I decided to celebrate the occasion by using the funds for something special. I’ve been pondering for a while about whether I should add a tablet device to my adventures in technology. I had a romantic notion of writing my next book sitting on a park bench at the beach. So I trundled off to the nearest big box tech store, daughter in tow for a second set of eyes and ears, just to see what was available and if I thought one would be of any benefit to my world.
The first young man who approached us seemed quite knowledgeable and I gave him my wish list of writerly features: Must be compatible with Word, must be able to do some online research, keyboard must fit fast flying fingers. First, he issued a codicil: A tablet is an Android device and is not a computer. I kind of knew that but asked him to explain. “It runs on the Cloud”, he said, “and has pretty much no internal storage”. I was pretty proud of myself – I knew what the Cloud was, having educated myself about it after the word kept popping up in techie lexicon. In simple terms The Cloud is data storage over a network somewhere ‘out there’ in Internet Land. Where that is and what it looks like and how the network (which is an integral part of the Cloud) reaches it, I have no idea, but though I picture the whole thing somewhere out in the ether, I believe the storage is actually more like the behemoth servers one would see pictured in IBM articles when computers were in their infancy. Except I expect they look much more streamlined and space-agey.
The nice young man showed us a few tablets, careful to keep in mind the use to which I wanted to put it. A few months ago I had seen a snippet on the news where a techie was showing off the latest gadgets. One of them was a tablet that had a detachable keyboard. That caught my eye, and not only because it was pretty. After showing us the most popular Android with its vibrant screen and gajillion apps, an iPad and a Blackberry, the salesperson lead us to, ta-da! You guessed it – the same tablet I’d seen demonstrated on TV. Compact, with a couple of bonus ports for connecting to cameras and laptops. But the keyboard was not on display. Seems the device comes both with and without the keyboard and they do not display the one with. I asked if he had one to show me but he said he could only show me the box. Like that would help. I couldn’t see buying one without seeing how it operated, so, disappointed, we drifted back over to have a second look at the others. A customer came up with a question and the nice young man told him he’d be with him in a moment. Having been that customer a few times, I suggested we were in no hurry and wanted to think about things and that he should help the customer, who heaved a sigh and gave me a grateful look.
Almost immediately another salesperson approached. I cannot tell you how low were the odds for this. Many is the time I have stood around, desperate for someone to answer a question. This fellow was like the computer nerds of old: Unwashed, dirty hair, and with a middle the size of an elephant. I knew the type. They live only for computers and know them from the smallest screw to the latest software. I pictured him at his desk, never leaving his chair; eating there, sleeping there, red-eyed at three in the morning, squinting at his multiple monitors, trying to connect the dots.
He was sent from Heaven.
I gave him the same spiel and he immediately led us over to the one I’d seen on the TV snippet. I said I needed to see it with the keyboard. He bent down, surprisingly agile, and opened the case underneath the display. Rummaging in the back he came up with a box in his hand and a grin on his face. He had just sold the same unit to a woman that morning and had discovered there was an ‘open box’, retail jargon for a device that has been purchased and returned. Pretty much all stores here offer a no-questions return policy, so the unit could have been returned because it was faulty or because the purchaser did not like it. The salesperson reiterated that tablets are not computers and that these were returned all the time from folks who were disappointed they could not perform all the functions they were used to in their laptops. He seemed certain this was the case, but stated that the customer from the morning wanted an unopened box. The tablet had already been discounted by $100 as a new version had recently been released. He assured me that, other than slight twitches, the only change to the newer version is speed, but would not be noticeable to other than gamers (this has since been confirmed by other techies). As he turned the box over to release the contents, I noticed that the unit was discounted a further $100. That really caught my attention.
Did I mention the tablet is pretty? And the keyboard, which also acts as a protective cover and docking station with extra battery life, is pure genius. It was love at first sight! But I dithered. Would it do what I wanted? My dd gave me that wide-eyed look and said, Mom, it’s a no-brainer! She reminded me that my computer had been giving me grief for a long time now and could die any time. Plus, I could return it within fourteen days if I didn’t like it.
