Help! Which Tablet?

My clients often ask me for advice on which tablet to buy. With so many on the market: Apple, Samsung, Google, Asus, Amazon etc. etc., how can you possibly choose?

With this week’s announcement of the new Amazon Kindle Fire HDX I thought you might find it useful to have a simple, jargon-free explanation of the differences between iPads, Android, Google, Amazon, Samsung etc., because choosing the right tablet isn’t just about screen size and processing power: you’ve also got to become betrothed to — for want of a better term — a content market.

Most people who buy a tablet will want to use it for applications (“Apps”), to play games, watch films, read books and listen to music. The main providers know this of course and embrace it, because it’s in the sale of software and media that the real money is to be made. To quote a saying from my old retail days, “It’s all about the add-ons.”

So, let’s introduce the main players and describe how they want their products to be used:

  • Apple (iPad, iPad Mini, iOS, iTunes, iBooks, News Stand)
    • Not first alphabetically, nor even the market leader anymore, but the biggest household name. Whenever anyone comes to me for advice on buying a tablet, “iPad” is mentioned in their first sentence. It’s almost got to the point where iPad means tablet to people, in the same way that vacuum cleaners are “Hoovers”, regardless of make.
    • Apple want you to pay a premium price for the device, AND buy all your content from them, AND lust after each new version launched. They play on the gadget lust of the main bread winner in the house, knowing that when he upgrades, last year’s model will be handed down to a family member, and they double the Apple consumers at that address.
    • iOS (OS stands for Operating System) provides a smooth, simple, easy-to-use experience and is very reliable. The price you pay for this polished, safe environment is that the device has few options for customisation. Aside from the wallpaper in the background of the screen, an iPad is an iPad is an iPad.
    • Apple wants you to buy all your apps from the App Store, your films and music from iTunes, and your e-books from iBooks.
  • Microsoft (Windows 8, Surface)
    • Microsoft are trying to jump on the mobile device bandwagon and are singularly failing to make a dent in it. Their restrictive, closed-minded business philosophy from their desktop PC / Windows history has bled through, leaving mobile devices that mildly amuse at best, but are mostly underwhelming. (Can you tell I’m biased?)
    • Don’t bother.
  • Android
    • Android is not a device, nor a single company (although Google is the leading player). It’s an operating system, like iOS. The main difference is that, while iOS is closed, proprietary, and available to Apple alone, Android is open, customisable, and available to all the other device manufacturers. So, while Apple = iOS, all the rest of the tablet makers below run Android, in one flavour or another.
  • Google (Nexus, Play Store)
    • Right, this is where it starts to get complicated.
    • Google provide their own devices (Nexus), but their main interest is in locking consumers in to their content platform.
    • Android without a Google account is like a slice of bread without butter. You kind of need both. Sign in to an Android tablet with a Google account and clever, useful things start to happen. It will prompt you for upcoming appointments in your Google calendar, alert you to incoming Google mail — sure, they all do that, but then it will pop up asking if you want it to provide navigation instructions to the place that you searched for on your PC the day before. When you launch the web browser, you find that your bookmarks have magically sync’ed over from your PC (assuming you’re using Google Chrome as your browser).
    • Essentially, the deeper you get into bed with Google for everything, the smoother and more pleasant the ride.
    • They want you to buy all your apps, films, e-books and games from the Play Store
  • Samsung (Galaxy Tab, Galaxy Note)
    • Samsung is the giant among Android tablet providers, and they have at least six tablets on the market at any one time.
    • Build quality and features are great.
    • Galaxy tablets run Android, but it’s a customised, Samsung-ised version. This means it’s more polished than plain Android, but again it’s designed to suck you in to Samsung’s content stores.
    • Galaxy tablets (because they’re running Google’s Android when all said and done) also work much better with a Google account, and the Play Store is there. But there is also the Samsung app store, Samsung account, Samsung instant messaging (between Samsung account holders).
  • Amazon (Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX)
    • This is the biggie, as far as this post is concerned. Even if you don’t have and are not considering buying a tablet, you’re probably an Amazon customer. You can buy just about anything from them, at a good price and with good service.
    • Where devices are concerned Amazon is best known for the Kindle: not only an e-book reader but the best e-book reader there is. Period. If reading e-books is all you want to do, just get a Kindle.
    • In addition Amazon is in the tablet market, originally with the Kindle Fire and most recently their newly-announced Kindle Fire HDX. Interesting for several reasons.
    • Amazon’s device strategy is different from the others, in that they don’t care about making a profit from tablet sales, and encouraging you to upgrade to a new one every year. Instead they sell the tablet pretty much at cost and look forward to all the money you’re going to spend with them on content.
    • Amazon has done something interesting with Android. If you look at a Samsung tablet and a Kindle Fire alongside each other in a shop you’ll notice it straight away: gone are the multiple homescreens, app shortcuts and complicated settings panels. They are replaced by a simplified user interface that focuses on your content. With Amazon it’s all about just using the thing for entertainment, not about geeking out with Android settings and customisations. You get a streamlined, easy to use experience that will have you quickly doing email, reading, watching, playing and listening.
    • The new HDX has some nifty new features too, most notably “May Day”. May Day is a new way of getting help with your tablet when you get stuck. Hit the May Day button and a live support person appears on your screen. Yes, a video window showing a live person talking to you. You can see and hear them, they can hear but cannot see you. If you need help with something they can remotely control your tablet, or even draw arrows and circles on your screen to direct you to the next step. See the video below for a demo.

