For a period of about six months I went without having a PC and depended nearly entirely on a tablet for my computing needs. This was not something I undertook on a whim, rather, this was born out of necessity. My laptop died quite dramatically, replacing a bit of hardware wasn’t cost effective and was no guarantee of performance and as I did not have any long-term employment lined up, I needed something to keep looking and applying for jobs.
It was at this time that Google released the Nexus 7, a tablet with better specs than my previous two laptops combined, with the exception of storage space. This $200 tablet was much cheaper than buying a fully-fledged PC laptop and would give me the means of continuing my job search from home, as well as a number of other tasks that I’d come to expect. The reviews praised the device pretty universally, and while the app selection was not the same Windows-based applications I had grown with over the years, there were apps that could, in theory, fit nearly all of my computing needs. It seemed like a good investment, and with my latest job ending, the price tag left a minimal amount of sting.
My first few days with the device were largely spent simply playing with it. I had a library of games that I had acquired over my previous year and a half of smartphone usage that were just waiting to be installed on a device with a larger screen and better graphics. I played games, watched a fair amount of videos on Netflix, set up my Facebook access and mostly just used it as a distraction. Don’t worry, I got back on the job search soon enough, but in many ways I had gotten a new toy.
After the initial distraction wore off, I started looking into installing the various apps that I would need to be productive. As a photographer, I needed something that would edit photos, in jpeg or raw format, and do so quickly. After digging through reviews, I selected and purchased PhotoMate, which remained my go-to app for the entire time I owned the tablet. For the occasional touch-ups, I found a free app called Retouch, which was a one-trick pony, but it did that trick quickly and flawlessly and I can’t recommend it enough. Several months later, Photoshop Touch would become available for my tablet, but we’ll get to that later. As I mentioned earlier, I needed to look for work, which meant that I was in need of a good document editor(had to keep that resume current!), after a personal recommendation from a friend, I managed to pick up OfficeSuite Pro while it was on sale and the suite has treated me well for the most part. I didn’t stop there, though. Having no experience with office suites on Android I tried several other options as well, including a service called OnLive, which is primarily known for subscription games. They also offer another service, for free, in which you can log in to a virtual Windows 7 PC, with MS Office installed. For the few cases where OfficeSuite Pro didn’t work for me, OnLive did, with some caveats.
I also discovered a number of other apps in the not-quite-as-productive category, ranging from astronomical reference to video consumption. Most of these apps worked as advertised, which was quite well, but they also came with the likelihood of further distraction. These were the apps that I would open with a singular intent and close having grown a full beard in the same span of time. Much like the phenomenon where you sit down to check your email and wake up staring at some portion of the internet with no recollection of how you got there.
At the time of writing this, it’s been almost as long for me using a PC again as I had spent using only a tablet. At the time of getting my laptop, moving to a PC did feel like a step back. To be fair, this feeling was exacerbated by the fact that I had purchased a used laptop, running Windows Vista. Being back on a PC again does make many things easier, but for the most part these are the practical tasks. Filling out an online job application on a tablet can be an exercise in extreme patience and will, but the worst, most detailed applications are merely tedious to fill out on a PC. Add a generous portion of interface complications on top of that and the experience can be downright maddening on a tablet.
My usage has changed significantly since coming back to using a PC in the last few months. I haven’t been listening to my own music library much at all, I’ve been watching much less on Netflix than I used to and when I’m at home, I’m just not interested in playing games. Also in the last few months, I’ve been shooting a lot more photos, specifically in RAW format. As I’ve discussed before, editing these photos on a tablet was surprisingly easy, but thanks to the sheer quantity of photos that I’ve taken, working on a tablet with even 64 GB of storage would be an unpleasant experience and I was skating along with a mere 8 GB device. I will say this, though: if I were not taking the sheer quantity of photos that I am and I were not constantly seeking long-term employment, I would actually love to have only a tablet as a computing device. Seriously, in the past few months I have found myself missing that svelte device for a large number of situations. If anything, these situations speak most clearly as to what the best-use cases are for tablets.
1. Travel. After using a 7 inch tablet for six months, I am keenly aware of just how bulky and heavy a traditional laptop is, especially a 15′ model such as the one I own. Even a 13′ model feels large by comparison. As a result, my laptop lives at home for the most part. It might come along for any extended trip somewhere, but I still can’t help but think how much more stuff I could fit in my luggage if I was toting a tablet. I took my tablet with me everywhere, for better or worse. As a photographer, I still see a great advantage to having a virtually unlimited portfolio in my pocket.
2. Movies. It’s easy to scoff initially at the thought of watching on a screen that small, but the screen was clear enough and the device light enough that reclining and setting it on my chest seemed perfectly natural. Also, and this isn’t universally true for all laptops but it is certainly true for mine, laptops can get pretty warm when streaming high quality videos. Depending on the season, this added heat can personally feel like a bonus or a burden but for the laptop itself it can and does slow things down significantly. I’ve had my tablet get a bit warm, but nothing compared to the small furnace with a display residing on my lap. As a result, I am much less inclined to kick back and watch a movie on my laptop, especially in the summer months. Not necessarily a bad thing in terms of personal habits, but it does speak to the ease of use for tablets.
3. Reading. If you’ve got an e-book reader already you should continue to use that. If you are without, the small form factor of a 7 inch tablet is excellent for reading. The weight, size and dimensions make it comparable to holding a paperback. In the time since going back to using a laptop, I just don’t read e-books anymore. While an e-paper screen is easiest on the eyes, current gen tablets have excellent screens in general to make the experience enjoyable as well.
4. Games. Tablets are a popular market right now, and as a result that means that all of the fresh developers are eager to create new apps and games for this platform. There are always free games, “free-to-play”, and demo’s of new games available each week. There are also a lot of great games that will bring you back again and again when you’ve got time to spare. Of the things on this list, I miss this the least if only because I am finding other things to spend my time on, but I still have to admit that the gaming aspect of owning a tablet was still quite enjoyable and I do miss it at times, however limited it may feel compared to traditional gaming consoles.
In my mind, the biggest thing holding tablets back is storage. I don’t simply mean capacity, but also quick access to that storage. There are a growing number of cloud-based storage services out there for any number of tablets to access, so in terms of absolute storage space this problem is somewhat mitigated. The bottleneck here becomes network speeds and trying to treat a 5 GB cloud drive the same as a folder on your own device will slow down so quickly it will take you back to 1999. I can’t imagine dumping a 4 GB memory card worth of photos onto the cloud to do a batch edit in a timely manner, but then again, not everyone needs that.
While I am comfortable using a PC again, I still can’t help but think that should I find permanent employment with a decent income that there is a new tablet out there with my name on it and a 1 TB USB drive in tow.