View Full Version : OT: Tablet computers... what do they do and not do?

J Tiers
07-15-2014, 08:59 AM
The request has been made for a tablet, but I am unfamiliar with them.... Most seem to have a "phone" type OS, typically Android, but a few have a windows OS.

Since I have a flip phone (it fits in my pocket, smart phones do not) I have not messed with Android etc.

What limits are typically present with an Android tablet vs what one could do with a standard laptop or "palmtop" windows machine?

File types that can be viewed?

Facilities for working with word etc files?

Capability to add useful programs (probably more limited "apps", yes?)

Reasons to get a "phone app" tablet vs a "real" Windows tablet? (don't start with hating Microsoft, we know about that)

Jaakko Fagerlund
07-15-2014, 09:31 AM
Android has been designed for such use, it is not just for phones. And it has vastly more applications and programs and more open than what is available for Apple or Microsoft products.

In short, I would not hesitate a second to get an Android device, as it is more flexible if/when needed.

07-15-2014, 10:34 AM
It seems to me like the experiences are very personal. I only use mine to consume information on the couch, each time I need to write something more than a few lines I grab a real laptop. You could probably mess with Word files on any tablet, but I dislike typing on the screen.
There are a number of tablets with detachable keyboards, so that could solve part of the problem. However, the real programs on my laptop are much more productive when creating content.
The best of both would probably be a windows 8 laptop with detachable screen, but they are expensive compared to a simple android tablet.

The best features of a tablet for me are:
- light weigth (I have a 7 inch, but would probably buy 8 next time)
- cheap (my nexus 7 was $250 or so)
- instant on for checking weather, traffic, whatever
- good for watching movies on the plane
- use it as a DRO display for the lathe :-)
- I would buy a higher resolution version next time so I don't have to zoom pdf's so much


07-15-2014, 11:05 AM
I can't speak to the android tablets, but the Microsoft Surface PRO 2 or PRO 3 is stunning. You can use it as a tablet or snap on the full keyboard (attaches magnetically so no connectors to worry about). You have the best of both laptop and tablet worlds. Not cheap though. Window 8.1 actually works well on this device!

The best way to understand how well it works is go to a store and try one.

loose nut
07-15-2014, 11:31 AM
I-pads and maybe Android tablets don't have any mouse support so if you need detailed cursor control that's a problem. They have some "office" type programs but if you need this for work then stick to a Windows tablet. My friends Windows tablet even runs Autocad quite well but you need a mouse..

07-15-2014, 11:55 AM
In my opinion, a tablet is a useful adjunct to a real computer. I prefer Apple's iPad, but that is partly because I prefer the iPhone as I think the user interface is better. For real computers I have a MacBook Pro and a Mac Mini. The Mini gets the most use, but there are plenty of times where I need the portability of the laptop. The tablet gets the most use when I'll be somewhere that may not have wi-fi.

07-15-2014, 12:59 PM
To repetitively reiterate the piling on ...

I find my tablet & phone (iPad/Phone, but that's not really important) best when minimal input is required. Looking at things, doing web searches, reading books and emails, listening to music, are great. Using apps that have constrained inputs (forms to fill in or the like or input schemes designed for use with the 'smoosh around your fingers' mode of input) is also good. Sending emails and posting to bboards like this are fine --- as long as there's not too much editing to do.

Entering lots of stuff, esp. free-form text that may require editing/etc, is pretty bad (I would not want to type in this long message on the iPad). I've thought about getting a detachable keyboard, but that's one more thing to carry around --- and that is counter to the single most importantly wickedly awesomely best (enough?) things about them their portability and always-on-ness. If I wanted to carry stuff around/etc I'd use a laptop.

Btw, my wife has pretty much given up on her desktop; she does just about everything with her ipad. In fact, just a day or two ago she said it was the best thing I ever bought for her (I'd have thought stuff like her wedding ring might be number 1 ... but who am I to say :-)

One thing that I've found that really makes them much more useable is to ensure that all the important stuff is synched over the various devices. I have a Mac, an iPad and an iPhone and have them set up so that stuff like my address book synchs across all of them.

