TABLETS. THE NON-SOLUTION TO FUTURE COMPUTING

I always wondered, when I wrote about tablets and computers, if lacking an iPad was the problem. I have Android tablets, windows tablets. A variety of Kindles. But maybe all these could not show me how tablets could rock my world, make me get rid of all my laptops and desktops. I figured that must be the key — because while I like my tablets, I would never use one for real work.

Well. I got an iPad. And just to round out my tablet experience, I unexpectedly fell into a Kindle Fire HD 8.9, the big dog of Kindles.

And now, with my bona fides in order, it’s time to say it again. Because now, more than ever, the truth is incontrovertible. A tablet can’t replace your laptop or desktop unless the only thing for which you use a computer is email and social media … and even then, it might be a bit tricky.

Getting an iPad

The lightweight laptop I used for simple tasks died. Again. A software super-glitch involving multiple areas of the system. The laptop isn’t old, hasn’t seen heavy use, but has required two reloads and now wants a third. I was unwilling to put more money into a machine which clearly has a problem. Computers should not eat operating systems. I just don’t know what the problem is, but it was a cheap laptop. Time to replace it.

Kindle and iPad

What to do? I needed something on which I can play audiobooks and which will access at least two, preferably three, Audible accounts — something Kindles cannot do. It needed to be light, highly portable, able to do basic Internet stuff, make minor corrections on my blog. Check email. Maybe play some music or a movie once in a while. I found a really good deal on an iPad 3. Between my credits with Amazon and the reduced cost of an older model, it came into my life for under $300, making it my least costly and (I assumed) most elegant computing solution.

I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. So I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box, embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle does), then clean the house, shovel the roof, and cook dinner.

Not exactly. Hours of configuring later (and the addition of Chrome as a browser), it began to behave like it should.

I still prefer the Kindle. It’s faster, requires much less configuring. Except for that pesky problem with Audible access, which you’d think Amazon would solve since they own Audible. But never mind. Many of the same people who had been telling me that an iPad was going to solve my problems (and those of the world) were now emailing me, reminding me it’s “just a tablet, not a computer.” Funny. That’s not what they said before I got one.

Tablet sales have slowed, not because tablets aren’t fun or don’t have a place in our lives, but because everyone has one, or two, or three. And because, as it turns out, tablets do what they do, which isn’t everything.

I remember reading articles how tablets would replace laptops and desktops. This was based on a surge in tablet sales and a simultaneous slowdown of computer sales. Apparently no one who wrote those articles considered that people buying tablets didn’t have them. When everyone had one, tablet sales would level off. Many folks had recently invested in desktop and laptop computers and didn’t need another one. And of course, there was Windows 8 which caused a lot of folks to not want to buy a computer, including me.

Today, I am set for tablets. Two Kindles (big and little) and an iPad. My fantastic Alienware laptop does the heavy lifting and I still have a big desktop in my office.

The writers of those articles were, quite simply, lying. None of them wrote their articles on tablets. I don’t know who paid them off, but everyone who’s ever used a tablet knows it cannot replace a full-size computer or laptop. To say otherwise is intentional misrepresentation.

All the friends who told me how great their iPads are failed to mention any of its limitations until I already owned one. Is this the official “dirty little secret” of the iPad fan club? I had to become a member of the club before I could have the rest of the story?

I’ve made peace with my iPad, but it will never be my favorite device or even my favorite tablet. I prefer my Kindles and the big, 8.9″ Kindle is the top dog. Not the most portable among its brethren, but for aging eyes, it’s a life-saver. I can read again!!

There’s room in our lives for many different devices. And operating systems.

One size does not fit all. You can’t replace everything with one thing. There’s no reason you should. It’s still a (sort of) free country.

MARILYN GETS AN IPAD

Between the old router going bad and installing the new one, something caused the troubled laptop in my bedroom to go bonkers. It decided every certificate for every application and website I have ever used, or will use, was fraudulent. Although I did my best to fix it and I sort of did, but editing certificates is delicate and tricky.

Google Chrome went berserk and refused to let me connect. To anything. Even after finally finding a way to uninstall Chrome, it took a lot of coaxing before I could get Internet Explorer to run. In this case, the problem turned out to be IE. Its awful design. A feature, not a bug.

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I tried to use my 7-inch Kindle Fire HD to do everything, but it’s too small. I can’t load my website. Since (I believe this fits into the “irony” category) WordPress has “improved” their software to make it “mobile friendly,” it has become actively hostile. WordPress sites used to automatically resize. Now they won’t load at all. I could buy a cheap PC, but they run Windows 8, which I hate. Microsoft says I should want it, but I don’t.

That left me with three choices: Chrome, Kindle, and Apple. I’ve got an Alienware super laptop which I love, so all I need is something basic. To download and listen to audiobooks, check my blog and email, maybe play a game, and take a peek at Facebook.

My first choice would have been the big brother of my Kindle Fire HD, the 9″ version — about the same size as the iPad. But it has limitations. I need to be able to run multiple Audible accounts, which Kindles can’t do. Something to do with the Kindle OS. After a little research, I knew a Chromebook was too limited. It’s not a computer, just a way to connect to the web. Fine, if that’s all you need, but I need more.

