Tablets: Why do we need them

Tablets: Why do we need them

Really, why do people want or need what is basically a large smartphone that can’t make phone calls?  I have written about this before, but I figured it was time for an update.  Turns out there are a lot of reasons, many of which I am finding out since I have ditched the smartphone.  A tablet does really bridge the gap as a device between a smartphone and the laptop.

So where does the tablet fit, what are the advantages of the larger screen, faster processors and easier to see screens, due to there larger form factors.  The average smartphone screen is around 5.7 inches.  While small tablets are normally 7 inches.  That extra two inches of real estate can make a huge difference when viewing the screen for a long time.  The second advantage of the larger screen is that the chassis underneath can accommodate a larger battery for more use time between charges.

The tablet also offers more portability over a laptop.  The smaller slate design versus a laptops clamshell makes a tablet easier to slip into a large pocket or bag where a 13-inch laptop would not work.  So for reading or watching videos on the go, it’s hard to beat the size of the tablet.

So why is the tablet market so weak?  I think mostly it is that people are not wanting to spend $200-$500 for a bridge device.  The tablet was supposed to be the answer if not the replacement for the laptop for a lot of people, but that tide never really turned.  Even Apple has downsized their vaunted tablet lineup to just a couple of devices.  They position the iPad Pro as a full laptop replacement as long as you add the optional keyboard to it.  I have seen people out and about using the Pro in this way, I for one think typing on that keyboard feels a little unnatural.

Microsoft has also tried to be in the tablet as laptop space with the Surface Pro.  Jamming computer level hardware into a tablet form factor is no small feat.  They do manage to see a few of these devices but they also produced a Surface-branded laptop alongside it.  It seems if you are going to pay close to $900 for a tablet, you can get a really capable laptop for the same price and have about the same or better functionality.  Since a laptop does not have to hide all its internals behind the screen.

So that’s the high-end.  What about the flood of budget-friendly tablets?  Not really talking about the not-so-cheap iPad Mini 4.  That comes in at $350 but more like the Amazon Fire Tablets that are $50 for the 7-inch and $80 for the HD 8-inch.  Or the other off brand 7-inch tablets from various Chinese companies you have never heard of?

It’s in the sub $100 range that I think the tablet becomes a viable alternative to using your smartphone for media consumption, gaming, email and web browsing.  Now that I don’t have the smartphone to compete for my attention, I have really paid attention to the tablets that are out there.  I still have a great laptop for managing my website and writing these blog posts.  Since typing directly on a tablet/phone onscreen keyboard is a chore.  Still way better than trying to compose a text on my flip phone.

So what should you get in this cheapy range?  The undisputed king of the sub $100 tablet is the Amazon Fire line of tablets.  Well constructed, decent hardware and great support.  The drawbacks?  Well, they are plastic build, they don’t feel cheap.  The 7-inch tablet lacks an HD screen, but it still looks pretty good.  Has decent brightness.  Text from website looks a little fuzzy but not terrible.  At $50 with special offers (ads on the lock screen), you can buy 7 of these for every iPad mini.  Makes a great tablet for kids.  They are also way more durable than an iPad.

For a little bit more, about $30, you can get the Fire HD 8.  With an HD (720p) screen text is rendered really well and is easy to read.  Movies and shows look great from Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.  Dual speakers also reproduce decent sound, some basic headphones or a Bluetooth speaker work nicely to fill the room with sound.   The screen is very responsive to touch inputs and the battery goes for about 12 hours in mixed use.

Amazon does run their own version of Android on these tablets and you technically can’t install apps from the Google Play store, there are ways around that.  The parental controls are second to none, which furthers the Fire as a great tablet to give to the kids.

So dollar for dollar when it comes to tablets unless you really want/need an iPad the Amazon tablets are the way to go.  They offer the best balance of performance and price.  If you can get over having an ad on the lock screen you can even save a couple of bucks.  The Fire HD 8 is probably your best bet.  The screen is not iPad Retina quality but works just fine for sending email, reading blog posts and watching videos.

What tablets do you think are worth the price?  Or do you think tablets are a waste of time and money?  Leave a comment below.  If you like this article please share it with your friends.


Amazon Fire 7 and HD 8

Amazon Fire 7 and HD 8

amazon-fireThe best deal on a tablet today

Amazon has done it again.  With the launch of the first Kindle Fire a couple of years ago, Amazon turned the tablet world, that was dominated at the time by iPad, on its head.  The first headlines touted it as an iPad killer and people all over the internet put the Fire head to head with the iPad.  The iPad won.

iPad and Kindle Fire HDThe reviewers missed the point, the Fire was never supposed to go head to head with a full strength iPad.  Amazon created the Fire to consume Amazon content, which at the time was books, video, and shopping.

The Kindle Fire was the first tablet that was Android based and was sub $200.  It provided decent performance and it had the type of locked in, pre-set UI that people liked in the iPad.  It made it easy for someone who didn’t want to spend a long time setting up their device, to just get to what they wanted.

It had an HD screen and Dolby engineered speakers.  I owned this tablet when it first came out, and I still own it today.  The original Kindle Fire has outlasted every other tablet I have brought into the house.  The Kindle Fire series is not without its flaws.  The hardware is usually on the budget side and the performance isn’t great.  Where they stand out is the value and what you do get.