So, whichever route you go down, know that you’re not just buying a tablet but also jumping into a boat to an island of digital content and media, and there are no bridges to let you hop from one island to another. If you have fallen for the image of being an Apple Head, get an iPad. If you like to tinker and customise, go with Google or Samsung (or one the other Android vendors), and if you don’t care about any of that and just want something that’s easy to use, works really well, and won’t ask you to set up a new account, go with Amazon.

Any clearer?

Smartphone Meets Lego

What’s the main problem with electronic gadgets such as phones and tablets? They are not designed to last more than a couple of years, and when they do go wrong it’s usually just a single component that fails, yet we throw the whole device away because it’s not designed to be repaired or upgraded. Electronic waste is a big problem, and it’s growing.

What’s so cool about Lego? Why does it have such enduring popularity? Because it’s a series of building blocks that you can make anything out of. Bored with that spaceship? pulls some bricks off and add some new ones to turn it into a tank: Bingo! new toy!

Dave Hakkens in the Netherlands has come up with a neat idea that combines the two concepts into a phone you want to keep. It’s made of blocks, with each block doing a specific thing such as camera, storage, GPS etc. If the idea takes off you’d have a working phone made up of block-based components that you can change, replace, or upgrade yourself.

Phonebloks: what a smartphone would be like if Lego designed it.

Very cool idea needing your support to get off the ground. Dave is collecting virtual fans right now in preparation for a campaign in October, so watch the video below and then click here to add your voice to the throng.

Brilliant New Online Magazine Launches

If you are a FlipBoard user (and if not, why not! ? ) you’ll know that it’s a great app for getting you the news and articles you want in a nice flip-to-turn-the-page design.
A handy new feature they added recently gives users the option of creating their own magazine on topics that matter to them, and then sharing it with the world.

So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to since the latest magazine to hit FlipBoard’s shelves:

Chris Neal’s Personal Technology Digest

Every day it will be beefing up the pages with news and stories from around the tech world. No more taking through repetitive tech blogs! Let me do the digging for you do you get straight to the juicy white mat.

Just click the link on your mobile device to add my new magazine to your virtual rack.

Three abolishes some roaming charges

Three abolishes some roaming charges

UK mobile network Three have been at the vanguard of new ideas and challenges to established mobile tariff practices since their inception. Now they are taking on the most contentious: international roaming charges.
Three are removing roaming charges for its UK customers visiting seven countries (see article for list), enabling them to carry on using their included minutes, texts and data while abroad.
This is great news for anyone who travels regularly and a bold step that will surely force other networks to follow suit. About time say I! For far too long mobile carriers have been punishing roaming customers with crippling call and data rates: a policy that seems to have been implemented for no other reason than “because they can”. Let’s hope this move signals the start of fair sensible pricing.

“Watch” This Space

See what I did there? Quite witty when you realise this post is about the ticking time bomb of the smart watch market. I’m so sharp I might cut myself.
If-like me-you’re a tech geek AND a watch geek, the next few weeks should have you quivering with excitement. Smartphones are sooo last week:: now it’s all about the smart watch.

What’s a smart watch you say? Well, think of it as Robin to your phone’s Batman: a trusty sidekick that turns The Caped Crusader into The Dynamic Duo. Imagine a touchscreen on your wrist that can communicate with your phone–show you who’s calling, emails, texts etc. But that also has some tricks all its own, think camera, pedometer, alarm clock, erm…watch.

Watch the skies (the tech blog skies that is) over the next few days. Google has acquired WIMM Labs, rumors of the Apple iWatch abound, and most importantly Samsung are expected to announce their first production model, the Galaxy Gear, on September 4th. That’s just three days away. I’m setting my alarm for that: shame it’s not on my wrist…YET.

The Internet: Coming to a TV Near You.

