What is the best tablet?
Which is the best tablet? Why do you need one? Which one should you buy? All very good questions. Tablets were supposed to be the death of the laptop computer. The tablet was the end all solution to your mobile computing needs. Bigger than your phone and smaller and easier to transport than your laptop. What’s not to love? Well, they did miss the mark a little, but they still have their place in the ecosystem.
What is the tablet for?
Tablets are more than just giant phones that don’t make calls. Tablets are great for consuming media and doing light internet surfing tasks like surfing the web/social media, checking email and reading blogs. If you need to do a lot of typing or graphics heavy work, then you are better off with a laptop. No surprise I am a big fan of the Chromebook around here.
I do enjoy using a tablet, though. Especially in bed or laid back on the couch. It’s a great one handed form factor for getting some reading done. I like to use the tablet to check my favorite blogs and save websites for later retrieval as source material for articles here. The tablet is a nice, lightweight solution to my computing needs.
I also travel a lot so it’s nice to be able to have my media in a smaller form factor. I like to watch my own movies on the plane and the Chromebook is to larger to fit nicely on the tray table. Or in the hotel rooms when there isn’t a desk or somewhere else to put the laptop.
Tablets are great travel companions since I hate starting at my phone’s screen for too long. The phone works for a quick check but for longer browsing sessions, the larger screen is easier on my eyes.
What should you look for in a tablet
First and foremost, for me anyways, is the screen. No sense in spending the money on something I don’t actually like looking at. A full HD panel will probably cost you a little more than a non-HD but if you spend a lot of time looking at it, you will want it. Standard displays work, especially for tablets meant for the kids. They run a little cheaper and the tablet can easily be replaced with another due to the low cost.
Beyond the screen the next feature is storage. How much stuff can I load on the tablet and can I add extra storage with an SDCard? Even 16GB onboard is manageable as long as you can offload your storage heavy files like movies and TV shows to the external storage.
After the screen and storage, you will want to look at the operating system. Now there are really only two players in this space. Android (Google) and iOS (Apple). These two powerhouses bring their own unique take on a mobile platform. Normally once you start using one, you don’t switch to the other.
Finally, for a tablet, screen size does come into play. I find 7 inches is good, but 8 is probably the sweet spot between being able to comfortably hold the tablet and still have a resolution that is comfortable. There are some 10-inch tablets out there, but at that size, I would almost rather have the laptop.
There are a lot of tablets on the market. For iOS(Apple) there is the iPad line. You can get an iPad in all the major sizes from 7inches like the Apple iPad Mini 2. All the way up to 10 inches. They also have Apple’s beautiful Retina displays and some without. It’s all about the price point here. If you want an Apple product, you are probably already willing to pay the premium for one of their devices. If you are already locked into the iTunes ecosystem, then an iPad makes the most sense. It ties in well with your iPhone and Macbook. It is easy to sync all your data across all the devices.
For Android, well, there are more tablets than I could cover in three blogs. There are super cheap no-name tablets for under $50 that you can get from Amazon and Ebay. All the way up to luxury tablets that are truly professional grade from Samsung, HP, and Dell. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is considered the one the best tablets in the Android family. You can’t go wrong with one of them. They can usually be found on sale everywhere.
There are some Windows-based tablets, like the Microsoft Surface. These tablets run a special version of Windows, close to the same you would find on your computer.
Amazon Fire Tablets
The tablets I have had the most experience with are the Amazon Fire line of tablets.
Amazon came out with their own tablet a few years ago. The Amazon Fire is an Android tablet at heart, but the Android system has been customized to Amazon’s own use. It is a great tablet if you have Amazon Prime, it is even better. The Fire links perfectly into all the best that Prime has to offer. Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
The Fire comes in a couple of form factors, but the two I like the best are these:
Amazon Fire 7 Inch – This is the one I have been using the most. It is a good size and a great value. Normally it runs about $50 with special offers, ads placed on the lock screen, and nowhere else. It has 8GB of storage on board but you can add an SDCard to expand the storage up to 128GB. Amazon has their own apps store and a lot of the more popular Android apps are available. Not all, though, Snapchat and Instagram are missing, mostly since they are phone based apps, not tablet based.
The screen is not HD but still looks good, the single speaker sounds okay, but Bluetooth or wired headphones sound better. The processor is snappy with little lag while switching apps. It’s great for surfing the web or checking Facebook. Reading books on it, is also very nice. The text is crisp and clear.
The back of the Amazon Fire is also a nice hard plastic that almost feels like rubber. It is comfortable to hold with one hand while still small enough to toss in a bag. There are several protective cases you can get for it also.
You can also get an 8-inch version that comes with a high-def panel. The Amazon Fire HD. I hope to get a chance to try one out soon, to see how much better it might be than the 7 inch. Until then you can check out the CNET review of the Amazon Fire HD here.
