Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Choice Of A Tablet

In today's post, I will go bit off-topic, but not too far. I bought an iPad Air a couple of months ago, and I would like to tell you about why I chose one.

My first tablet was a brand new white iPad 2 64GB (Wifi + 3G) bought sometime in 2011. Back at the time, I was an established Android fan, I owned a SonyEricsson Xperia X10, Samsung Galaxy S (I9000), and a Samsung Galaxy SII (I9100). I was not a fan of iOS with all its limitations, restrictions, and it's iTunes dependance. For example, when I first turned on my iPad 2 (can't remember if it was iOS 4 or 5), it showed my a picture of a USB cable and didn't want to do anything else, huh? I wasn't able to use it until I went home, downloaded & installed iTunes, and connected the iPad to activate it. I knew all this before I bought it though, so why did I buy one? The answer is simply because there were no good Android tablets at the time!

 

iPad 2 with the uber quality Sena leather case, next to my Galaxy S II
The iPad 2 served me well for a long time, my only gripe with it being the low screen resolution, text looked jagged and not very nice, especially when compared to the iPad 3 that was released with a much higher resolution display. Otherwise, iOS was smooth, it rarely crashed, it had some very polished applications that were not available for Android (for example Blogsy, which I am using now to type this post), and it generally satisfied my purposes as a reading/browsing/video watching device, as opposed to a heavy, large laptop.

One bonus feature was the high color accuracy of the iPad's display, it displayed pictures beautifully, with very accurate colors and tones. I used it to show my pictures to everyone, using that gorgeous 9.7" display, since I don't print my photos (remind me to post about this, what do you do with all the pictures and videos you take?). One silly problem with iOS is that you can't just copy folders with pictures in them to the iPad, you have to do it through iTunes, and if there's a picture that you want to delete from the iPad, oops, sorry, you can't, you have to delete it from the computer first and sync it through iTunes. But I didn't mind that too much, since all my photo processing and archiving is done on my PC, so after I finish exporting an album, I just sync the iPad.

As I said, I had swell time with the iPad, I even jailbroke (?) it, and was able to download torrent files (legal stuff), copy files between the different apps, and even copy things to and from a flash drive using the USB camera connection kit. But happy things -unfortunately- has to come to an end. iOS 6 was the breaking point, it didn't play well with the oldie iPad 2 with it's outdated hardware. I had lots of crashes and restarts, which was irritating and caused me to start hating the iPad more and more, until one day, I was writing a blog for this site using Blogsy, and before I was finished, I switched to another app (which is a normal procedure that I did all the time), only to come back and discover that the Blogsy app had crashed and I lost all of what I've written. I sold it next day.

 

The new split volume buttons on the iPad Air
I decided to skip the iPad 3/4 generation since they were more of the same (in physical appearance at least, and heavier), and I wanted something new and refreshing, I was also bored of the iOS glossy looks, I wished it would get some design hints from Android and Windows Mobile. Unfortunately the Android tablets were still learning how to walk, they did not have a smooth, fluid interface despite cramming faster processors with a zillion cores, and more RAM than many PCs, they lacked the finesse and the beauty of the iOS applications, and there was no Blogsy app. You see, the only productivity app I use on the iPad is Blogsy, to post to this site, and weirdly, despite Google being the creator of both Androind and Blogger (which is where this site is hosted), there is no reliable way where you can post from Android to this blog. Google's own "Blogger" app is a miserable effort that should be beaten to death, and the blogger interface doesn't play nicely with the Android browsers.

Anyway, I monitored the Android tablets closely, and was looking for a good tablet with the following features:

  • High resolution screen (at least 2000px on the long side).
  • Display with very accurate colors, not the over saturated punchy colors of the AMOLED Samsung displays.
  • No less than 8" screen (I later tried the iPad Mini and decided the screen was too small for my taste).
  • Very fast, no stuttering or splutering anywhere across the system.
  • Large storage, at least 64GB.
  • Cellular connectivity.
  • Long battery life (at least it should match the iPad 10 hours).
  • Light weight.
  • Solid with high build quality.
Some tablets came close, but the majority lacked the first two points. I was close to buying Google's Nexus 10 only to discover it didn't have cellular connectivity. Among my friends, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and later, the Galaxy Note 10.1 were common, but I didn't like any of them, they were poorly built, weighed a lot, and they were neither fast, nor had good screens. Then Google released the updated Nexus 7 (2013 Edition), it had a very good build quality, an exemplary display, and it was very cheap. In the meantime, Apple introduced iOS 7, and for the first time, I was very happy with the looks of the operating system, it looked fresh, clean and modern, maybe that was the refresh I was waiting for? I decided to wait for Apple's announcement of the of the new iPad and the new iPad Mini. During the same period, Samsung also announced a refreshed Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) with a slimmer device, faster internals, and a vastly improved display. I was still not sure what to choose, so I waited for quite sometime.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4, Nexus 7, iPad Air
You might be wondering by now, what was I using during this period which was almost one year long? The answer would be my Android phones, the Galaxy S3 and S4. I used them for watching movies, following up with my RSS feeds, and for browsing the web. After using them like that for almost one year, I got used to the small screen, and started changing my perception about having a tablet with a small screen, at least it would be portable.

Let me ask you a question, an iPhone 5 with a 4" screen compared to a Galaxy S4 with a 5" screen (both screens 16:9 ratio), how much larger the area of the Galaxy S4 would be compared to the iPhone? Any guesses? 10%? 20%? Wrong, it's a whopping 50%, can you imagine that? That's why the Nexus 7 with it's high res 7" display started making sense to me, especially that it sold (at the time) for $259. I was impatient, and instead of waiting for the new iPad release, I went ahead and bought the Nexus 7(32 GB, WiFi only). If I liked it enough, I would keep it, otherwise I will give it to my wife since she needed one anyway (that's what families are for :p).




All three displaying the same picture, check out the difference in size, oh, and look closely at the Nexus, is the picture centered? Read below to find out.
The Nexus 7 impressed me a lot, it has a very solid and sleek looking body, it was small and light, and the most impressive feature about it was the screen, wow, it is incredibly sharp, very bright, and has very accurate colors. It also was one of the very first devices to feature Android's KitKat update, being a Nexus device. I was happy, it was fast, it had a much larger screen compared to my phone, so reading was comfortable, it even had user profiles (like Windows), so that I could setup profiles for my kids and my wife. I rooted the device, installed my favorite privacy and security apps, and started using the little thing. After using it for a few weeks, a few things started irritating me:


  • The bloody Android buttons (back, home & tasks) taking a permanent place at the bottom of the screen, and using precious screen estate! One main reason I keep buying Samsung Android phones is because of the hard home key, and the capacitive buttons to the side, not using any space on the screen. Why am I complaining? They look ugly, they use too much screen space at the bottom, especially when using the device in landscape mode with it's very narrow 16:9 aspect ratio display, and they stay there forever, even when viewing photos, imagine that, you can't use the full screen to view your photos! What genius designed that? But to be fair, they fully disappear when watching videos in full screen mode. By the way, I know there is a workaround using root and Xposed, but they were not updated for KitKat at the time, and regular users should not bother with that.
  • After installing a few apps, the device started slowing down a little, the RAM started getting filled up quickly, and it shut down some of the apps working in the background.
  • There were a few restarts and crashes.
  • I was not able to enjoy using it as a tablet without the iPad famous gestures, 4 fingers pinch to go to the home screen, 4 fingers swipe to the sides to move between recent apps, 4 fingers swipe to the top to show the recent apps, etc... I tried GMD Gestures for Android, but it didn't work well for me with the small Nexus 7" screen, and it decided some day to stop working altogether.
  • Finally, I realized that Apple made a brilliant decision with using a 4:3 aspect ratio for their displays. It makes browsing much more enjoyable whether in portrait or landscape modes, with generous space for wide sites and for having several tabs open at once. The 16:9 display used in the Nexus 7 is way too narrow to be enjoyable in general web browsing, and can only effectively be used in portrait orientation, not to mention the keyboard, which if you opened in landscape mode, it would swallow half of the screen space. Not with the iPad though.
 

Check out how each of them renders this blog. And look at the awful black bar at the bottom of the screen on that Nexus!
So with the iPad Air released and available, I decided I would buy one (128GB was not available, so I had to settle for the 64GB), enjoy the clean and simple iOS 7, and use all my favorite gestures once more. Oh, and use the brilliant Blogsy app (if only they update the looks and the keyboard to match iOS 7, and give us a white/lite theme). Come on Lance, I know you're reading this (remember me? I was the one translating your app to Arabic, but didn't follow through), and I know that you want to keep backwards compatability, but there must be a way.