I used to be huge into technology. I was always aware of what the new/best stuff was and when it was coming out. Since I got out of high school, though, I sort of fell off the wagon. Every time I needed to build a new computer, I had to look around and see what’s new, what’s compatible with what, and whether the next big thing is right around the corner, to determine whether I should buy now or wait. It’s a hassle.
So there’s the iPad. People love these fuckers. I don’t know why, but they’re insanely expensive and selling like hotcakes. Really, it’s just a big version of an iPhone that you can’t make calls on. I’m not going to go into any detail about the iPad, as I haven’t even bothered to look into the specs on it, but I’ll say that it’s not ultimately that impressive, and you’d do better with a 500 dollar laptop. It’s just a tablet and it’s nothing new. People made it out to be something revolutionary, when in reality (where the rest of us non Apple-cultists reside) it’s a concept that’s been around since 2002 or 2003.
The idea behind the tablet PC is pretty simple. It’s a laptop but only in one piece, so you ditch the keyboard in favor of a touch screen interface. You used a stylus and did your own thing. Ultimately, they ended up being heavier than laptops back then and didn’t have particularly good battery life, so they didn’t have very many practical uses outside of hospitals and factories.
Since then, however, manufacturers have managed to shrink everything down to the point that we now have tablets that are useful to everyone. I want to point out that nobody actually NEEDS a tablet for anything unless your employer specifically requires it. As weird as that sounds, I’ve read multiple times on different forums that employers are requiring employees to get them for work.
As far as what tablets do, they’re basically toned down laptops and they’re really still in their infancy. Since I don’t have/haven’t used an iPad, I’m going to talk about Android tablets. Actually, let’s talk about Android for a second. I remember a few years ago when Android first got released on phones and I remember thinking that it had good potential, unlike WebOS. Basically, Android is Google’s answer to Apple’s iOS. Seriously, they’re almost exactly the same visually, only Android doesn’t restrict you from doing things and also supports flash. The downside is that you do need a Google account in order to use an Android device.
Well, here’s the thing about Android phones and tablets. They use a different version of the OS, which is preventing Android from overtaking Apple. The iPhone and iPad use the same OS and the apps are compatible with each other. The same can’t be said for Android products at the moment. Phones typically use Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and tablets use Android 3.1 or 3.2 (Honeycomb). The problem is that Gingerbread apps aren’t compatible with the 3.1 Honeycomb OS for the most part, at the moment. I picked up an Acer Iconia A500 tab to play around with (check out the review), which was using 3.1. Then Acer said that a 3.2 update was supposed to be released on August 25th. Well, the 25th rolled around and they pushed it back until September 10th. The reason I’m mentioning it is because 3.2 is supposed to fix some of those compatibility issues between operating systems. Alas, I can’t wait around because my return period is nearly up, so I will never know whether it worked or not. Fortunately, Google is going to be releasing Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) by the end of the year, rumor has it, which will completely solve that version issue. Both phones and tablets will run it, which will allow apps to be compatible with both and make the process easier for developers.
Anyway, back to the tablets themselves. The Acer tab that I picked up weighs in at about 1.5 pounds, which is on the heavy side, but it also has an aluminum chassis. 1.5 pounds is still pretty damn light, considering it’s considered among the heaviest tablets. Back when they first came out, they weighed closer to 7 pounds. Not too shabby. The screens are now made of gorilla glass, which is extremely scratch/shatter resistant, which is an absolute must considering you have to touch the screen in order to use it. Considering the fact that the screens are made of glass, it’s actually really impressive that the weight stays under 2 pounds.
Android tablets have an integrated Wi-Fi card and also tend to offer a 3g version, as well. That means that you have connectivity pretty much wherever you go. Can your laptop do that? Not without a card or tethering to a phone, typically.
So basically you have the aforementioned “toned down laptop.” Now it’s down to power and speed. Typically tablets will have a 1ghz processor, either single or dual core, and will sport between 512mb and 1gb of RAM. At this point, the specs are pretty much as good as any netbook. Well, that’s just this generation.
The next generation of mobile chips is going to be fucking amazing. I’m going to specifically talk about the NVidia Tegra “Kal-El,” as it’s currently slated. From what I’ve read, it’s supposed to be released within the next month and it’s going to rock 4 cpu cores operating at 1.5ghz a piece, and the GPU is supposed to have 12 cores built in. Holy shit. As of right now, the Kal-El is supposed to be faster than an Intel T7200 Core 2 Duo operating at 2ghz, while also using less power than the current Tegra 2. What that means for you is faster tablets with better graphics with better battery life. And next year they’re going to be put in phones. Fuck. Yes.
When I first saw tablet PCs, I immediately thought of Star Wars and Star Trek; people walking around with their tablets containing all sorts of information and galactic network connectivity. Well, I don’t know about the whole space thing, but I think we’re not far from our tablets being like something out of sci-fi.
Now don’t quote me on this, but I really think that there’s a solid chance that laptops will eventually be replaced with tablets for one simple reason: portability. It’s significantly easier to carry around a 10 inch tablet than it is a laptop with a 15 inch screen. See, the way I look at it, the only thing that’s separating laptops from tablets at point (performance hardware excluded) is the keyboard and mouse. It’s a big issue, too, because the touch screen can be sort of hard to use for extensive typing, and it’s preventing the tablets from going into potential laptop “office/productivity” territory. Manufacturers saw this, too, and came up with a few nifty solutions. For the moment I’m going to focus on Asus because they’re rocking this shit like a boss. While most companies have a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, Asus said “fuck that, we’ll show you.” So what did they do? They invented the EEE Pad Transformer, a tablet/docking station combo (sold separately) that turns your tablet into what is basically an Android netbook, providing it with a keyboard, touch pad mouse, and boosting the battery life by something like 8 hours.
And Asus looked upon what it had created and determined that they were not quite happy with it yet. The transformer was still sort of bulky, so they decided to fix that problem. What did they do? They made a mother fucking slider tablet. You know those phones where you can slide the screen back to reveal a keyboard? Yeah, they did that with the tablet. And all was good yet again. Well, not quite. It hasn’t been released in the US yet, but I’m looking forward to its release.
Again, tablet development is still in its infancy. There still isn’t an excellent office suite for Android yet, but once Ice Cream Sandwich’s unifying awe gets released, along with the next generation mobile chips, I think it’s not too far away. What I’m hoping for is an app that lets you rest one hand on the unused part of the screen while you’re writing with a stylus, translates handwriting into text if desired along with allowing you to draw figures, and does voice stenography. I think it will happen within the next year or two.
To sum everything up, expect to see quite a few of these tablets in the near future. Tablets and smart phones are about to get even cooler. If you’re a hipster, you might want to hop on the train now so you can say you were there before they were popular.