I have never felt hindered in not being able to find an app to do something I want (again, I use Apple, I assume Windows and Android are, more or less, the same). (A bigger problem I have is not being able to find movies/music/books that I want --- older things that have not been digitized or are available only pirated on youtube ... grrrrrr)

As to document types; I think that there are not a lot of problems there. Generally, pictures, PDFs, etc, are natively supported. For the iPad I found an app that can display a zillion different special file types. I've not had problems displaying word/ppt/xls files I get via email. Oddball, specialized, etc, types ... you may have problems if there is no app for them.

Hope that helps

07-15-2014, 12:59 PM
My mid-80's dad uses his to remain connected. He has had many PC's over the years and each in turn has failed under the non-stop hammering of malware. He has started several times to chronicle his life and used digitized imagery from boxes of photos only to lose it all. I'd suggested he try a Mac but he's stubborn about learning new ways. Some months ago the inevitable happened again and he lost everything. This time he bought an Ipad and he's never been happier. The Facetime app is one of his favorites - his "Dick Tracy video phone watch at last!". All his stuff is stored in the Apple cloud - it's not for me, but fine for him. It has several tools for manipulating photos, a hi-res camera for digitizing his images, and apps to let him write his memories and publish them to his web site. All nicely integrated, and no keyboard to hinder his arthritic fingers. He called me recently using Facetime and I gave him a walk-about of my new home and stunning balcony view. Priceless.

I think these are features of most tablets so there's no need for Chevy vs Ford debate. Just get one and enjoy it.

George Bulliss
07-15-2014, 01:15 PM
My wife has an IPad and my daughter has an Android based Nexus. Both are good, quick units and do what they are supposed to. I like the long battery life and grab and go portability of the tablets, but I just could never get used to the lack of a keyboard.

I recently purchased a Chromebook (Samsung) and couldnít be happier. It gets 8-9 hours per charge, is lightweight and extremely fast. No touchy-feely screen, but that was what I didnít like about the tablets. The OS is Android; no real worries about updates, etc, itís a pretty hands-off system. I already had a Google account, so setting up the unit pretty much consisted of logging into the account.

Itís all cloud based, but that works for what I use it for. You can do things like word docs and spreadsheets offline. I wonít be getting rid of my laptop and donít need to do CAD on the couch, so the limits havenít been a problem.

Itís not a tablet, but it serves my tablet-type needs better than the IPad or Nexus, YMMV.

07-15-2014, 01:28 PM
The short summary is a tablet is a consumption device, for consuming content.
If you plan to create anything (cad, documents etc), the form factor isnt very useful.
However, to use it as said consumption device, it all makes sense and is better than lugging a laptop or desktop around when you just want to view a quick snippet or listen to some media.

We have android on phones, google nexus tab, a pair of archos 10" tabs and a chinese no name $40 special screwed to the wall of my shop with some old active powered speakers plugged in being the shop music player, + some mini pc's hanging off the back of tv's. I would choose none of these to edit some cad, interact on a forum or make a document.

07-15-2014, 01:41 PM
The loss of important and unique data, such as original writings, illustrates the need for regular backups. I have an Archos 7 "Internet Tablet" that I purchased mostly to implement a wireless control panel for a test instrument I was designing, and I was able to prove the concept by creating the "app" as a HTML document and the instrument used this to provide the user interface on the tablet, which needed only its browser to work. Every once in a while I plug in the charger and resurrect the tablet, but usually I just play some games on it (like billiards, bowling, or road racing) that make use of its accelerometer. I am not much into remaining "connected" using electronic devices, so my cell phone is rarely used, and then mostly for important phone calls. I carry a separate camera which I use for good quality pictures and videos.

I would like to be able to write "apps" for the Android system and have them run on my tablet, but after a few days of trying to understand the operating system and the IDE recommended for writing and running and debugging the apps (using "Eclipse"), installed on my Win 7 laptop, I gave up. I can see where a tablet could be useful as a DRO or CNC controller but my machines are presently all manual so I have no need. I do like the capabilities provided by Bluetooth and I have connected the tablet to a couple of my PIC devices for data acquisition, and I might use it with my electric tractor project.

Maybe Win 8.1 is OK for a tablet, but my frustrating experience with it on my present laptop forced me to "downgrade" to 8.0 so I could get some programs at least to run at all, and I still have found it to be less stable than Win 7 or even Vista. It makes me angry when I see the pop-up cheerfully offering a "free" upgrade to 8.1 and my only choices are to do so or have it "remind me later".

