The Linx 7 tablet – so bad, it’s good

linx7So, as a bit of research and development, I bought a Linx 7 tablet the other day. It was pointed out to me by my pal Paul Webster, who thought it had some intruiging digital inclusion possibilities.

First up, the bad bits. The Linx is cheap, and nasty. It has a plastic case that feels less than sturdy, a tiny screen with a fairly terrible resolution, a pretty slow processor and a measly 1gb RAM.

It also runs Windows 8, which is just as weird as everyone has told you. The most bewildering part for me, still, is that you can have two copies of the same application installed and running on the same machine depending on whether you are in the mobile view or the traditional desktop view. The universal apps of Windows 10 will hopefully fix this.

So, a pretty damning review so far. However, here is the good news: The Linx 7 is £76 on Amazon right now, and that includes a year’s subscription to Office 365. That’s worth £79. Do the maths!

The Linx also features some rather neat connectivity options. There’s a mini-USB port which is used for charging, but can also be used with the included adapter to plug any USB peripheral into the tablet – such as a mouse, or a printer say. The mini-HDMI port means you can plug this thing into a standard monitor you have lying around, and it has bluetooth so a keyboard is no problem.

What all this means is that you can have a fully operational – if slightly underpowered – PC with the full and latest version of Office running on it, for significantly less than a hundred quid. That’s frankly amazing.

Anyone who makes heavy use of their computer is not going to be able to use the Linx 7 as a replacement for their laptop or whatever. Never mind an iPad, it makes a lot of the cheaper Android tablets look and feel well made. But what it does, thanks to the price point and the provided software, is put a proper computer in the hands of pretty much anyone who can spare 75 quid.

Given that the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, cost about $500 fully assembled in 1975 (which is over $2,250 in today’s money), and did little more than flash a few lights, I’d call that progress.

My current favourite toy

apple-ipad-mini-blackJust before Christmas, and as a bit of a Christmas treat for myself, I bought an iPad mini with retina display and 3g mobile broadband access (ie not the wifi only model). I love it.

Up til now my tablet of choice was a second generation Nexus 7, produced by Asus but sanctioned by Google as the best of breed Android tablet. That I found to be my favourite tablet device so far, better than the full size iPad. However, while I used the Nexus 7 fairly regularly as a device to quickly check emails or check something on the web, it never became a vital piece of kit for me.

Since I have had this iPad mini though, it has barely left my side. Why is that?

  1. The size – and weight is absolutely perfect for pretty much any task. It is finally an iPad that works as an e-reader in that I can hold in one handed without getting a wrist strain. The smaller screen size doesn’t really matter to me when the resolution is as good as the retina one is on this thing and pinching and zooming is fine when I need something to appear a little bigger.
  2. The apps – is still where the iPad wins against Android devices. Sure all the big ones are on both platforms (Twitter, Facebook etc etc) but it’s the iOS only ones which you may not have heard of where the iPad stomps all over the competition. I’ve not come across an Android editor that can beat Byword, or an RSS reader as good as Reeder 2 – just to name two examples.
  3. The 3G – as mentioned above, my iPad mini has mobile data access for when I am out of range of a wifi network. My Nexus 7 didn’t, and it’s a game changer. A tablet is basically of little use without the net, and being able to access it pretty much anywhere significantly enhances the usefulness of the device. By the way, here’s a tip from your Uncle Dave – make sure your phone and your tablet use a different carrier for mobile data. That way, if one has a shonky signal, the other one ought to be ok. Mine are Vodafone for my phone and 3 for the iPad and I’ve never been without signal on both.
  4. The keyboard cover – After a couple of weeks, I picked up a Logitech slim keyboard cover for the iPad, and it is great. This being a mini iPad, it’s a pretty mini keyboard, although after a couple of days with it I could type fairly quickly on it- and much quicker than I could using the on screen keyboard. An additional bonus is that using a hardware keyboard with the mini frees up some vital screen real estate. The case works beatifully, snapping shut with magnets to protect the screen, and also using a magnet to hold the screen at a helpful angle when typing. It does all this without adding much to the size and weight of the device, which is fantastic.