Smart daughter. Off we went to the cash register where we were given the typical up-sell pitch. For a mere $89 their geeks would set the device up with e-mail etc. I usually have someone do this for me when buying a new computer, to save time and frustration. But this was an Android and I have an iPhone. I figured doing it myself would be a good exercise in getting to know the device. Well, then didn’t I want to buy their extended warranty for only $200? If something went wrong they would replace it or the newest comparable. Nope. It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to grips with the electronic age. Nothing is useful for more than about a year. Pretty much guaranteed, within two weeks something better is going to replace the thing you’ve just purchased, and you’ll be buying the next one after that, at the very least.
The setup was even easier than I imagined. Android operating systems are a product of Google. Forget conspiracy theories about Governments wanting to own every cell of its citizens. Google has beaten them to it. Turn on a brand new Android and up pops a familiar happy-colored one-word logo, asking for your password. Hesitate just for a moment and it will let you know you cannot proceed without one, if you don’t have one, just apply here. I typed mine in. Seconds later the screen was filled with all manner of apps. Moments after that I’d clicked on the Gmail logo and was reading my Gmail. And by the way, didn’t I want my regular account too? They just happened to know the address.
I’m still holding out on that one. But I quickly resigned myself to learning to love this entity Google has become. No point in wincing every time I want to add an app or type in a website address. It is all done through the magic of Google, and only through Google.
For the next few days I danced with my new tablet. Internet access is limited but good enough. Everyone is scurrying around building apps and widgets for their websites and I quickly had my fave weather channel, Facebook page, Twitter, Kindle, Wikipedia, YouTube and even Goodreads at the touch of an ET fingertip. It was easy to drag around the pre-loaded apps to where they were convenient for my needs and visually appealing. Though I’d heard otherwise, it wasn’t even that hard to delete some I did not nor ever could imagine wanting. Just for fun I downloaded – again from Google – a few games apps. But as on my phone, I got bored with those pretty quickly. Still, they are there in case I get bored sometime with things that do interest me.
I opened the support page for the device on my laptop and printed off all the FAQs which addressed my requirements. They were remarkably good, concise and understandable. I was soon in The Cloud and synced to the laptop and every other device I own in a comprehensible way. So far, so good. The device is not just pretty, it is useful. One of the pre-loaded apps was Kobo, Canada’s answer to the Nook, now available in the US and elsewhere. But I’m not likely to buy much from there because, bonus of bonuses, I can sync any book I have on Kindle to the tablet. I’ve been buying most of my Kindle books from my laptop because I find that doing so direct from the Kindle device is unsatisfactory. No more. At the touch of a finger, I see the books in living color; one more touch and they are available on any of my devices.
But down to the nitty gritty. Could I use it as a portable writing device? I set up a new Word page (which did have to be in ‘Compatible with Word 97-2003’ mode), copied some text I had in another document, and sent it by email to the device. When I opened the email on the device, I was able to save it in the word processor software provided. Though I was in the edit mode, I was unable to edit. My heart stopped. After a few minutes of trying, even though it seemed backward I switched to ‘read only’ mode, and hey voila, it worked. I added a few paragraphs, saved the document and tried to email back. Wouldn’t let me. Using the same backward logic, I switched over to edit mode and sure enough, the email went through. I did this back and forth a few times just to make sure, and finally heaved a sigh of relief.
My new toy was everything I had hoped for, and more.
I am very impressed with the pre-loaded apps and software. I’m still playing with their notetaker which seems easier to use than Evernote. I am told it may not be as functional, but apparently there is a way to sync to Evernote if need be. The onscreen touch pad fits my fingers well too.
I love my Kindle and have yet to read a book on the tablet but I can see I could very well get into the habit of reading on it at night when I will appreciate the back lighting.
And just the other day, I took the tablet down to the beach and wrote a few words on the practice document. Worked like a charm…