As a content consuming device it excels at watching videos and listening to music.  The speakers sound great and videos are sharp.  The screen is bright and does a pretty good job of rejecting finger prints.  The original Kindle Fire HD also had a mini-HDMI out.  So you could hook it to the TV and stream your content there, all before Amazon FireTV, Chromecast and Roku made it easier.

Sadly the Kindle Fire HD is starting to show its age.  After 4 years of working to keep up with the media needs of our kids and do its duty as a tablet, the battery is starting to fade and the processor is showing its age.  The latest versions of Netflix and Hulu drag out the process a lot more than they used to.

So welcome the replacement-almost

Or so I thought.  The latest version of the 7-inch screen Amazon Fire (they dropped the Kindle part) came out late in 2015 for the holiday season.  It hit shelves at $49!  This is an amazing price for a very capable tablet.  It does lack an HD screen and it only has one speaker.  I always use my headphones with it so I don’t notice the poor quality on board sound.  The screen is good for watching TV and the occasional movie.  It’s not going to blow you away with crisp colors and deep blacks or anything, but it works.

Amazon Fire 7 2015It does come with 8GB of storage on board and you can expand that with a microSD card.  I run a 32GB one in mine with all my music and movies loaded on it.  Make it easier to transfer stuff from my media server to the tablet if I go on the road.

There is also a new version of the FireOS.  Amazon’s custom version of Android.  While you don’t get the Google Play Store right out of the box like a “normal” Android tablet, it is easy enough to install.  Amazon’s locking down of the user interface keeps the user inside their ecosystem.  Amazon has their own app store that is actually pretty good.  You can even get a version of it for your Android tablet or phone.

 

 

Fire 7 ScreenText on the Fire 7 is a little chunky and pixelated.  Books look okay through the Kindle reading app, but websites look grainy.  It’s not terrible and takes some getting used to, just kind of bothers me.  Then I remember I actually got this tablet on sale for $39 and I don’t care anymore.

fire-7-packageThe battery life is really good, I get a solid 8 hours of use out of it, depending on what I am doing of course.  Full brightness and streaming movies will get you through a movie or two.  For regular web browsing, you should get plenty of juice from the battery.

The WiFi is good and finds and holds the signal well.  It is single band so only 2.4ghz on this.

CNET reviewed the Amazon Fire 7 when it was released

There is also a camera on the back that is bad, and a front facing camera that is worse.  It works for Skype, that’s about it.  You will not win any photography awards with this tablet as your shooter.

 

 

The Fire 7 is also very rugged, I have a decent case on it, and I have dropped it a couple of times with no issues.  So I don’t worry about handing it to my kids.  I should have at least put a locking pin on it, though.  With the tight integration of my Amazon Prime account to the tablet, my 3-year-old was able to buy me a new laptop with my Amazon 1-click settings.  Luckily the vendor was understanding and canceled the order.

Okay, the real replacement

Amazon Fire 8 HDFor Black-Friday (in 2016) several sites and stores had the newly redesigned Amazon Fire HD 8 for sale at $59.99.  This is $30 off the normal price, I even found one open box and got some extra taken off the price for that.  Non-Black Friday price is $89.99.  It goes on sale all the time, so just keep an eye out.  It’s still a great value at full price, though.

CNET reviewed the Amazon Fire HD 8 a few weeks ago.

I was excited to see if they had made a good tablet better.  They did.  The build is almost exactly the same as my Fire 7.  Just a bigger screen.  There are also two Dolby speakers that sound great.  The processor is a little better and it has twice the storage, 16GB instead of 8.  It can still be expanded with a microSD card.

The screen does collect fingerprints a little more than the previous HD model, but you really can’t see them as you are looking at the screen.

Amazon Fire 8 HDThe screen handles 720p HD content really well, I watched a couple of shows right off that I knew were in a native 4k format (Amazon’s new “The Grand Tour”) and they looked great. Music from the Amazon Prime music store also sounded loud and clear, easily filling my living room with great tunes.

Books and web content both look great.  There is a good sharpness to web text that is missing from the 7 incher.  The tablet is also comfortable to hold in one hand.  The slightly rubbery feeling back feels nice to the touch and is not slippery in anyways.

Battery life is also good, if not a little better with the 8 inch.  The HD does run the battery down a little faster, but this tablet should still last all day.

WiFi is also very good and the signal strength throughout my house with 2 levels and lots of walls was good, I had no issues streaming movies in any room.  It supports dual band operation so you can use either 2.4ghz or 5ghz WiFi.

fire-8-front-and-backI would still recommend getting a case with a cover for either tablet to protect the screen from an accidental fall.  I would steer clear of the Amazon-branded case, there are a lot of off-brand cases that are just as good, for half the price.

Bottom Line

For the money, you really can’t beat it.  The 7 and 8-inch tablets are both great deals, they even come in multiple colors.  It’s even worth it to buy both.  Or two of each, or whatever.  You can’t go wrong.  If you already have Amazon Prime then it also a no brainer.  The Fire integrates with your account seamlessly, like it is designed to do.

Are their better tablets out there than the Fire 7 and HD 8?  Yes, there are.  For this low of a price?  Nope.  You are getting a great tablet at a no-name knockoff price.

Get one today!