Conquering the Galaxy...

>> Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I love my netbook. That's the first thing to say. It is, in a whole lot of ways, a perfect tool for me. But I've had some problems with it lately. It isn't the netbook's fault: I've had it for about two years and the poor thing's been banged around a pretty good bit, y'know?

What it's doing these days, is it's been spontaneously rebooting, especially right after it first powers up. Sometimes it'll do it right after powering on, and it isn't a big deal, but sometimes it waits until you're in the middle of something, and that sucks ass. And it seems really prone to do this when it's on a lap or uneven surface; I suspect there's something loose or improperly seated on the motherboard somewhere. It's bad enough that I even went online and looked at possible replacements, but not bad enough that I could write bring myself to purchase a replacement and go through the process of reinstalling the operating system and configuring it to be how I'd want my machine to be set up.

And I was thinking about all of the above while thinking about my trip next month to SXSW. (Yes, I'm going to Austin next month,W00T!) I was thinking, for one thing, of being at the airport, waiting for my connecting flight, and fighting my netbook, or even being on the plane if they aglow devices in flight. I was also thinking, hey what if I try to cover SXSW, you know, in a sort of writerly sort of way? The netbook is awesome at the coffeeshop, but maybe not so much on a conference room....

I started thinking, in short, maybe I needed a tablet.

Here's the thing about that: what I need from a tablet isn't what most companies are selling these days. The big thing with tablets these days is the iPad model, the device that exists for consumption, not creation, and I need a device that is at least minimally capable of creative work. Obviously I don't expect to be writing a novel on a little device, but I have yet to see a review of the iPad that suggests it's even useful for editing or light writing or blogging or taking notes very efficiently. That's not a knock on the iPad--it's simply that it isn't the tool I need. What is a knock on the iPad is that I don't use iTunes and don't want to be a part of the iTunes ecosystem, and anyway there isn't a Linux version of iTunes, and Apple requires you to use iTunes to sync the iPad out do almost anything else; indeed, the first thing the iPad asks you to do out of the box is to hook up to iTunes.

So after lookng at my options, I decided to buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The biggest rap against the Tab is that it's overpriced, and that might be true. It's around the same price as the iPad, but with only a 7" screen. On the other hand, that small footprint--or handprint--means the Tab rests very comfortably in one's left hand, say, while one types a blog post, and the device fits in one's back pocket unless it's in a case. And it's definitely a good-looking display.

The Tab runs on Google's Android operating system, with a one GHz processor (somehow I thought maybe there was a dual processor in here, but I'm looking at the specs, and I guess not). The screen is multitouch with a haptic interface and provides the sole interface unless you pony up for an add-on. It's extremely lightweight, fitting, as I indicated, comfortably in one's hand. The Galaxy also offers two built-in cameras for those who care about such things.

The available software is what's provided in the Google Apps store, so there's a pretty good selection, though it may not be quite up to Apple's offerings. Pre-installed software includes memo and calendar, some games, Kindle for Android, the obligatory e-mail app, and a shit-ton of other stuff.

But the cleverest bit of included software and the winning entry for someone looking for a workingman's tablet is Swype. Swype is a small-footprint interface program that basically reads keyboard gestures: instead of hunting and pecking on an onscreen keyboard, you swype your finger around on it (hence the name, natch), and Swype interprets the gesture as a word with a surprising degree of accuracy. Again, i wouldn't want to try writing 50,000 words like this, but for this blog entry that you're reading right now, our some quick notes, or even, possibly for a short story our a few hundred words of something: well, I've got to tell you, this ain't bad. It's no replacement for a real keyboard, but it does nicely.

As for getting work done: I also installed Dropbox and went ahead and purchased Documents-To-Go. DTG isn't my favorite piece of mobile software in the world (I've used several earlier versions on various mobile devices), and it forces one to use Microsoft .doc format, but the only software I could find to convert .odt files is read-only at this point (document editing may show up in the future, but right now the program appears to be one guy's free, open-source project, so I'm just happy and thankful he went to three trouble at all). But, again, it'll get the job done in a pinch. Oh--and this being Android, there's a Blogger application, of course.