I should probably think of a fifth thing, but these four pretty much cover it. What tablet do you use, if any? Do you love it like I do this one?

Nexus 7 first thoughts

Last week I took delivery of a Nexus 7 – the new tablet made by Asus for Google to show off the new version of their mobile operating system, Android.

There was quite a lot of buzz about the device, partially because it marks a new high in terms of build quality of Android tablets, but also because of the form factor. Rather than matching the size of the iPad, the Nexus 7, with it’s 7 inch screen, takes a slightly different road.

The other, potentially killer, feature of the Nexus 7 is its price point – about £160 for the cheaper 8gb model.

Anyway, I’ve been playing with it for a few days, and here are some early thoughts:

  • The size is really interesting. Definitely feels like a massive phone, rather than a tiny computer. It’s easy to carry around the house or office with you, making it more handy than an iPad, which I feel still remains a bit heavy
  • There’s no slot for a sim card, so no built in cellular data connection. Means you need to be near a wifi connection at all times. Not a problem for me as I have a portable 3g wifi thingy, and as I already pay for three different mobile data plans, I didn’t really want another. However, this may be an issue for those without.
  • No camera on the back, just a front facing one for video calls etc. People taking photos with a tablet look like doofuses so it isn’t really an issue, although I’ve always liked the idea of the iPad as a great all-in-one social reporting device – it’ll record video and audio, let you take photos etc; then edit them and upload them. Can’t do that with a Nexus 7.
  • Google Reader on this thing rocks! I love scanning through stuff, starring the interesting bits so they post to Twitter, saving others to read in more depth later. Again, the weight and form factor makes this a comfortable experience.
  • Surprised at how bad the official Google Drive (was Docs) app is – I had to buy QuickOffice to make editing Google documents a bit easier.
  • The Nexus 7 really does look exactly like a huge Galaxy Nexus phone (which is the smallest device in the photo above). Not a problem, although I do feel like a massive twerp owning both.
  • Playing games is easier on the Nexus 7 for me than the iPad, again because of the size and weight. I’m not a big game player, having no ability to concentrate for more than a minute at a time, so the little time waster games on the Nexus work quite well for me.
  • The Android store does feature apps like the excellent iAnnotate PDF which is a blessing for those who like to go paperless into meetings – and is a potential winner for councillors and indeed officers
  • However, there are apps that won’t run on the Nexus 7, for whatever reason.

So, overall? It’s not as good as the iPad. Android isn’t as nice as iOS, the build quality isn’t up to the same standard and the range of apps on iOS is still better.

However, the form factor is interesting and there are times when using the Nexus 7 is a better experience because of the size and weight.

The other thing though is the price. This thing is seriously good value. It puts very usable, high quality tablets at a very affordable price into the marketplace. For those that baulked at paying £400 or more for an iPad, the Nexus 7 could well be a very attractive option.

iPads and apps

I’ve been playing with a new iPad recently – and I love it. The screen resolution on these things literally has to be seen to be believed.

I had an original iPad before – the one without a camera – and it was also a wifi only one, without a mobile data plan. The result of this was that I rarely took it out of the house. My new one has a 3G connection, which means it’ll get online anywhere with a decent mobile signal.

This latter fact means I’m more likely to break Briggs’ Law – which states that it’s impossible to use a tablet computer in public without looking like a twerp.

Anyway, here’s my home screen with my most used apps. Let’s have a look at what I’ve been using, going through the rows from top to bottom and left to right.

WordPress – mainly for managing this blog, and if I’m honest for moderating comments and so on, rather than writing posts.

Calendar – I occasionally look at this, it seems to sync reasonably with my Google calendar.

Maps – handy for planning trips and so on.

Basecamp – not a native app but a web app whose bookmark I’ve saved to the home screen. Helps keep on track of projects.

Evernote – my favourite note keeping app which syncs nicely with the website and the app on my laptop.

Articles – a client for WikiPedia which seems to work quicker and formats more nicely than the website.

Remote – I can control my stereo in the lounge using this app.

