed the TouchPad.  With all the choices out there, I have narrowed this down to 5 devices.

  1. Apple iPad 2
  2. Asus EeePad Transformer
  3. Acer Iconia A500
  4. Acer Iconia A100
  5. Motorola Xoom

Apple iPad 2

The iPad 2 HAS to be on my short list.  As much as I do not like what Apple does as a company there is no denying the device is a top device, if not the top device for most people.  I am fortunate enough to have spent quite a bit of time with an iPad 2.  This device is an office owned iPad we use for testing our web sites and web applications for functionality on the iPad.  I’ve loaded many free apps but no paid apps and was able to play around with the device quite a bit.  Probably more than I have with some of the other devices.

The device is very fast and pretty stable.  I won’t say very stable because I have actually had to reboot the iPad 2 to get some things to work. I have not had applications crash, but I have had things that should have work simply NOT work.  Even so, it’s still on my list primarily because of the application library it has access to.

I do have many concerns with it that may take it completely off my list.  One of these is the fact that I can’t download a file for later viewing on the device itself.  I do this frequently with PDF files I use at work.  Sure I could use the desktop, but I can fill both hands and both feet with the number of times I’ve been in a meeting and did not have a document I needed.  Sure, I could view it in Safari, but then I would be in the same boat again in the next meeting or when I get to my desk.

That’s not all.  With the iPad 2, I am held to how Apple wants me to use the device.  While Linux can be made to work with it, the next update can kill that functionality.  To date, I have yet to be able to move music or video to the iPod application on it without using iTunes. Apple will ONLY assure that it works with iTunes and until iOS 5 comes out, I still have to connect it to a computer with iTunes on it.  That’s ok as I DO have some Windows machines, but I hate iTunes with a passion that is indescribable.  I used to like it about 5-6 versions ago, but now it’s a bloated piece of software that I dread having to launch.  It’s not enough to take it off my list, but it’s pretty close to not being in the running.

Note: these are not a problems for most people, but it is a problem for me.

Asus EeePad Transformer

This has to be one of the best Android tablets out there.  It did not ship with Android 3.2, but it’s one of the first tablets to get the upgrade.  It also has a beautiful IPS display just like the iPad 2.

Things that make this a GREAT device are its peripherals, namely the optional keyboard dock which will be purchased if the device is for me.  The keyboard essentially makes this a netbook powered by Android 3.2 since the dock adds a battery, trackpad, keyboard, USB ports and a full-sized SD slot.  The additional battery in the dock combined with the battery in the EeePad itself combine to promise an advertised 16 hours of battery life besting the iPad 2.  Remember when Dan, Judie and Larry took Samsung Galaxy tabs to CES this year?  Well now you could do this AND not be held to using the on board camera only.  Take the pics with your regular point and shoot camera, pull the card out and plug it into the EeePad’s SD slot, edit, and post the pics to Facebook or possibly WordPress (have not tested this yet).

That’s not all.  At work a friend already bought one of these and before he left for greener pastures, he let me play with it.  I took a 1 TB Western Digital Passport USB drive formatted with NTFS and attached it to the keyboard dock without being plugged into the wall and it WORKED!  A tablet that can read an external USB drive is VERY useful to me.  Then I don’t have to hook the device itself up to my desktop to move documents around.  Just use the 1 TB USB drive or something even more convenient like a USB Flash drive like the SanDisk Cruzer Ultra.

The keyboard itself felt nice enough in my short time with the device.  Only extended time with it would tell me how nice it would be.  However, I can see using oen of the many Secure Shell programs out there to get a session on one of my home machines or even one at work.  The Eee Pad Transformer is HIGH on the list because of this very well-built dock.

Acer Iconia A500

While Acer typically makes cheaper devices in build quality, that is not the case with the A500.  It feels really nice in the hand and has a few features that keeps it in my top 5.  The most important of these is the USB port that is built into the tablet with no dock needed.

Things that hurt the A500 are the fact that it has a non IPS display.  The display is nice enough that I can deal with it, but once you’ve played with a device that has a IPS display, you don’t want to go back.

Acer Iconia A100

The A100 is the first device that is shipping with Android 3.2.  It’s not the only device that has 3.2 now, but it comes with 3.2 out of the box which is a huge plus.  It is also the first official tablet shipping Honeycomb with a 7 inch screen.  This makes it feel a lot like a big phone.  In portrait mode, it’s easy enough to use your thumbs to type out an e-mail, tweet or IM.  It also gets high marks for the great camera which is unexpected on an Acer device.  It’s no point and shoot, but it’s looking like it may be one of the best cameras out there on a Honeycomb tablet.

The A100 gets some bad marks in its design which is less of an issue for me than others.  Some say it looks a little girly with its swoopy design on the back.  It doesn’t bother me as much as the lack of a USB port for attaching storage and input devices.  I could probably live with out the USB port though, but it’s really a  convenient thing to have.

Motorola Xoom

The Xoom is the first honeycomb tablet and while it was hobbled for a bit by the software, it seems that it’s all fixed now including the SD card slot.  It feels solid, but not too heavy and it has what I like to tall a vanilla look to its default ROM.  As I am not a fan of Sense UI, Blur and TouchWiz on phones, I like the idea of vanilla Android devices.