I always thought the iPad was overpriced. I still think so, but I found a brand new 64 GB  iPad 3 for the same price as a big Kindle. I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box and embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle really does), then clean my house and cook dinner.

Not exactly.

The iPad comes nicely boxed without any instructions.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.
These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

If this is the only piece of Internet capable hardware in your possession, you’re shit out of luck. Everything you need is online … where you can’t get until after you set up the iPad. Not as easy as the lack of instructions would suggest.

Our nearest Apple store is more than 60 miles away and you have to make an appointment. They also need an attitude adjustment. The last time I was there, I wanted to install my iPhone into one of their bodily orifices. The limited service combined with their attitude made me less than eager to invest in their equipment. But Microsoft and Windows 8 had me cornered. I ran out of choices.

ipad3-specs

My new iPad did not leap out to embrace me. It was harder to set up than my laptop and much more difficult than the Kindle which doesn’t need any set up. The iPad lost the first two passwords I set. Unlike my PC, you can’t not have a password. You need layers and layers of passwords for everything. When it decided the password with which I’d replaced the initial password also didn’t exist, it asked for my birth date to confirm that I’m me. It then told me my birthday isn’t my birthday.

I don’t know much, but I know my birthday. I’m not sure what to do about it. Lacking any instructions, I can’t get into the computer to correct the misinformation it locked onto. It’s lucky I’m clever with computers. In the end, all computers are more alike than different. Interfaces vary, but under the hood, they work do the same stuff. Including the iPad.

I worked around its refusal to acknowledge my birthday, though I know I’m going to bump into the problem again. If anyone knows how to deal with this, I’d sure like to know. Meanwhile, on my fourth password, it acknowledged it and I moved on. I don’t understand why everything on an iPad requires a password, but it does. Apparently not every time you use it, but when you activate or install anything, it requires one, two, or three passwords. I swear I entered passwords 100 times or more during setup. It fought me tooth and nail about connecting to this website, but when I was ready to fling it out into a snowdrift and leave it for the dogs, it must have heard me thinking.  It gave up the fight and connected. It took another long battle to convince it to accept multiple Audible account, but eventually, it let me download books from more all my accounts. If I could have done this on Kindle, I wouldn’t have gotten the damned iPad.

I installed the latest operating system (8 point something) and it’s working. It only took most of an afternoon, which these days is rather a lot of configuring for a modern computer.

I was so pissed off with it for giving me a hard time, I didn’t want to use it, but I had to give it a fair try. For the last three days, I’ve logged several hours a day scooting around the Internet, downloading books and audiobooks. Listening to books.  Installing stuff. I’m not thrilled with Safari. It’s a bit clunky, though far better than IE. It’s not hard to be better than IE.

It is a great size. Nice big screen. Amazing battery life. Audio is good, though not loud enough. Graphics are high quality. It resists fingerprints better than a Kindle.  It’s slower than my other devices. Surprisingly sluggish when opening applications, downloading, and connecting to the net. It gets there, but I’m not used to waiting.

My expectations may have been unreasonably high. It’s not entirely my fault. With Apple enthusiasts telling me how fantastic the iPad is, how perfect, I expected fantastic.

What I got is a nice, serviceable tablet. It’ll do the job, though I prefer a keyboard and a mouse. My hands are not what they were. Poking at it puts more stress on my arthritic hands than does a mouse. I don’t like virtual keyboards. My fingernails are always too long, fingers inaccurate, imprecise. And the iPad requires a solid poke to respond.

Do I love it? No, but it has a potential — and it isn’t Windows 8.  I’m sure I will make peace with it, but I wish I liked it more.

Would I recommend an iPad? It depends on what you need. I think I made the right choice, maybe the only choice. But if Microsoft would get their act together, I’d gladly return to the fold.

WHY TABLETS CAN’T REPLACE COMPUTERS. WHY THEY SHOULDN’T.

I originally wrote a version of this in November 2012. At that time, agreement among “experts” was nearly universal: tablets would replace desktop and laptop computers. Within a couple of years — in other words, now — everyone would be using a tablet for everything. I disagreed then. I was right. (Don’t you love when that happens?)

Tablet sales have slowed, not because tablets aren’t fun or don’t have a place in our lives, but because everyone has one, or two, or three of them. And because, as it turns out, tablets do what they do, which isn’t everything.

I remember reading all those articles announcing how tablets will replace laptops and desktops. This, based on the surge in tablet sales and the slowing of computer sales. Every time I read one of those articles, I wanted to reach through my monitor, grab the author by the throat and shake him or her.

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I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have quite a few of them, but there are a couple of differences between me and those authors:

1) The reviewers apparently don’t do any work. Not only do they not do any work, they don’t even have hobbies.

2) They think their favorite device is perfect and can do everything.