07-15-2014, 01:56 PM
I had bought my 80 year old father an Asus 10.1" Android tablet to use in place of the frustrating old Nook he used for reading his books. The Nook kept crashing, disconnecting from the network and he had a hard time reading with it. Granted, that was an older "reader only" model and they've gotten much better.

Anyhow, my dad fell in love with the Asus tablet! He could easily change text size and look with the Nook app. I downloaded a few other good apps for him which he used in the machine shop (calculators, level, etc.) We downloaded the Bank of America app and he loved using it for his banking. I set up an eBay app and account so he could peruse the tools there, though he never bought a single thing and didn't want to. I noticed things he'd looked at and bought him a couple. He could check and read his e-mail, though in his life he never once replied to one (I did for him once.)

Now the tablet is mine since he passed away a year ago today. I use it for all the same things. I can get a keyboard for this too, though I doubt I will because for typing I'd rather just use my PC that I'm on now.

The Android system can open PDF files and several "Open Office" apps can work with MS-Word and MS-Excel files.

07-15-2014, 02:06 PM
Well my Asus tablet is a good replacement for my dead Nook but what has not been mentioned is that you cannot print directly to a printer from an Android device. Get a Windows device with detachable keyboard.

07-15-2014, 02:22 PM
I think my Android tablet should be able to print to my network printer, and if it had a USB OTG interface it should be able to do use that as well. It may depend on what you mean by "directly". There always must be some sort of interface, parallel, serial, or USB, and perhaps others such as Bluetooth and SCSI.

07-15-2014, 02:31 PM
Well my Asus tablet is a good replacement for my dead Nook but what has not been mentioned is that you cannot print directly to a printer from an Android device. Get a Windows device with detachable keyboard.

The Iphone/Ipad use Airprint for printing which means any Mac with a printer can serve as the Airprint server for mobile devices. Not a great solution of you don't have a Mac. You can also buy mobile friendly printers.

George Bulliss
07-15-2014, 02:39 PM
The Chromebook will only print through Google Cloud Print. If your printer doesn't have the ability to hook up to a Google account (like mine) you can access the printer through another computer. Since we no longer have a desktop running 24/7, I have a Raspberry Pi connected to the printer and the printing goes through it. Hardly takes any electricity, so no problem leaving it on. Other computers can use the Raspberry Pi path as well, all you need is a Google account – no need to load drivers on anything other than the Pi.

07-15-2014, 06:06 PM
The new Raspberry Pi has four USB ports now so you can have a keyboard, mouse, and a printer directly connected. Not bad for a little board that will fit in your shirt pocket.

loose nut
07-15-2014, 07:25 PM
What software can you run on one???????????????????????

07-15-2014, 07:46 PM
Well my Asus tablet is a good replacement for my dead Nook but what has not been mentioned is that you cannot print directly to a printer from an Android device. Get a Windows device with detachable keyboard.

We have the android tablets and phones set up to print to a colour laser. The only unsual thing about it is the printer is connected to a small network print server, but we had that setup long before we bought the tablets. Because we connect via the house wifi, you don't have to be in the same room as the printer, my wife prints something, and then sends the kids in to collect the printouts for her.
Its slightly more hardware but who wants to mess round with cables on a tablet?

On the Pi b+, its the same broadcom soc, only now it has four usb ports to stuff the bandwidth down a single channel to the chipset instead of 2, no more ram, and no real fixes for the sd card corruption issues so the same issues present. I'm waiting for the Solidrun Hummingboard to be released later this month instead.

07-15-2014, 08:43 PM
I have a Windows 8 tablet from Asus. Nice machine but their service absolutely SUCKS. Send the device in and then they send you an email and inform you that you can pay for it with only 1 of 2 credit cards. I don't have either... And then when I found someone in the company that did have a usable card they wanted a copy of the front and back of the credit card and a copy of their ID...
The unit works with USB pen drives, has a slot for a micro SD. Will work with just about any USB device and can work with a keyboard and mouse through a USB hub. And it has a micro HDMI port.

The real nice thing about the Asus unit is that it does not have a magnetic connection for the keyboard. I service plasma and oxy/fuel machines and the fine metal dust coats any magnet in the building...

Because of the service hassle I will probably look at a Dell for the next one. My experience with Dell Service has been excellent in the past.