If you want a good, cheap tablet
Well, I wouldn’t call it a great tablet, but it looks cool and has the same screen as the iPad. You can have it for about $30. On eBay. It’s an older Best Buy Insignia brand tablet. Called the Insignia Flex Elite. You cannot even find any information on Best Buy’s web page anymore. I don’t even remember how I stumbled across it, I think it was right after I got my Acer Chromebook 14 and was looking to dive more into the Google/Android ecosystem.
I have an Android phone but wanted the tablet to go with it. My Amazon Fire was not able to do a lot of the more pure Android stuff that a regular tablet can do.
The screen is good the storage is passable. You cannot store apps on the SDcard but you can put your music and other media. It’s not the snappiest of processors and it lags a little if you have a couple of applications open. It works well for reading my email, and for streaming to the Chromecast. It’s a good tablet for basic tablets, it studders during video streaming playback. For local media playback, it works great. I take it on the road all the time and watch movies that are stored on it. It works well for that. If you really want some decent video playback, I would say go with the Galaxy or the Fire HD.
A tablet is a great tool to add to your device line. It may not be necessary but I do like using a tablet more than the phone for lightweight web surfing. The phone is good for checking something quickly while out and about. For consuming media or a more comfortable web browsing experience, I will use the tablet. Like the laptop, figure out what your budget is and buy as much as you can get. A tablet won’t change your life but might make it a little more fun.
There is not a lot of innovation coming out of Cupertino
Really, what’s going on there? Apple for awhile has been riding the wave of good customer vibes and the cutting edge of design and tech. They have produced some of the most sought after products of the first part of this century. The iPhone, Macbook Air, and the iPad are all considered the benchmarks of their categories.
As time has gone on, several other companies have made great strides to match Apple in quality and style. It is like Apple found a design they liked, and have stuck with it all this time. They make minor changes to the hardware and software, but the overall design strategy has been stagnant.
Apple fans get excited every time a new device gets announced. Recently that was the long-awaited refresh of the Macbook line. Apple’s line of high-end laptops has not had a major refresh in years. At Apple’s big event they teased a major change. Coming in on the heels of Microsoft’s unveiling of the new Surface Studio with its new puck style stylus. This is a new departure in interaction with the computer that we used to expect from Apple.
The big design change for the new Macbook? A touch bar where the function keys used to be, not a touch screen, but a touch bar that you can change the icons for. Uhh, what? I don’t know who thought this is what the consumer was hoping for. It does allow you to input emojis easier. So there is that.
While everyone else is looking to add touch screens to their laptops or go to the two-in-ones. Apple stayed with the tried and true standard, non-touch screen laptop. This is the same kind of behavior that Apple used to poke fun at the other manufacturers for. Not innovating.
To touch or not to touch
Touch screens on laptops are not my favorite thing. I have tried a couple and found the experience to be less than great. It’s a cool trick, and it kind of works. I don’t really like interacting with my laptop in that way unless I am scrolling through long form websites. If I did more creative, photo editing and such, I think the touch or the pen interface would be ideal. If you just write stuff, like I do, then the standard keyboard and trackpad works well enough.
There is nothing wrong with including a touch screen, even if it won’t get used. Apple has enough of a fanbase that is price insensitive. So the extra cost of the touch screen system would be absorbed.
Think about your favorite Macbook that can be folded over into your favorite iPad. What a game changer that might be. The fusion of Apple’s two best products. I think Apple already does the convergence game well, it is just a matter of time till they can put all the pieces together.
That is my holy grail, I want to work on stuff on my laptop. Go in the other room and pick up where I left off with my tablet. Then when I hit the road for work I can keep going with my phone. The laptop should be the place where the heavy lifting gets done as far as computing tasks go.
What happens next
For Apple they need to really pay attention to what their customers/fans want. The rest of the industry is catching up to them in design and function. Gone are days of having to choose between something that works and something that is nice to look at.
Apple completely underwhelmed at their two industry shows, the not-so-new iPhone 7 was just a rehash of the iPhone 6. Nothing really changed except for some other hardware updates, like the camera and processor. If someone was looking for a new phone, they have been waiting and will continue to wait. They did remove the headphone jack, ground breaking.
The new Macbooks were the most hotly awaited products Apple was going to unveil. The Macbook series has not been updated in any real way in several years. So imagine people’s dismay when the only change that came out was the touch bar and the delete of the ESC key. The second strike was that the new laptops only have a single USB-C port. This means that consumers will have to buy several dongles to interface with their external devices.
The Macbook Air, which is one of the better laptops they put out, was ignored. This is where they could have made some hay with the mid-priced laptop market.