Have any of the people extolling mini devices as the total computer solution designed a book? Made a movie? Used Photoshop? Converted a document to PDF? Tried playing games on a tablet? It’s nearly impossible. All other issues aside, the screens are too small.

Virtual keyboards are good for virtual fingers …

I just read an article explaining how you can type perfectly fine on the iPad’s virtual keypad. Having tried typing on a variety of tablets, that’s an outright lie. Not true. You can’t type on a virtual keyboard because (trumpets) there are no keys.

You need memory and a hard drive to run applications.

You can’t run photo or video editing software on a tablet. Or a Chromebook. Or a Smartphone. It’s not that it won’t run well. It won’t run at all. It has to be installed. It uses a lot of memory. Without a hard drive, you can’t install it. Even online versions of these applications won’t run on small devices. If you use a real camera — anything more than a basic point and shoot, or a telephone — you can’t even download your photos, much less edit them. If you shoot RAW, you might not be able to load a single photograph on your device.

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You can’t edit a 16 X 20 photograph on a 10 inch tablet. Much less a cell phone.

This is not a matter of opinion. It’s a fact. Can’t do it. Can’t see enough of the pictures to know what you are doing. It does not matter whether we are talking about a Kindle, an android tablet, or an iPad. Operating system is irrelevant. The device is physically too small to do the job. Even if it had a hard drive and enough memory (none of them do), you still couldn’t do it.

Who needs footnotes? Engineering drawings? Spreadsheets? I do, that’s who.

And good luck editing video on a tablet. Let me know how that works for you.

About that thesis: footnotes and bibliographies, and cross references? Explain to your adviser how you can’t include references and attributions because your tablet can’t do it. Surely they will understand. After all, computers are obsolete. And who needs attribution anyhow?

If you’re an architect or engineer? Return to your drawing table and start doing them by hand. I hope you still have those old-fashioned tools and remember how to use them, because you won’t be doing them on your tablet.

Need a spreadsheet? Not going to happen. Even if all you are trying to do is track your own household budget, you can’t do it on your tablet or telephone.

alienware computer front full

It’s a big world with room for many operating systems and devices … you don’t need to dump one to have the other.

There’s room in our lives for many different devices. And operating systems.

I prefer stuff that’s dedicated to specific tasks or sets of tasks. I love reading books on my Kindle. I edit on my desktop with the big HD monitor. I use my laptop when I don’t what to be stuck in my office, which these days seem to all the time.

You love your iPad? Enjoy it, but respect its limits — because they’re also its advantages. If you make it big and powerful enough to handle the tasks it currently can’t manage — larger screen, real hard drive, RAM, keyboard — it’s not a fun, portable device any more. If you need that much functionality, you need a laptop or desktop.

You can’t replace everything with one thing. There’s no reason you should.

One size does not fit all.

It’s okay to be different. Whether it’s your political opinion or which computer or device or system you prefer, diversity and differences make our world interesting. Live your life as you prefer. Let others do the same.

WHAT MAKES A BOOK?

I read a lot and almost entirely on a Kindle. I feel about my Kindle the way I feel about computers: it’s a better way.

Especially as I’ve gotten older and my eyes tire quickly, being able to adjust size and style of the fonts has become increasingly important. Kindle is lighter than a paperback and has its own light. My Kindle isn’t a book — it’s a portable library that I can take with me wherever I go.

A while back, I had to read a “real book” because it wasn’t available on Kindle. I found it heavy and worse, I had to turn a light by which to read. I’m not used to that! Kindle HDX 1When we travel, I no longer need to haul a trunk full of paperbacks. My Kindle fits neatly in my shoulder bag, camera bag or laptop case. My wrists don’t get tired from holding it. I can read one-handed. The Kindle keeps my place for me, even if I’m reading more than one book at a time. And the bookmarks never fall out.

75-MyBooks-NK-05 I grab my Kindle on the way out when I’m off to the doctor. Having stuff to read takes some of the sting out of waiting. At home, I don’t have to figure out where to put books. For the first time in 30 years, there’s a bit of wiggle room on my book shelves.

I get annoyed by people who tell me electronic books aren’t “real books.” I’m sure when books replaced papyrus scrolls, a lot of people complained. And when the printing press replaced scribes, whew! That was major change. For me, it’s contents that makes a book, not format.

A couple of years ago, we gave away hundreds of books. They went to our local library, two high schools, the senior center and to any friends who wanted them. And there are plenty more where they came from if anyone wants them.

Yet I still love old-fashioned paper books. There’s nothing like the smell of paper and ink when you open a new book. Nothing sounds sweeter than the soft crack of a book’s binding as it loosens for the first time. The rustle of paper when you turn pages is music to my ears.

If I had unlimited room, I’d have a library with every book I love filling the shelves. But I’d do my reading on the Kindle anyway. Because it weighs almost nothing and it’s lit from within. I’ve gotten spoiled by the lightness and the light.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of things. Paper books will never be obsolete. Buy them as long as you have room in your bookcases.

For everything else, there’s a Kindle. Or a Nook or a tablet or whatever device you prefer.

Reading is important. The rest is semantics.

REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.