The reason I like the windows 8 tablet is because I can write applications in Visual Basic 6 for it. I wrote a work order application for work that has provision for signatures right on the display. And then I cabn use PDFCreator and print from the application to a PDF file so I can send a copy to the customer and to the head office for billing. We can also do this on android but it uses 3 applications and each wants to store it's resulting files in a different place. Is much easier to write an application in Visual Basic 6 than anything I have seen for Android. So while Windows may be more closed than Android, I find it much easier to write apps for windows. I can also run Draftsight and Libre Office and a number specialized applications to work with a variety of servo drives.

J Tiers
07-15-2014, 09:13 PM
Well, lots of good info. Thank you.

The "requester" wants it primarily as a "content consumer/displayer", and so most anything will likely work, given some basics that are required. Any added utility is good, but I don't expect much.

I am not certain where local storage stops and "cloud" starts.... obviously the flash is local.... May vary by unit and mfgr.

There seem to be several "layers" of them.

1) A crop of very cheap ones that have no wifi, and very little else. OS of the week from the chinese vendor.

2) Some that are at or slightly below $100, wifi, 1 gb memory, usually a USB, but it is always a "nano USB", so small you need an adapter cable the size of the unit to connect a stick etc to it. Usually 8gb memory, with some taking a micro camera card. Usually android 4.2 or 4.3.

3) Some that are essentially the same as #2, but with maybe a fractionally larger display, sometimes 3 gb memory instead of 1 gb, a slightly better camera (or "a camera" instead of none), android 4.4, and a price of 1.5x to 2x the #2 types. I am not sure what the real advantage is.

4) Large scale ones, with at least 64gb, Apple, or a known maker, some apple OS or a win OS, and a price several times that of any of the others. Usually relatively huge, sometimes a sensible size.

All seem to share the smallest-ever USB port, for which the cable to connect to anything sensible is bigger than the unit.

The requester has specified something in the #2 category, and may be dreaming when it comes to capability.... that may push it to the $149 category.

Requested is USB and wifi.....7" or so screen, and basic "content consumption" and "portable display of locally generated content" capability, with basic ability to access webmail through wifi.

I thought that was reasonable, but am not finding it so.

Both "the requester" and I have a problem with spending more on a tablet than I paid to get a multi-core laptop that happily does 2d and 3d CAD, circuit analysis, etc (laptop was used, govt surplus, I admit).

07-15-2014, 11:57 PM
Last fall, I got a cheap 4" tablet to use as an MP3 player. Android operating system sucks trying to learn how to use. Finding a useable app to play music has been very frustrating. Tried Winamp just before support was discontinued, it works but it lists each file 3 time and when set to random play, repeats each song 3 times before going to the next song. Have tried a couple of others but still have issues, Android is very unintuitive for a windows user. Have not yet figured out how to stop an app without powering down. Have spent a little time looking for a guide to using Android but have not found it yet.

My daughter got a Surface 3 Pro because it was the only tablet available at the time that would run Microsoft something(can't remember which program, it is 1 I have never used).

07-16-2014, 03:42 AM
2) Some that are at or slightly below $100, wifi, 1 gb memory, usually a USB, but it is always a "nano USB", so small you need an adapter cable the size of the unit to connect a stick etc to it. Usually 8gb memory, with some taking a micro camera card. Usually android 4.2 or 4.3.

The otg cable is only the size of a usb stick, an inch or so long and not at all bulky, having said that while I have a couple, I cant recall the last time anyone used usb on the tablet for anything, I bought them specifically to use with some experiments with yuriys dro project.
Having said that, Viewsonic G tab, Archos 101iT,Acer Iconia A500, ASUS Transformer Pad TF300T and quite a few others come with full size usb, as above I have the archos and Ive used it with a mouse in the past to test the usb port out of curiosity. If your application is keyboard, mouse, usb memory stick it will be easy. If you want something out of the ordinary (eg something which supports the dro's) you have to choose with care as older versions of android had spotty support for the features needed.

The reason full size usb is not defacto is to do with the physical size of the tablet case, the market demands sleek and thin, and the micro usb connector fits with minimising the case as much as possible, which is why in the list above some of them are much older units before this perception of how a tablet should be sleek and ultra thin was set in place.

07-16-2014, 03:52 AM
1) A crop of very cheap ones that have no wifi, and very little else. OS of the week from the chinese vendor.

I haven't seen a tablet without wifi for years, how did you manage to find that! Seriously, the chinese stuff is nasty at the low end, old versions of android re-skinned to look like a more modern one, not very robust case design etc but it always has working wifi.