A tablet like the Tab is an always-on, always-connected device. You can purchase without a subscription, but to get any use, you'll need a data plan from a cell phone provider. I went with the 35G plan for thirty bucks a month on the chance that I'll use this for movies, though I may downgrade the plan if I just don't use out that much. For convenience I went with Verizon because they're already my cell phone provider. The Galaxy has built-in WiFi, which is an obvious way to manage data costs. The other thing you'll have to do is get a Google account, which may not be a big deal if your already in Google's ecosystem.

The initial impressions are favorable. This is my first day with the doohickey, but I'm pleased so far.

In just a little bit I'll post a picture of the thing. There's probably a way to do that from within the Blogger app I'm using, but I don't know how to do it yet. Also, as magical and nifty as this thing is, I don't think out can take a picture of itself, so I'll need to take one with my cell phone and upload it.

And if I can answer any questions, I'm happy to try.

EDIT OR ADDENDUM: I tried just posting directly from the Tab, and found that the software--not the hardware--ate the formatting. If I don't figure out a way around that, it may mean a change to how I'd use the thing as a blogger: the software lets you just save a post, so if I'm on the go and knock out a post, what I suppose I would probably do is save it and then edit it on the netbook or notebook later. Whipping the Tab out of a pocket or sliding it out of a case held like a notepad from earlier days is still a quick'n'easy way of knocking out a first impression, though, so it's still good! I think! So far!

The final proof, really, will be when I've had it a few weeks and probably after I've seen if it was a useful tool for toting around SXSW; what seems like fun to me, because I'm a pretentious wannabe writer nerd, would be doing a little bit of liveblogging or--gasp!--music quasi-journalist-shit while there; maybe review a set, comment on some comments from a panel, that kind of thing. We'll see if the Tab--or my sobriety--is up to the task....


Eric Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 1:14:00 PM EST  

Lesson one: the Blogger app doesn't notice returns or html code. Time to edit this thing so it's legible.

Still, it's a promising doohickey!

Random Michelle K Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 2:28:00 PM EST  

When Michael started talking about wanting an iPad, we realized he didn't really want an iPad but a tablet, but he wanted it not just for surfing but also watching movies.

We ended up going with the Lenovo IdeaPad which is a tablet that turns into a netbook.

Working out extremely well so far.

Eric Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 3:27:00 PM EST  

I looked at the IdeaPads a while back--they look like pretty sweet pieces of hardware!

Phiala Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 5:46:00 PM EST  

I went the small light cheap tablet option and got a Nook Color, which, if you root it, is an entirely acceptable Android tablet for $250.

I haven't even rooted it yet, and am reasonably pleased.

It isn't a netbook replacement - I wouldn't want to write a novel on it - but it's okay for short things. It won't take an external keyboard, so no. But it's excellent for what I wanted to do with it, which is reading things (duh) and light internet use.

And on the iPad, Charlie Stross talks a great deal on his blog about using it for content creation.

Eric Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 8:40:00 PM EST  

I hadn't seen Stross' comments, which may be ironic because I had looked at other authors whose actual work I wasn't familiar with.

How hard is it to root the Nook?

neurondoc Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 9:30:00 AM EST  

Oooooo, you got a tablet!!! I want one, as I mentioned in my FB post. I think that I will want a 10 inch one, not a 7 inch, though, for screen real estate. I don't like iTunes and the Apple content delivery paradigm, so I am not inclined to get an iPad. The Motorola Xoom looks interesting, but it's not out yet. I may have to give up the PDA phone, because I'm not willing to spend money on two dataplans. Maybe using the phone as a mobile hotspot will work...

I'll be interested in your opinion after using it for a month.

Phiala Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 11:38:00 AM EST  

Having only read the directions, it doesn't look any harder than installing linux on a windows machine or similar somewhat-geeky tech things.

I'm waiting to see what the upcoming Android 2.2 update from BN provides before rooting, so I don't lose my changes if the update turns out to be good.

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