Sunday, 1 May 2011

Taking a tablet

I'm one of those who think if it isn't broken, it's not worth fixing it, so for some time I have been warily watching the discussions about new ways to access online content. At Christmas I bought my wife a Kindle (an ebook reader), thinking it would sit in a box and do little, knowing how much she loves holding a real book. In fact, she uses it every day!

The big computer development just now is of course the 'tablet' form of computer, notably the iPad, with all the hype that there has been going around with it. I had my first proper look at one when a friend brought it to the Who Do You Think You Are conference in February, and was impressed at the interactivity it offered. It was on my to-do list for later in the year once the price comes down, as it inevitably will.

However, on Friday, whilst down shopping in Irvine, I happened to come across another tablet for sale, at an unbelievably cheap price of £109, about a quarter of the price of an iPad. The Elonex eTouch 760ET, with its 7 inch screen, is not an iPad; however, in terms of what I would be interested to use it for, it is not far off it! The computer uses the Android operating system, designed by Google and used on many mobile phones, and is about the size of a Kindle, though with a deeper body. My main reason for wanting something like this is to be able to read PDF files in bed at night, rather than having to use a laptop, such as books that I review for Discover my Past Scotland (which I often obtain in advance from publishers on PDF format), or others on Google Books which can be downloaded for free. So yesterday I thought what the hell - buy it, if it works, it will do, if it doesn't, I will know not to bother next time and join the iPad cult with everyone else!

Having purchased it, I went through last night and figured out how to download several 'apps', such as Adobe Reader, BBC News and others, and worked out the basics on how to use the thing. Using an SD memory card I transferred several files to the device, such as a copy of the latest proof copy of a book I have been working on about Scottish church records, and the latest issue of Discover my Past Scotland. I then downloaded the Kindle app, which allows you to use the device as a Kindle, and using my wife's Amazon account I have also downloaded a copy of Lord of the Rings which she has previously purchased. (Incidentally, the eTouch is cheaper than a Kindle!). I am still working my way through it, but to get started, last night I went to bed with a cup of coffee and read the first three chapters of a book written by an ancestor of mine in the 1830s, which I downloaded from Google Books.

The device I have is cheap and cheerful, and most certainly will not last long. The touch screen is made of plastic, and it gets warm quite quickly. It also does not offer 3G access to the internet, only Wi-Fi. But it does offer a new way to access content in a more convenient manner than even a laptop, and I am already looking at other devices for sale with a more updated Android system.

It is not my intention to do technology reviews on this blog - Dick Eastman does that well, and it is most definitely not my field, I just chase dead people for a living! But I just thought I would post about this as I'm sure many others must be out there wondering what all the fuss is about. The bottom line is that these devices I think are worth the effort - they offer convenience and portability - but as someone who never buys clothes just to show off the label, I tend to do the same with computers. There are increasingly many alternatives to the iPad appearing which do much the same job and for far cheaper. My big concern was an impression that PDF documents could not be read on them for some reason. It turns out that was a doddle, and as a result, my technology habits are now making the next leap forward, adding another layer of convenience.



Geniaus said...

Chris, I grabbed a tablet last week for similar reasons, so easy to manage in bed and on the train to work. My Galaxy Tab was $AU299 and great value for what it does.

Mick Southwick said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the world of the tablet. Am thinking about taking the plunge myself with a cheapo version of the iPad. Was wanting something that enabled me to blog on the move - including from abroad. Do you have any experience and/or thoughts on this subject, Chris? Thanks, Mick.

Chris Paton said...

Not really Mick, other than that some tablets offer WiFi only (as in the one I bought to explore with), which means you can only use them in a WiFi hotspot. Other models offer both WiFi and 3G, with 3G able to offer access by mobile phone connection.

Geniaus - it has become a surprisingly useful device virtually overnight. As if I am not online enough!