Guest Blog: Are Tablets Really Worth It?

Today’s guest blog is a rather strong opinion piece written by Robert Plaster, a fellow tech geek and Tablet enthusiast (sort of)! 

Star Trek Tablet

Okay, I’ll admit it; my first real sci-fi tech obsession wasn’t directly caused by Star Trek. I mean, don’t get me wrong; teleporters and replicators are pretty damn awesome, as are phasers, warp drives and space-socialism. Tablets appeared in Trek in the form of the Padd (pictured above), but it never really made me go “wow, how do I go about summoning Satan to ensure that this is invented in my lifetime?” You dig?

No, the first time I ever got truly excited about a tablet was in Stargate Atlantis. It might seem weird, really, because their tablets are actually pretty basic, tech wise; they’re barely even sci-fi. Hell, the only real sci-fi element to it was its ridiculous processing power; performing feats that necessitate a modern supercomputer’s in a matter of seconds. The main difference, however, was how ubiquitous they were.

Stargate Atlantis Tablet

The Atlantis tablets were used CONSTANTLY by almost every member of the show. Their use was shown to be practical, varied, imaginative and fun. They jacked it into every piece of technology they came across, used it for magical science, drew on it, played Solitaire on it, pretty much any need you could ever possibly have for a highly mobile, highly powerful, touch screen computer was met on screen.

Stargate Atlantis Tablet Solitaire

When the iPad became the big thing, I was pretty excited, but never really wanted one because… Well, it’s an apple product. I spoke of summoning Satan earlier, but at least he’d have the decency to allow me to examine and contest whatever soul-ownership contract I would have to sign with him. He’d also let me customize the pact. Anyway, I digress; I was never excited by the iPad. It’s faux-hipster, severely limited, expensive and not particularly thrilling in terms of design. The Atlantis tablet wasn’t exactly stunning, but it was at least ridiculously pragmatic and useable. I was, however, excited about the opportunities and technology that the future held.

This Christmas, I finally received a tablet; the Google Nexus 7. It was great; I opened it up, mucked around with the settings, put a wallpaper on it, installed VLC for Android, used the internet on it for an hour, and then used it as a paper weight for almost two months BECAUSE YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING WITH IT. Yeah, it’s Google, it’s chic, it’s Android, it’s cheap. It sure as hell aint no Atlantis tablet, though. The most use I had for it was when I was EV training Pokémon or internet surfing while on the toilet. The physical design is pretty idiotic too, because they have a single speaker, and decided to place it on the BACK of the tablet, ensuring all sound will be muffled when in a case. Then they decided that they’d place the volume and unlock/power buttons right at the point that will be covered up by any decent tablet wallet.

Google Nexus 7

The perfect web browser for the refined individual (when using the loo).

The thing is, I already have a powerful device that can do everything a Nexus 7 can, and more, while costing less and fitting in my pocket; a smart phone. Personally, I own a HTC Sensation XL. It’s not the beefiest phone, nor is it the biggest, but it is does have an impressive 4 inch screen, the latest version of Android, 3G, Wifi, 16GB internal memory, a 1.5 GHz processor, an 8 Megapixel camera and 756 MB of RAM. I can install all the same apps on it, thanks to the Google Play store, and… Well, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the Nexus 7, barring battery life, size, etc..

Why are we taking a step backwards in technology? Not a few years ago we were using ultra portable netbooks with terrible specs, and yet those netbooks had infinitely more utility than the vast majority of tablets for sale today. Why? Because they were running a so-called “fat” Operating System (OS). What this means is that, unlike Windows Mobile or Android or whatever godawful OS Apple uses for its tablets and phones, Netbooks ran Windows XP, Mac OS or even Windows Vista. Well, technically they were trimmed down, and some programs didn’t have complete utility on them, but other than that you could use whatever you could use on a laptop or desktop; you could play games, use Microsoft Office, transfer data via USB, and whatever else a desktop might be able to do, given the same specs. For some reason, these never took off as well as tablets have.

Tablets as they are now are little more than glorified, expensive, heavy and unwieldly mobile phones, and the worst thing is that there is literally no reason for this to be the case. They’re known as tablet PCs, and yet there is nothing about them that resembles a PC apart from their components and their ability to access the internet. Hell, netbooks are still being developed; there’s a plethora of Windows 7 ones out right now. So why don’t I just buy one of those, I hear you asking. The answer is simple: I shouldn’t have to. A Nexus 7 could easily handle a fat OS; sure, Google seems to have completely lost the plot and made an operating system that relies entirely on being connected to the internet, but that’s not my concern here. The concern is that this SHOULDN’T be the case. Tablet sales would probably skyrocket if they could all reliably use an Office suite. Right now, tablets are in danger of becoming entirely stagnant.

This is the point where I surprise even myself; this is where I laud Microsoft. To the left is the Surface RT tablet, from Microsoft. It is beautiful. It is powerful. The Surface Pro and RT (well, the RT is only to the best of my knowledge; the Pro is a dead cert) have a fat Windows 8 OS. This means you can install almost ANYTHING that you could install without a disc on a desktop PC on these tablets. You can run a full Office Suite on there, it has an easily navigable file structure, you can slap in a mouse and browse the internet like a normal human being, free from the tyranny of abysmally optimized mobile versions of web pages that force themselves on you for daring to access the internet while on the move. Not only does the Surface RT have the functionality of a PC/Laptop, but it has the general portability of a tablet, while shoving in the power of the laptop that I typed this very blog on.

I know, I know, it’s rubbish if you actually try to use it on your lap. I know that it’s Microsoft and therefore not cool; I am myself a massive Google fanboy. I know that you might absolutely love your iPad/Nexus/Galaxy/Transformer/Non-Relevant-Alternative tablet and want for nothing more. The Surface, though, is the natural evolution of tablet PCs, and needs to be embraced not necessarily for it’s actuality, but for what it represents; It is the first real step towards an Atlantis-type tablet since the earliest efforts of 2001. You can’t quite hook it up to any piece of technology and magically hack into it, and you can’t use it for highly complex calculations; but you CAN play Solitaire on it, and you CAN use it for basic Excel tasks, and you CAN use a decent writing tool like Open Office or MS Office, and you CAN use powerpoint on it, and you CAN interface with a PC  or Laptop through it.

All is not lost for other tablets in my eyes, however; Ubuntu is now set to appear widespread on mobile phones and tablets in 2014, and is available as a developer version on the Nexus 4, 7 and 10 right this instant. This is an incredibly recent development, only becoming available on 21/02/2013. The Ubuntu OS should allow someone to install programs such as Open Office on their tablets, while possibly allowing for installation of Windows programs through Wine (the lifeblood of all long-term Linux users, after sudo apt get). Not only is this a great development for tablets in general, but it is another victory for the open source Linux platform that I wrecked my Laptop and PC with when I was young and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I plan on doing the same to my Nexus 7 post-haste.

Tell anyone who thinks that PC functionality in tablets is limited to the realms of business executives to shove it. I want my Atlantis tablets.

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