Policeman's helemts and tablets - visual punA few weeks ago, I bought a Sony tablet, wondering how useful it would be. Click here for my initial thoughts.

So, was it worth it? Yes. Other people will undoubtedly have different uses and priorities, and other tablets may have different strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless I thought it might be useful for any of my computer support clients who are thinking of buying a tablet computer to hear an evaluation from my few weeks of use.

As a Worktool

Plus

  • Much easier to dig out of a backpack and start using than a netbook. Very useful on longer tube journeys to catch up with reading technology blogs and news feeds. These are automatically updated when connected to a wifi or 3g network so are ready and waiting even on the tube. The e-reader is also good for these times as well, of course.
  • Emails and web browsing are much better tackled on a tablet than on a smartphone. I’m now on my third smartphone and have never yet managed to overcome the limitations of web browsing on such a small device.
  • Thanks to “Dropbox” I can easily access most of my important office files – including Word, Excel, pdf, jpg files. It took a bit of working out how to manage OneNote on the tablet (using the same data files as on the laptop at home), but I think I’m there now and just have to train myself to use it properly.This means that I have most of what I need on the Tablet when I’m onsite, providing computer support.

Minus

  • I haven’t yet found a perfect solution for a password manager that has a Windows application (for the laptop) and an Android app (for the Tablet) and that shares the same data file.
  • File encryption and password-protection don’t seem to be very advanced in the Android environment. It’s true that you can set up the Tablet to require a password to access it initially but I like to have another layer of security for sensitive files.
  • I haven’t found a way of reading Access data files on the Tablet. This is no surprise. Databases are very complicated and I imagine it would take a great deal of work to create something useful. My guess is that this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future as it seems that everyone expects to get their programs (“apps”) for free on Android or to pay no more than a pound or two. I think it would be pushing expectations too far to think that a Tablet could cope with Access applications or that anyone would invest a lot of time and brainpower in creating something that the market would only be prepared to pay a fiver for. My own compromise (when I get round to it) will be to define more reports in my Access database that print to pdf files in my Dropbox folder. Those reports will be immediately available on the Tablet and updating the pdf versions won’t be too onerous.

Sony Tablet S

Sony Tablet S

As a Plaything

Plus

  • Photos look great on the Sony Tablet.
  • Beyond Pod” is a great program that downloads the latest blog postings, news items, podcasts for offline reading/listening.
  • BBC iplayer works fine in “normal” mode. It does stutter a little bit if played full screen.
  • Playback quality of videos is excellent if the video itself is recorded at a good quality.
  • All the little apps are great. Some that I happen to like include live bus/tube/train information, live Google Analytics, BBC newsreader, weather, the online versions of the Grauniad and Indy, documents scanner, pinball games, and loads more.

Minus

  • The screen doesn’t go quite bright enough in strong light.
  • The speakers are very tinny (but you can connect headphones or external speakers – as I do when watching BBC iPlayer in the kitchen).
  • I’m not sure that the battery life is good enough to be able to expect a whole day’s use and, unfortunately, the Sony Tablet doesn’t re-charge via a USB connection. Instead, it has its own proprietory charger and connection (that you wouldn’t want to carry around with you).
  • The onboard data storage is a bit limited. I made a wrong assumption that I could have as much storage as I liked because there is a slot for a 32gb SD card. This is true, but you can’t install programs onto that card and most programs won’t access data from this external card.

    In practice, this is not as bad as it sounds because you can launch video files directly from the external SD card, view photographs, and listen to music (although I’ve only got it to play music tracks on at a time so far). Since video, music, and picture files are by far the largest types of files you would want on a Tablet, this means that the restrictions that apply to the external SD card are not as bad as they first seem. Nevertheless, whether buying a Sony or any other type of Tablet, I would now recommend looking carefully into the storage situation and how you can connect external storage. Another mistaken assumption I made was to think that because the Sony has a USB interface I could connect an external hard drive – not so. It will recognise a “flash drive” (ie a pen drive) but not a hard drive. This is probably due to power restrictions. Again, this may be different with other types of Tablet, so I would recommend investigating carefully when buying a Tablet if these aspects are important to you.

Conclusion: if you like electronic gadgets and/or would like something more sophisticated, versatile, and easier to use than a smartphone, or are considering buying a netbook, then you may be as pleased as I am with what tablets can do and how well they do it.

I wasn’t really expecting it, but I can honestly say that the Sony Tablet has put a lot of fun back into computing for me and it’s useful as well. It hasn’t yet completely replaced my netbook, but it may do so in the next few months. One caveat, though, is that I bought a Sony Tablet. These are good machines that I am sure compare well with the iPad (click here for a review of the iPad 3). I really don’t know if the cheaper tablets offer comparable functionality and value for money.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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