The new rumor, based on patent filings, is that Apple is working on a smartphone you can fold in half, like a flip phone with a touchscreen. This could be something that may be something to get people fired up again.
Apple needs to launch a new product that one, makes people want it for the sake they didn’t know they needed it. They also need to launch or redesign something that is edgy and ground breaking. Their current stable is not the cutting edge it once was, it is now an also ran. They have managed to hold on to the place of being a luxury item, but even that is starting to slip.
People want stuff that works and some want stuff that looks cool. It’s nice when you can get something that does both.
What do you think about the lack of direction at Apple? I would love to hear about it in the comments. Also, please sign up for our mailing list, to make sure you have the latest posts, right to your inbox.
Of all the casting devices, this is one
I have been using the Google Chromecast 2 for about a month now. I have really enjoyed it, once I figured out how to make it work.
Google Chromecast at the Google Store
Google Chromecast at Best Buy
Setup is not overly difficult, the Chromecast provides it’s own WiFi to connect to your device for the setup. The first thing it does is ask for your home WiFi information. This is where it gets weird.
Google Chromecast 2
So I got everything set up and running, or so I thought and I went about trying to stream something from my phone. Netflix could not see my Chromecast and neither could Hulu. YouTube kind of worked but not well and not in how I expected it to. Turns out the Chromecast needs to be really close to your WiFi router in order to work. It needs the strongest signal possible to pull down the content you request.
To solve this I moved my router from the office in the front of the house to the shelf behind my TV in the living room. Now this had the added benefit of being able to now use an Ethernet connection to both my smart TV and Blu-Ray player. Taking two things off the WiFi network.
Side note on the setup, I also finally set my dual band router to use both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands. I had always had the 5 setup as a type of “Guest” network. I found that if you name both bands with the same SSID and password, your devices will switch to whichever band is better. 5 GHz does provide better speeds but the coverage is weaker. Hence moving the router to the living room.
Back to the Chromecast. Now that I had the network hardware setup in a way the Chromecast liked I started messing around with streaming my favorite shows. This is where another little annoyance came up. The Google Cast app can search the major streaming sites and let you know what show/movie you are looking for is available on which site (minus Amazon Prime, because they don’t want to play) Which is great. Except you have to have the apps separately installed for each. This in my view is kind of dumb. I get the point is the Chromecast does not run the apps natively and relies on your phone/tablet to provide the software to work, but I don’t think I should have to install every app from every video source I want to use.
So I installed Netflix and brought up one of my favorite shows, “Turn” it looked amazing. I never knew that the built in Netflix app on my TV throttled down the video stream to 720p, Chromecast pushes 1080p. I thought it might be a flux so I tried a couple of others, everything looked better.
Now you may think that you will need a high end phone or Tablet to make this experience work, but that is not the case. The Chromecast does not stream the content from your device, it actually goes and gets the content itself. This is why not all video apps, looking at you XFinity/Comcast, are not “castable” The advantage of not streaming from my phone is that once the show gets going I can use my phone as normal, I just need to leave the associated app running in the background. It pulls very little battery or processor so I don’t even notice. I actually got a cheap tablet to run the Chromecast instead of my phone.
So what if you do want to stream something that can’t be cast? The Google Cast App allows for you to mirror your screen to the TV. I use this to watch streaming apps like CBSN to the TV. The downside is that I have to leave my phone on the app and I can’t multitask with it. This also has the added benefit of being able to show slideshows from my phone and laptop. Did I mention you can Cast any tab from the Chrome browser? I didn’t well you can. I have given a couple of presentations from my Chromebook via the Chromecast.
If you have a smart TV the Chromecast is a little bit redundant, or to quote my wife “Why do we need another thing to do the thing the other thing already does?” For the sake of my gadget obsession she deals with it. I did win her over a little when I was able to stream the latest episode of Poldark from the PBS app in full HD vs. plugging the HDMI into her laptop.
You are probably not going to find to many apps beyond the standards that your TV doesn’t already come with. If you do not have a smart TV then the Chromecast is great. It doesn’t have the built limits that a normal streaming stick or game console might, depending on who the manufacturer worked out deals with. The Chromecast gives you the flexibility to watch whatever you want.
There are other streaming devices on the market and I have tried a few of them. I enjoy the freedom that the Chromecast gives me. I don’t like how picky it is with network settings. There is an optional ethernet adapter from the Google Store for $15 that can help with that. I hope to be getting one soon.
PCMag: 20 Things You Didn’t Know Your Chromecast Could Do
TechRadar Chromecast Review
CNET Review of the Chromecast
DigitalTrends Chromecast Tricks
What has been your experience with the Chromecast? Would you recommend it to your family and friends?
Buy a Chromecast at Best Buy