Monday, February 14, 2011

A new Android pad

It may seem odd that, after having mostly disappointing results with a cheap Android-based tablet, I would buy another Android-based tablet. That tablet turned out to be a little too unreliable, a little too slow, and based on software that's a little too out of date, to do that much. (However, I do have a great idea for a use for it. I'm going to mount it to the wall and run a copy of Rover on it to make it a home automation control panel.)

However, the key thing about this one is, I bought it for one and only one primary purpose: to replace my Archos as a means to watch video on the go. I tried the other tablet but the ancient version of Android on it does not really support video very well. Virtually every file I tried, even transcoded ones, wouldn't play -- it was either audio no video, or video no audio, or garbled noise, or refused to try. However, this new Android pad running a recent version does quite well at video. Everything I've tried works, and it's a great image, smooth video, good sound on the headphones (the built-in speakers suck of course but they're tinny tiny things), and it even has an HDMI output. Heck, it streams YouTube as good as my laptop.

So if it never does anything else worth doing, it's still a better video player than the Archos, at about the same price. Still, I'll probably play with doing other things on it. I've loaded a bunch of free software on it already: some utilities (a good scientific calculator, a stopwatch, and a sticky-note program), a few games, Internet clients for various things (IM, Facebook, MUDs, and Sharepoint), a dice roller, and a Kindle client (but this is way too heavy to replace a Kindle, besides having the wrong kind of screen). I also configured it for email, and synching with my calendar and contacts.

I also loaded Adobe's reader and have used it for the purpose I originally bought that earlier tablet: it's damned good at reading PDFs, and the 10" screen certainly helps as much as the better software. Even so, the monstrously overproduced Dresden books are only passable, not great. Other PDFs like Fiasco look wonderful and have great page turn speed and such. Adobe's Android reader is, I hear, not the best, and one day I might try some of the alternatives to see if I get better page turn speed and features.

Other things I like about it are that it has two MicroSD slots (so I can load 64G of removable stuff on it), two USB ports (so I can use my Matias Folding Keyboard with it, though I do need a stand for it),

There are still a few oddities. The gravity sensor is a little oversensitive sometimes, and if you turn it off, the device ends up stuck in landscape; you can't go to portrait and then turn it off, even if you're reading a PDF that should stay in that ratio. There's a front-facing camera, but no webcam-chat software (and the free Android version of Skype doesn't support the camera), so there's not really any use for it yet. (I suppose there's software out there that would remedy that, which I haven't bothered to get.) And it has GPS and even has an external antenna option, but since it has only WiFi, not 3G, and the only mapping software on it is Google Maps which depends on a wireless connection, it's kind of useless. The screen's size would be fantastic for a GPS computer, but anywhere you could use the GPS function, you would be away from the map data. Maybe someone sells an Android GPS program that doesn't depend on a network connection, but given how most Android devices are 3G, I don't know if anyone does.

But then I'm not intending this to be an iPad killer, even if I may end up using it for a lot of things I would use an iPad for (at half the price). Ultimately it turns out that I really don't have anywhere near enough use for an iPad to make it worth it to carry one, let alone buy one. What little use I do have, this can pretty much do all of that: multimedia player, PDF viewer, web browser, and Swiss-Army-knife computer. Which is pretty cool.

But how's this for a sacrilege: I wish there were an Internet Explorer for it, just because Sharepoint won't use anything else for a browser, and it would be really geekishly cool to be able to use it to get into my Sharepoint site. (Okay, okay, what I really need is for Sharepoint to support other browsers, but let's face it, that's not going to happen either. Pity.)

So once I finish another book or two, it's back onto my plan to watch all those movies I never saw but should have.

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