Getting Internet media streamed to your big screen instead of your laptop is nothing new. The concept has been around for a while and there are many ways of doing it: I can browse YouTube via my Blu-ray player, watch Netflix movies on my Nintendo Wii, and rent TV shows on my Apple TV. But this is the problem: with all these devices offering narrow paths onto the Internet, designed in line with their own commercial interests, it’s all a bit untidy. Scruffy, even.


The latest dongle du jour is Google Chromecast–a little stick you plug into your TV’s HDMI socket. Chromecast lets you call up Netflix or YouTube (plus Google Play of course) content on your mobile device and play it on your big screen and sound system. The device is getting great reviews, and at only $35 it’s not a purchase you have to think too hard about, but for me it’s arrival has just made the murky waters even muddier. What we need is a ubiquitous, single standard for big screen Internet media that makes playing online content on your TV as simple as browsing on your laptop. It’s coming but we’re not there yet. In the meantime I guess Chromecast is a nice little toy to play with.

Article: Mozilla aims to socialize app shopping with Marketplace for Firefox OS (video) Mobile

Mozilla aims to socialize app shopping with Marketplace for Firefox OS (video) Mobile

Don’t be put off by the clunky title of this article on Engadget: there’s actually a quite interesting story here. Mozilla — the people behind the Firefox web browser — are developing Firefox OS for a new range of low cost smartphones, in part aimed at emerging markets. How the he’ll do you compete and differentiate yourself against the Apple and Android giants?

Well, Mozilla’s answer is to make their app store social, with app developers showing as real people with whom customers can interact, sharing so likes with friends etc. I think it’s an idea that has merit and could just help to make Firefox OS stand out (until the others copy the idea, at least). Take a look at the short video and see what you think.

Can You Survive on 4G Alone?

Can You Survive on 4G Alone?

Here’s an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph about what the imminent launch of 4G mobile networks in the UK will mean for fixed line services. The question they ask (and answer) is: “If your phone or mobile hotspot can deliver faster, more reliable broadband than your home landline service, why not cancel the latter and rely on 4G for all your Internet needs?”

While 4G may be fast and reliable, its current business model (mobile devices) includes caps on the amount of data you can transfer per month, and if you’re a heavy user (online gaming, downloading movies etc.) then on current tariffs it can end up being very expensive.

But the seeds have been sown and it’s only a matter of time before the mobile networks start competing directly with BT, Sky et al for your home business. I predict we will see the first home Wi-Fi router with a SIM card slot instead of a phone line socket within twelve months.

How to customise the Dock on the HTC One Smartphone

One of my clients has the HTC One, and while it’s a fantastic smartphone with lots of great features, it can be a little tricky figuring out how to customise the home screens and application dock. For some reason HTC does this very differently from other Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy range.
Anyway, after a little searching around I came across this short video that shows how you can move icons out of and into the Dock. Easy when you know how!

Asus Padfone: Stroke of Genius?

It’s been a while since my last blog post, and there are two reasons for that. One: I’ve been busy working and two: I’ve been neglecting the blog in what spare time I have had. But enough excuses, on to content new!

While away in Asia on a business trip I discovered the Asus Padfone series. The basic idea of the Padfone is that it delivers both a smartphone and a tablet experience, but without two set of apps, data etc. In the traditional model you’d have a smartphone and a tablet: Apple fans with their iPhone and iPad, and Android people with their Nexus’s and Galaxy Tabs. Many people have both devices because there are times when only a smartphone will do — out and about, on the town, parties.. when you need your device to fit in a trouser pocket — and there are times when only the larger display a tablet provides will do too. I’m thinking reading the news, playing games, watching movies etc. For this reason many people buy two devices. The issue with two devices (apart from the cost), is that you end up with two lots of everything: two collections of apps, two music libraries, two Facebook clients, two email programs checking the same account, etc.

The two-in-one Padfone

The Asus Padfone aims to solve this problem by making one device –plus an accessory– fulfil both roles. Essentially you are always using the smartphone, but with the choice of using it in ‘phone mode’ –which is exactly the same as any other smartphone, or “tablet mode” where you slot the phone into a slot on the back of a larger ten inch display. So, you have what look like two separate devices but instead of being a tablet the larger one is just a bigger display for the phone to use. A benefit here is that, when you plug it in you get the same home screens, same wallpaper, same icon placement, same data, same apps as when in phone mode, only this time with a bigger, higher-res display.

The Padfone 1 has been out a while and the 2nd generation has just launched, with a third — the Padfone Infiinty– already announced for a mid-2013 release. I have to say I’m tempted by the idea. For me the combination has a kind of Thurderbird 2&4 coolness, where one thing nestles inside another and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I am currently using an Android phone and an Android tablet, and do sometimes get frustrated with the need to clear email and Facebook notifications twice, update the same apps on both devices and so on.

What do you think? Would you be tempted?