Sunday I started preparing for our semi-annual pilgrimage to Lincoln to visit friends. Preparing in this case means requesting movies for Calvin that I transfer to the iPad, loading new iPad games, considering if I should do another audiobook/picture mashup, etc. Once again, I was running into the iPad’s space limitations. Last November I researched and found a kludge to be able to access more movies than the iPad can natively handle. This works but is really, really kludgy. Also, it requires my intervention to get things transferred over to the iPad because the process is too complicated for Calvin to do at the moment.
A month or two back I got a Windows 8 phone (Nokia Lumia 521) which I’ve liked. As a bonus, it has a microSD slot so I could put the microSD card with Calvin’s visual audiobooks on it and he could play them without me first having to transfer them to the iPad. However, I was pretty uncomfortable handing him a live phone without fairly close supervision.
I started contemplating once again whether buying another tablet would make sense. I did very briefly have a $10 dollar tablet but, not surprisingly, it died fairly soon (though I’m pretty sure I got my $10 out of it). Out of curiosity, I went to Apple’s website to see what sort of refurbished iPads they were selling. It turns out they had several very good deals for iPad 2s.
I was strongly tempted to get another iPad. There’s many things I like about them. They’re durable, have a pretty good battery life, and a fantastic variety of apps for kids1. However, they still have quite a few flaws that sit there and bother me. The biggest things that annoy me are the lack of expandability and ability to make it do what I want it to2. Of the two, expadability was the biggest show-stopper for me. I just don’t want to spend the money required to get a reasonable amount of space on an iPad.
Android . . . well, I just can’t get excited about Android. I had an early-gen Android work phone, it was ok. Jaeger has a Nexus 7 which he seems to like fairly well. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that they’re a less sleek, disorganized iOS wannabe. I know this isn’t fair and in many cases Android is open enough to let me do whatever my crazy brain takes a fancy to3.
I mentioned above I recently acquired a Windows 8 phone I liked. I had seen the Surface ads so I decided to wander over to NewEgg and see what sort of Windows 8 options there were. One of the first options was an Asus Transformer Book T100, specifically the T100TA-C1-GR. It seemed fairly reasonably priced and the more I poked around, the more it appealed to me. Several professional reviews I ran across seemed general positive with a couple downsides. The Amazon user reviews were also fairly positive and included hints on how to work around some of the bugs mentioned. There were several things I liked about this: 1) The tablet size was decent 4 2) It docked very nicely with a decent physical keyboard with touchpad (even if the touchpad was reported to be dodgy) 3) It has a decent amount of hard drive space and is expandable. True, after the windows install the 64 GB magically reduces to around 32 GB. However, it is a microSD slot which is golden 4) Good battery 5) Full Windows. This means that I can theoretically use this for work emergencies instead of lugging my 8 lb laptop around5 6) While I expected the apps for kids to be abysmal, it would still work well as a movie player for Calvin.
So, after obsessing over reviews, I decided to go ahead and buy it. I was really hoping to get it before Friday so I’d have another screen option for Calvin. However, that fast of guaranteed shipping is expensive so I started looking around for local options. Best Buy didn’t have anything. However, on a whim, I looked it up on Office Depot and had astonished to see they had one in stock in Boulder. What was even weirder is they had a $50 “instant savings” that cut the price enough so once I included sales tax, it basically matched the non-sales tax but slow-boat shipping amount I would have paid online. My one concern was the model number was slightly different, a C2 instead of a C1. After scouring the specs the only obvious difference I saw was that it had a slightly newer processor than the C1. Hoping for the best, I placed my order while Jaeger said derogatory things about buying a tablet with a processor from That Other Company.
I picked up the tablet on my lunch break on Monday and plugged it in and impatiently waited. The Amazon reviewers were all very definite that you really needed to follow the instructions for charging 8 hrs otherwise Really Bad Things Happen. About 4 hrs in I broke down and turned it on, though kept it plugged in. It’s slow to boot up from a cold start. It is a full Window 8 install after all. Also, I have very mixed feelings about Windows requiring a Live account to sign in these days. It’s very Apple-like but they’re not Apple6.
Once everything got booted and setup I started customizing my tiles. The interface was vaguely familiar from my phone, though with more features due to its desktop qualities. Not everything was intuitive for me but I figured it out. I do find the mix between the desktop and the start tiles to be abrupt and not entirely pleasant but that’s more an aesthetic thing than a functionality problem. Overall, it seemed fairly responsive and I didn’t have any of the problems that the Amazon reviews had warned about, especially with the touchpad. Perhaps I got the version with some of the major bugs worked out? So, I spent a fairly pleasant afternoon/evening customizing the tablet to get everything just so.
The one major feature I am adoring that I didn’t know about ahead of time is the parental controls. Windows 8 has fantastic parental controls, at least compared to Apple which may not be saying much. You can set time limits on how long child accounts can use the computer each day, white or black list websites as well as allow websites based on various ratings, and restrict specific games and apps your kids have access to. I tested it out, it is fantastic. It’s obvious that the Windows developers have kids (which I sincerely doubt about Apple developers). Another nice feature is if the kid tries to access an app that the parent hasn’t allowed, they can click to ask for permission and it’ll pop up a login screen for the parent. Very easy, I don’t have to switch accounts to add access because I forgot obvious apps. The same technique also works for websites. Since Calvin is so young I blocked everything except a white list of a couple of sites. Once back in my parent account, Windows will also provide a report of what website my child went to, how long they used various apps, etc. I find that a tad creepy but I’ll get over it. In any case, I can’t say enough good things about these settings. It’s made me seriously consider having him use this tablet more except for iPad specific apps he can’t get on here.
The biggest downside I’ve found so far is that there’s pretty much no good out-of-the-box options if I lose the tablet for finding it or wiping data. I was a little surprised by this because my Nokia phone has a pretty good setup for both finding it and wiping the data if I can’t retrieve it. However, I suppose that’s the difference between a cellular and non-cellular device. I’m particularly nervous because I haven’t setup Calvin’s account with a password. It’s a child account but I still assume getting in at all increases the options for compromising data. I’ll have to research this more. I’m sure there’s 3rd-party products I can get that will at least partially solve this problem.
Anyway, so at this point, I’m pretty happy with the tablet. Just to torment me, Jaeger now mockingly asks me what the TSA considers my new toy. Tablet or laptop? It makes a difference. *sigh*
- After all, everyone designs first for iOS, then Android, then if they’re really big and have money to throw away they might consider Windows, maybe. ↩
- I get ideas in my head about how I want software to work and I will spend days bashing my head against the software trying to make my vision happen. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted one week trying to get document shortcuts to show up as icons for a one-click to open experience for Calvin. That is, instead of making Calvin go into iBooks, I wanted him to see and pick his books straight from where all the apps are. Apple just doesn’t flex that way. ↩
- Jaeger got document shortcuts working in under 5 minutes on his vintage Android phone. He did this just to taunt me. ↩
- I’m not a 7″ fan, I prefer bigger for reading magazines from the library ↩
- It feels heavier than that but I just weighted it. ↩
- While I’m complaining, their two-factor authentication isn’t nearly as smooth as Google’s. I turned it on but might need to turn it off because it’s not working particularly smoothly. ↩