Kindle, Galaxy, iPad, Surface… Last week in Aging With Geekitude, Erica beat paper clutter by opting for paperless billing and paying bills online – read about it! This week, she’s exploring tablet options.
A student at a recent computer class for seniors was observed putting her finger on the screen and trying to move things around. This is a sign of the times. People at both ends of the age spectrum are skipping computers and moving directly to touchscreen tablets, which techies predict may actually replace computers one of these days (meaning soon).
When is an iPad not an iPad?
A friend of mine recently asked me if she could bring her iPad on a trip we were taking. I’d seen this “iPad” and it didn’t look like anything Apple ever produced. “That isn’t a real iPad is it?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I got it at Wal-Mart for a hundred bucks.”
“That was a cheap Android knockoff.”
“I guess so. It works. That’s all I care about.”
Just as all copiers became “Xerox machines,” it seems that “iPad” is becoming the generic name for tablets.
This is not a good thing. There are many brands of tablet out there, most of them cheaper than iPads and many just as good, or even better if you’re an Android person like me.
The tablet wars are heating up
When I visited Best Buy recently to look at tablets, I was overwhelmed with the choices. Every brand has at least a few models in various sizes and shapes, at different price points and with different features.
What to buy? iPads were the standard for a long time if you wanted a device that was good for something besides reading. But they didn’t come cheap and still don’t, even though the new iPad minis are more reasonable. Apple is rapidly losing ground to Android tablets like the Google Nexus, Samsung and Nook. And then there’s the Microsoft Surface and my favorite, the Kindle. Several models of each.
For a quick tour, check out Amazon. For each brand of tablets, you can compare models on a chart and read reviews for each. It’s a good way to get the lay of the land.
Kindle Fire: mayday, mayday!
The original Kindles were just readers. However, with the Kindle Fire, Amazon started making tablets that have consistently been great buys. Since Amazon makes most of its money selling entertainment – books, movies, magazines and, of course, lots and lots of stuff – it can afford to put an attractive price on its Kindles.
Despite Apple’s much-vaunted (and mostly deserved) reputation for user-friendliness, the latest Kindle wins hands down in that department.
The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9” – with a list price of $379 – has the absolute coolest feature ever: Mayday. You hit the question mark on the home screen or pull down the menu on the top of the screen and voila, you can connect with a real live human being who appears in a little box on the lower right and says, “Hi what’s your name? How can I help you?”
This real person can access your screen, circle whatever feature you’re asking a question about and walk you through figuring out what you need to know. You can see her (or him), but she can’t see you.
If you’re having reservations about buying a tablet because you’re afraid you won’t be able to figure it out, this one’s for you. Plus the display is gorgeous, it’s super fast, and it is much lighter than the larger iPad. I didn’t believe I’d ever watch videos on any tablet, but the Kindle HDX has won me over. Even “Breaking Bad” looks great on it. The downside, and it’s a big one, is apps. Amazon has decided not to give buyers access to the Google Play store, so there are many app gaps.
Still, if you’re a beginner who wants to watch videos in glorious HD and get instant tech support, you’ll probably be perfectly be happy with the apps the Kindle Fire HDX does have. And business users might appreciate the access to Office Suite that it provides (despite it costing $14.99).
But if you want a lot of games and other specialized apps, like different keyboards, you won’t be happy.
iPad for Apple people – and people with disabilities
If I was an Apple person, I’d get the iPad mini for $400. The screen is smaller than the Kindle HDX’s, but it’s not tiny, and it’s $100 less than the full-size Air. Because it’s Apple, like its big brother the Mini offers access to the full range of apps in the App Store – the best selection of apps available. And the iPad is user-friendly.
With their app advantage, iPads have some impressive features for people with vision and hearing problems. We’ve all heard of Siri, that silky-voiced virtual assistant who does your bidding. She’s joined by VoiceOver, a screen reader that lets you know what’s happening on your screen, even if you can’t read it; Speak Selection to read your email and messages; Dictation to talk instead of type; and Zoom, a built-in magnifier. Larger Dynamic Type enlarges the text inside Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messages, Notes and even some third party apps; and you can even use Braille with an Apple device. Android app developers are still playing catch-up on a lot of these.
Nook and Nexus: great buys
Barnes and Noble’s Nook, which is fighting for its life in an Amazon Kindle world, has wisely decided to try to revive its tablet business by giving buyers access to Google Play, which means a full menu of apps. At only $149 with a 9-inch screen, the Nook HD+ is a fantastic value.
If you want a basic tablet for reading, surfing the web, email and an occasional YouTube video, the Nook or Google Nexus 7, at around the same price, will do fine. I have an older version of the Nexus that I got on EBay for $100. I loved it until I got the new Kindle HDX.
But if you’re tempted to save money by getting a cheap knockoff Android tablet at Wal-Mart – don’t! They’re pretty crappy and don’t offer access to Google Play. For another $50 you can get a name brand.
Samsung: customer service with hand-holding
For customer service from a real person, visit the Samsung kiosk at Best Buy. I found a charming older salesperson at my local branch helping customers. I had a chat with her, and she said they were reluctant to hire her because they were afraid customers wouldn’t want tech advice from someone her age. They’ve since discovered that the opposite is true. Older customers with flip phones come right up, asking which Samsung Galaxy to buy. They prefer her over the young salespeople who spout tech-talk a mile a minute.
We bonded over our lust for the latest Samsung Galaxy Note 3 while she showed me a bewildering array of Samsung tablets, ranging from $149 to over $700. Their mid-range 7- or 8-inch Galaxy Tab 3s for $149 and $249 both looked good.
If you do buy a Samsung tablet, an actual person will help you with it at Best Buy, even if you didn’t get it there.
Microsoft Surface: someday…
When I get the big bucks, I’ll buy a Microsoft Surface 2 Pro, which is truly a tablet/computer that comes with Windows and Microsoft Office. They go for $650 and up, and are the next generation of Windows computers. That computing power doesn’t come cheap. To get the same specs as my current three-year-old Acer laptop, which cost around $350, I’d have to spend at least $1,000 on a Surface Pro. I think I’ll just stick to the Kindle HDX for now.
What’s your favorite tablet?