WriteRoom – a lovely distraction free text editor. great for bashing in text, but if I’m honest I tend to just use Evernote.

Photos – for, you know, looking at photos.

RTM – Remember the Milk is a dead simple app for managing and syncing to do lists.

Camera – takes photos.

Draft – very simple app for drawing things with your finger, particularly outlines for website wireframes and so on.

iPlayer – it’s brilliant being able to watch BBC shows on this. It upsets me sometimes that my son doesn’t realise how magical it is!

iAnnotate PDF – I tried a few apps for annotating PDFs and this seems the best. Great for meetings – no printing required! I can type notes, highlight bits, scribble and doodle to my heart’s content.

Instapaper – if I see something online I want to read later, I can save it to Instapaper and pick it up later on, formatted beautifully for the iPad.

Mindnode – simple way of drawing mind maps.

Dropbox – the easiest way of getting documents to and from an iPad in my experience.

Reeder – my RSS reader of choice. Beautiful design and easy to use – and syncs with Google Reader.

OmniOutliner – I don’t tend to type too much on the iPad but I do like to plan documents using it, and an outliner is a great tool for that.

OmniFocus – the Rolls Royce of iPad todo list apps. Having played with it, it’s too much for me and RTM suits me better. To be replaced on my home screen by something new, soon, I’m sure!

John Naughton on the iPad

John Naughton‘s Observer piece on the iPad is well worth reading in full:

It’s when one tries to use the iPad for generating content that its deficiencies become obvious. The biggest flaw is the absence of multitasking, so you have to close one app to open another, which is a bit like going back to the world of MS-DOS. Email, using the on-screen virtual keyboard, works fine, and if you buy Apple’s text-processing app, Pages, then you can create documents. But the hoops one has to go through to pull existing documents in for editing are ludicrously convoluted and there’s no way one can easily print from the device.

Further, his week long diary is also a great bit of writing about what this device is actually for:

  • The week has reminded me of how much I value my laptops (MacBook Air and Hackintosh netbook)
  • The iPad is primarily a consumption device — and is very good for that. But it’s hopeless for originating or editing existing stuff. It doesn’t fit into my personal workflow. At the moment, it can’t handle digital cameras (though Quentin tells me there’s an optional USB-type connector available) and doesn’t have an onboard camera, so much inferior to iPhone in that respect.
  • The huge sales of the iPad suggest that Apple has discovered another profitable market niche — between laptop and smartphone. If so, then it isn’t the elderly, PC-less folks of this world. To make use of the iPad you need (a) access to a machine running iTunes; and (b) access to a wi-fi network.
  • For me, the iPad turns out to belong to the category “nice to have but not essential”. It’s beautifully made, but overpriced (esp in UK) and heavy.
  • I can see that I might find it useful in some circcumstances — e.g. a day spent travelling away from base when all I need is email, web browsing and small amounts of writing. For some people, that may be all they need.
  • Finally, I can’t see it making big inroads as an eBook reader, somehow. Of course the big screen is an advantage. But it’s offset by the increased weight, and the poor performance in bright sunlight. And it’s too bulky to carry around. When I compare it with the Eucalyptus App on my iPod Touch — which enables me to carry, for example, the entire text of Ulysses in my pocket. Given that the iPad is only marginally heavier than my hardback Everyman edition of Joyce’s novel — and I don’t carry that around — well, you can see that the Pad is no competition for the Touch.

This pretty much matches my experience. The iPad is wonderful for informal consumption of content quick browsing whilst sat on the sofa, scanning through PDFs and other documents, chatting on Twitter etc. But trying to create anything significant on it is presently a nightmare, and it’s not a Kindle-killer for me.

Update: Andrea Di Maio has posted his thoughts too:

What the iPad has turned into is a compelling professional device. I use it to take notes during meetings, to show slides to small groups around the table, as well as to do formal presentations (I bought the dongle to connect to VGA projectors). Most of my blog posts are now drafted on the iPad, an so are my research notes. When I find a wifi hotspot I just send those as attachments to my Gartner email, where I import into the relevant tool.

iPad therefore I am

OK, so I said I probably wasn’t going to get an iPad. On Friday I bought one. I admit it: I’m pathetic.

