Tablets Take Two

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A few weeks ago I wrote about getting an Acer Iconia A500 tablet and the reasons I got with the biggest one being economic (Staples had a $100 off tablets coupon deal). Well, I have been putting the Acer through its paces and so far I have been pleased. My biggest reason for getting a tablet was to have a bridge device between my phone and my laptop. There have been times when taking a laptop to places wound up being impractical. On the other side, trying to do some tasks using my phone have been a bit of a chore too. So I guess the tablet is my Goldilocks device, just right. Am I ready to sell my laptop yet? No way! When I was shopping for a new computer a few months ago I actually asked if a tablet would suffice. I was told no in no uncertain terms and I agree with that answer now. So what do I use my tablet for?

One thing I have heard is that tablets are not creation devices which is not true. I like to hole up at a local coffee shop and write my drafts of blog post (such as this one) or other documents such as course curriculum. Then I retrieve the document and put the finishing touches on it. When I had an iPhone, the typing experience was not too bad but it changed when I switched to my Atrix Android phone. It was just uncomfortable for me so I stopped drafting documents which hurt my productivity, especially my blogging. Even though I can attach a physical keyboard to my tablet I think doing so defeats the purpose of having a tablet. I know the ASUS crowd will disagree with me but if I need a keyboard I should just bring my laptop. I do recommend spending a few dollars and purchasing a good mobile office suite app such as Quickoffice Pro. While Google Docs has an app it is not a great writing experience for me. Probably the best app to have on any device is Evernote but using it on a tablet is a great experience. I also, like checking my social media and responding, especially Google+ in which I tend to share my opinion more than Facebook and Twitter. One thing bit of creativity I have done that surprised me is taking pictures. I always thought a camera on the back of a tablet was a waste but there have been a few times I actually snapped a photo with my tablet because it was handy. The ability to edit photos and video is getting better but it still does not compare with using the power of a laptop.

How do I consume using my tablet? The biggest strength of tablets is as media consumption devices. I do surf the net for sites but I sometimes mark them using Read it Later. When I sat in on some interviews recently, I used my tablet to lookup candidates' websites without being too obtrusive. Reading news and blogs is great on my tablet when I use Pulse and the Google Reader apps. After school, I can go somewhere to get away from my classroom and use the tablet to check student blogs and check-in with Edmodo for grading and answer students’ questions. At home I must check the IMDB app several times while I am watching TV  to learn more about a program or movie. Another nice thing is I have logged in to watch streams of a few conferences because I don't have to drag out the laptop and it really does not drain my battery. Something I would like to try at a conference sometime is hookup my tablet and have it show back channel streams while my presentation or demonstration is going on my laptop. The problem is my tablet uses an HDMI port for video out. It looks nice but many projectors do not have an HDMI port.

While my laptop will never be too far away and I will always have my phone, I actually see my tablet becoming a constant companion. It is light and has a small footprint which is perfect for coffee shops and attending conferences. My tablet allows me to do small writing projects or start larger ones. It fits into a small slingpack I bought at Eddie Bauer's along with my Nook and Livescribe notebook and pen. All I have to do is grab it and head to the library, coffee shop, book store, or other places and I am ready to be productive or playful depending on my mood. This setup also allows me to grab a few things from the store without lugging a lot of weight. Will tablets become the computing device most people will use in the future? Without a doubt and I think Apple is pushing us that way now. Can students be successful using a tablet in the classroom now? Yes, with some logistical help from home and school. Remember, tablets are not yet fully functional computers yet but I believe they make a better device to bring than a phone (but phones will work too). Chances are if you see me then my tablet is probably not too far away.

Take One Tablet

Photo by the author
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I had been waiting for the right moment to jump into the tablet market but that market would not wait for me. After doing a personal technology refresh by purchasing a Macbook Pro and Motorola Atrix, I felt it was time for me to slow down a bit. Also, I have been waiting for the iPad that I wanted and I thought the iPad 2 was not quite it. Android tablets, while arousing my curiosity, just did not have what I wanted as far as apps were concerned plus I still have a considerable investment in iOS apps from my time with the iPhone. Also, I thought Android tablets were overpriced for what you got. Then why am I writing this post on a Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet? Like the Godfather always says, "Give him an offer he can't refuse!" In this case the Godfather was Staples. Earlier this week I noticed the Acer tablet was on sale at Best Buy for $396 which got my attention and started researching the device. I was surprised at what the Iconia had under the hood and the positive reviews it got from users and critics alike. A couple days later, Staples had a coupon for $100 off any tablet. Staples listed the Iconia for $399. So with the coupon the tablet is now down to $299. I found a way to snatch up this deal.

This is the third Acer product I have owned and I had great experiences with a desktop and netbook that gave me a lot of years of service. After purchasing my tablet I went to Barnes & Noble to set it up. Fortunately, a table next to an outlet was available. So I pluged it in and started the setup process. The 10.1 inch high resolution screen looks good and with a NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core processor and 1 GB of RAM it is pretty fast. This tablet has not one but two USB ports, a micro and 2.0 port to connect to a computer, additional storage, or other peripherals. The Acer tablet also has a micro-HDMI connection and can mirror displays which is nice and something my Atrix can only do if I pay AT&T more money. The Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system is a bit different than the 2.2 found on the Atrix but comparing a phone to a tablet is a bit unrealistic. The 5.0 rear facing and 2.0 front facing cameras do a great job at taking pictures but still wonder why a tablet needs a rear facing camera except for classroom activities. Another feature that impresses me is the ability to add a 32 GB micro SD card to the 16 GB of storage Acer put in the tablet. The iPad does not have these specs!

There are a couple drawbacks with the Iconia. First, the thing is heavy for a tablet. Much heavier and thicker than the iPad all tablets are compared to. Also, with all of the USB ports the Iconia has, you would think you can charge the tablet but no. Guess I will have to pack another charger whenever I take this tablet on the road. Fortunately, the Iconia has up to 8 hours of battery life so I won't have pull that charger out too often.

How would this work in schools? If promised updates to all tablets that will intergrate them to Android phones comes then it could be a good device. It quickly and easily found the wi-fi signal at Barnes & Noble. There are enough apps in the Marketplace for students to do a wide variety of activities. I am actually drafting this post on the Blogger app which is free to download. The typing experience is pretty good in the widescreen mode but is a bit award and hard in portraite mode due to size and weight of this tablet. Also, because of the weight, this tablet won't be replacing my Nook anytime soon as an ereader. If manufactures can produce tablets like this consistantly for under $300 then we have an economical way for students to purchase technology.Given that I was able to get this tablet on a near impulse purchase, the Acer Iconia and other Android tablets will probably finding their way into schools this fall or the next. Are we ready to welcome them?