To the other poster unable to find a music player, google play store has a LOT of options if you search for the keyword music player, or mp3 player, however I've sort of settled on one called samba player, because although its a very simple player lacking in lots of fancy features, it just works for things on a networked (samba) shared drive. Normally the rom bundled in the device itself has a music player built right in too but usually these can only cope with local files, not networked shares.

07-16-2014, 03:59 AM
I think, but am not sure, that most tablets will not be able to use USB sticks. They only use the port for charging and maybe as USB client. I find it much easier to use something like dropbox.
If you wish to spend less you could buy a secondhand nexus tablet.


The Artful Bodger
07-16-2014, 05:13 AM
There is some confusion regarding using USB devices with a tablet. I have a Samsung Galaxy 10.4 (2014) and no where in the scant documentation could I find anything about what I could connect to the USB port. The impression I got was that the tablet would only work as a client but the cables are available and with my heart in my mouth I plugged in a USB keyboard and it worked instantly.

I also have a cordless mouse with its own little USB transmitter/receiver and that works OK too.

J Tiers
07-16-2014, 08:38 AM
Obviously the use for a USB is to transfer data from other systems. Or TO them.

Yes, in both cases, USB stick memory.

Sorry, no instantly vaporizing cloud storage here. Cloud storage only works effectively if you are constantly connected to some WIFI source, which is obviously not the case outside of hotspots in densely urban areas. Even in near suburbs, I find that there are areas where cell phone coverage is non-existent, let alone wifi.

The use of a nano-USB is obviously for size reasons. It comes with issues, however. many of those tiny connectors are only rated for a relative few connections/disconnections. A good one may be 5000, but others may be rated for as few as 200 or so. The companies using them don't necessarily plan for years of use, they tend to design for 18 to 30 month life, only planning the product to last until the next better type come out. The connector life is just another subtle push toward upgrading on a regular schedule.

Bigger connectors tend to have better performance, and of course they allow a person to more easily avoid having a thin sleek unit that still needs a "baby bag" of accessories. This carrying of accessories is more hassle than a slightly bigger (but more functional) unit.

It's like cell phones.... I find smart phones too big and bulky. But there are very thin and small ones.

What does everyone do? They are forced to buy a protective cover because the thin and sleek phones (or tablets) have had all the structure engineered-out, and are going to break if dropped. The covers make the phones more big and bulky than they were before they were slimmed-down. Plus, the rubbery covers make them not slide in pockets.

07-16-2014, 09:11 AM
Is it possible that the user might want to use it for Skype? That would modify the technical requirements somewhat.

07-16-2014, 12:32 PM
I was just looking at the ISO8 information and see that Apple has made their iCloud central to everything. It isn't clear if iCloud is required or optional in that version but the direction is unhealthy. When Adobe moved from individual ownership of Adobe products to a pay-as-you go model (even if you don't use it frequently) their cloud became a requirement. One cloud is worrisome enough, but when all vendors mandate their cloud for their products your life becomes far more complicated. Even if it is not mandated, keeping up with terms of usage, licenses, payments, etc., can create a lot of opportunity for lost data. The Adobe cloud tosses out all your content if you don't keep your payments current, so plan your vacations around your cloud policies :)

Apple also has a long history of dropping on-line products. A lot of people invested heavily in the iWeb product to produce their web content and Apple decided one day to drop that. I treat all these vendors just as I would a heroin dealer. Don't fall for the "free" deal - nothing is free. They're just not open as to how you pay for it (Except Adobe who make it very clear you're going to pay and pay and pay).

Jon Heron
07-16-2014, 03:23 PM
I would like to be able to write "apps" for the Android system and have them run on my tablet, but after a few days of trying to understand the operating system and the IDE recommended for writing and running and debugging the apps (using "Eclipse"), installed on my Win 7 laptop, I gave up.
Check out Qt. You can write one app and deploy it to crapple, ios, android, windoze, blackberry 10, linux, raspberry Pi , etc etc.
They even have boot to Qt so you can develop right on your android device, check it out: http://qt-project.org/downloads
It has a far nicer and more intuitive IDE than eclipse with built in help and examples too.
I find it a joy to develop with Qt and you can deploy it literally everywhere...
I have quite a bit of experience with deploying it to different devices and OS's so dont hesitate if you have any questions.