Dave and his iPad box

My thing with the iPad before I got it was that I wasn’t sure where it really fitted in my life – what would I use it for?

A lot, it turns out.

I went for the cheapest option: a 16gb model without 3g mobile internet access – I have to rely on getting a wifi connection. That’s ok though, because I’m not planning on taking the iPad out of the house much.

The iPad is a simply wonderful device for consuming content. The web browsing experience is superb – quick, beautiful to look at, and the screen size makes it easy and comfortable to browse. It’s also great for watching video content, whether purchased and downloaded through iTunes or watched on YouTube through the dedicated app.

It’s also great for reading other stuff, like PDFs and other documents. They’re presented really nicely and it’s much better to flick through on the iPad rather than either stare at a bigger screen or print stuff out.

The form factor is excellent, pretty light and comfy to hold. I tend to keep mine in landscape mode and find myself sat on the couch with my legs crossed and with the iPad wedged into my knee-pit. This is where I see it fitting in – not replacing my laptop or desktop, but being a comfy thing for checking email and reading stuff when I’m not at my desk. Whenever I’m watching TV these days I’ve invariably got a laptop balanced on the arm of the chair and the iPad will suit this casual use really well.

One thing that is missing is a decent RSS reader. There are problems with all the ones I have tried so far (see below). What I really want is a decent iPad interface to Google Reader – in other words, not an app but a website that renders nicely. For example, Google have created a wonderful interface for Gmail on the iPad, but Reader is stuck with the one that regular mobile devices use – which doesn’t transfer well to the larger screen.

I’ve installed a few apps so far. Here’s what I think of them:

  • Pages – Apple’s Mac word processor redesigned for the iPad. Lovely to look at, and ok to use, though I can’t see myself typing for long periods on the on-screen keyboard
  • MindNode – a great mind mapping app which I have on iPhone and my desktop and laptop Macs. You can share mindmaps across devices if they are connected to the same wireless network, which is neat
  • Kindle – despite having iBooks, the iPad will not replace my Kindle as my e-reader – the screen is just too bright, and it’s the wrong size. But for quickly accessing books for a quote or a reference, having access to my Kindle e-books on the iPad is great
  • Huddle – a really nicely done version of the Huddle iPhone app on the bigger screen. Sweeping and swooshing round projects is good fun
  • Bulletin – an RSS reader. Syncs with Google Reader and allows for sharing of items on Reader, as well as via Delicious etc. It’s ok but not the best looking or the most user friendly
  • Articles – a Wikipedia client. Looks lovely and is quick and easy to use
  • iBooks – Apple’s free app for e-books. Comes with Winne the Pooh for free, and is beautiful. See Kindle above for why I won’t use it much though
  • Dropbox – brilliantly done – excellent for accessing and reading documents. Only downside is getting stuff onto Dropbox from the iPad – easy enough with photos, but what about documents created in Pages? Haven’t figured this out yet
  • Twitterific – the best Twitter client I have found so far
  • GoToMeeting – not used this yet, but Learning Pool have recently switched to GoToMeeting for their webinars and online meetings – apparently the iPad experience is really good
  • WordPress – quick access to editing content on a WordPress site, does the job adequately
  • Evernote – enables me to access my Evernote notebooks and add new notes. Read about what Evernote does here
  • NetNewsWire – another RSS reader. Had high hopes for this, but the sharing options just aren’t nearly comprehensive enough
  • TweetDeck – the columns view is very nice, but I couldn’t access individuals’ profiles or Twitter streams. Very weird.
  • Instapaper – a site for saving items to read later. Never really used it a great deal, but the option’s there if I need it!

I think overall, it’s just a different way of looking at an internet-enabled device. It isn’t a computer, and a lot of the criticisms of it – around the control of the app store and a certain lack of openness around the iPad – is missing the point. Your average person can’t programme it, but so what? If you want to programme your device, get a laptop or netbook.

The iPad is a great living room device. It’s not a piece of office equipment.