There are many things that are giving me pause about the Xoom.  First, why did it take so long to get the SD slot working on this device?  Why did the ROM suck so bad at the start?  My feelings on the matter are that Motorola and Google rushed the Xoom to market to try to gain ground on the iPad.  I think that this one action has done more to hurt Android’s image on tablets than any other.  Asus and Acer both figured this out at launch time for their devices.  Why didn’t Motorola?

I have a Motorola Droid 2.  While I DO like the phone, it has a locked bootloader.  This is one thing that I cannot stand as I have been pretty much stuck with the same kernel.  At least I will be getting an update to Gingerbread soon, however this still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I rooted my G1 just to keep it relevant in a rapidly advancing Android phone market.   CyanogenMod made my old G1 able to keep up with the Motorola Droid when it came out.  It wasn’t until last summer that I really felt the pinch.  My fear with this is that Motorola may do the same thing with the Xoom in later firmware updates.  I plan on keeping this device at least 2 years and with a locked bootloader, this makes it hard to do.

iOS vs Android

I’ve often heard the “fragmentation” argument.  This really isn’t as much of a problem as some people make it out to be in my opinion.  When I had Froyo on my old G1, I was still able to use more advanced apps that the original rom could not run.  As long as you have a relatively recent device, it’s less of a problem unless there’s something very specific about the hardware.  So fragmentation exists, but it’s just not a huge deal for 90 percent of the Android users out there.

Apple’s iOS itself is very speedy and pretty darn stable.  I like the OS and the interface a lot, but I do not like that I may have to stay on specific versions of iOS to keep support for things like syncing with apps that aren’t iTunes.  When you stay on an older OS release for ANY device, you run the risk of having something unfortunate happen to your data.  Even though iOS and Android both boot from ROMS, security vulnerabilities still happen which is why it’s important to stay caught up on updates.

The Winner is…

I went with the EeePad Transformer with the additional dock.  There were many reasons I chose this device.  One of the biggest is all of the connectivity it offers.  Plus in most cases, it is all I need during the day.  I can do most anything I need to do, web wise, on the EeePad Transformer.   Also, the battery life has been phenomenal.  With the extra dock, the battery life eclipses that of the iPad easily.  I won’t go too much further into this as I want to do a full review of the EeePad Transformer right here on Gear Diary.  All I DO have to say is this is MY choice.  I acknowledge that the iPad 2 is the leader currently.  However, leaders can be pushed off their perches.  In order for them to do that, they need users and feedback and I plan to give plenty of that!
Like I said, stay tuned here to Gear Diary for a full review of the Asus EeePad Transformer and see if it’s the king of Android tablets.

Categories: Editorials, Reviews

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6 replies

  1. Interesting you mention the Asus EeePad Transformer.  We just got one in for testing on a project and I’ve enjoyed using it when I’ve had it in my hands.  The dock, as you mentioned Joel, is excellent.  It really is like using a laptop/netbook.  The one thing that struck me is that the tablet itself felt heavier than I expected. Some of my coworkers weren’t too impressed with the Honeycomb interface but I had no real qualms about using it.

  2. Every time I go to our local shopping mall I check out the Transformer in the computer store.
    I really like the whole package, but I just can’t justify the purchase. I have the 1st gen iPad that is good enough for most of the things I use it for and if you ask my wife I use the thing too much already, so there is no way I could justify the 500+ EUR device regardless how neat it is.

    I guess Transformer could be a really good device for school, with keyboard for typing longer texts, ports for connecting and exchanging files, great battery that would easily run for a whole day and added protection for the screen that keyboard dock provides… But unfortunately I’m way out of school and my oldest daughter doesn’t yet need computer in second grade so I can’t use that angle :-)
    Oh well, maybe Transformer 2…

  3. There are several apps out there for the iPad that will let you save the PDF to the device for later viewing, without an internet connection. FileApp is a good one since it offers saving of many different file types, and you can use FTP to transfer files to it (no iTunes).

    The other is AV Player, which also allows for WiFi transfers without iTunes. Plays most videos I’ve thrown at it brilliantly (DivX, XviD, MKV, WMV, even WTV Windows Media Center files!).

  4. How about the newer Toshiba tablets? Why aren’t you considering them in this list?

  5. The Toshiba Thrive was just too thick in my opinion.  It has a lot going for it though.  Especially because of the USB port and the removable battery.  

    I know there are some apps out there Mitchell, but in my opinion you should be able to tap/hold to download the file for later viewing offline.  

    My EeePad Transformer never needs to be attached to a computer.  I think I have hooked it up to my laptop like one time?  

    Tablets ARE computers.  The iPad 2 was very close but the iTunes tie in killed it for me.  I want to manage everything on the tablet on the tablet.  I don’t want to have to connect it to USB to do that.  Even Apple realizes that with the Airsync stuff and OTA updates coming for iOS 5.

  6. If you can view a PDF in Safari, you can save it for later viewing as an e-book – it shows up under Apple’s iBook application. Save it by tapping on the PDF page within Safari to bring up a menu; one of the menu items lets you save the PDF.