Tablet Considerations

iPad 2I currently have an iPad 2 (yes, 2). It was bought somewhere around June 2011 for a former co-worker,  then conveyed to me the following year after said co-worker retired.  It’s a 64 GB, wi-fi only model.  For those who may not recall, the iPad 2 features Apple A5 (which has a 1 GHz dual core, 32-bit processor) and 512 MB of DDR 2 RAM.  It came to me with iOS 5 and over the years, I updated it to iOS 6 and then eventually 7.

I’m not even going to pretend it ever had a heavy work usage.  I did use it for note taking during meetings, to hold PowerPoint slides or reference documents for presentations and the like, and I use it to monitor work email, particularly when I’m at home or in meetings, but since it’s a wi-fi only unit, that was the only time it was good for that particular function.  Mostly, I use it to listen to podcast, to read eBooks sporadically through the Kindle app, and to play games.  Oh, and it’s also one of the three alarms I rely on to get me up in the morning.

In the last few months, more and more of the apps I run have had stability issues, with the logs indicating primarily that crashing is from being out of memory.  I was also locked out of getting some apps or upgrading them, such as being unable to go to from Lync 2010 to Skype when we moved to Office 365, because it was running iOS 7.

Since I really can’t justify it as a “work device”, my boss pretty much said nah on replacing it.  Totally understandable, believe me.  🙂  In a last-ditch effort to try to solve its crashing and maybe keep it going, I upgraded it to iOS 9, half worried it would brick the thing.  It didn’t, but most of the apps that were crashing before can’t even get to the point of running now, which sucks.

I’ve gotten used to having it and I like using it.  I like playing games on it, of course, and having it as a way to read eBooks when the mood strikes me.  I listen to lots of podcasts that I’d hate to miss out on.  And it’s lighter than my laptop for short trips out (such as waiting for my car to get an oil change).

So I started thinking about replacing it myself and just having a personal tablet properly.  As I considered that, I always started thinking about how it would be useful and desirable to get a keyboard for a tablet so I can use it for writing on the go, as a tablet is obviously much lighter than my big 17″ widescreen laptop.  This would particularly be great for quick sessions, version when I take the laptop out for a 2-3 hour write in.

That led to the fun of tablet shopping…which is mildly frustrating because of really not wanting to spend a ton of money on it, but also wanting something that will last me a good 4-5 years at least.

My Criteria

My first inclination was to look at Android tablets, which are generally presumed to be cheaper and thereby fit in my budget better.  I also love my Android phone and Android is so much easier to get to play with Windows.  That said, I quickly found that “cheap” Android tablets mostly suck and the good ones, particularly ones with a pure or near-pure Android experience versus bloatware are pretty much on par price wise with the Apple products.

And as I’m not such a huge techno-geek that only the latest, greatest will do, and I do like my iPad 2 overall after years of using it, I decided that newer to me, but not necessarily current generation iPad products could be considered.

(And no, a Windows tablet is not even a consideration, I love Windows 7, I do not like Windows tablets or 10)

So as I looked and continue looking at tablets, my general criteria has been:

  • At least 1 GB RAM
  • Relatively current processor, preferably 64-bit
  • 32 GB of space or higher
  • Launched with either iOS 7+ or Android 4.4+ (KitKat), preferably iOS 8+ or 5.0+ (Lollipop); for Android, pure or near-pure Android
  • Affordable!!!!! (which for me is sub-$400, preferably much less)
  • Don’t care about the camera at all, that’s why I have a dSLR and a smartphone 🙂
  • Generally just do wi-fi only as I’m not paying for a data plan for it

All that said, I’m still trying to decide what to go for.  I probably need to pick in the next week or two, so I can get it before the end of the month when I’ll be really inclined to want it available.  And while I intend to get a keyboard for it, I did decide not to factor that into the consideration heavily as the price would be roughly the same regardless of which tablet I get.

Let’s look at the possible contenders…

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2Apple’s sixth generation of iPad, it came out in 2014 and it’s still the top full-sized iPad other than the Pro (which is a gorgeous drool worthy machine but WAY too expensive) being marketed by Apple.  It certainly ticks off all my needs, with the Apple A8X chip, current versions coming out the gate with iOS 9, and a wonderful 2 GB LPDD3 DRAM.  It’s also way lighter than my current tablet and would certainly last me for years to come.

Unfortunately, it only comes in 16 GB and 64 GB models, with the later ringing in at a hefty $479 with the educational discount, $419 for refurbished from Apple, or $379 for good level condition used from Gazelle.


Google Pixel C

Google Pixel CI first learned of Google’s new Pixel C, the first “from the ground up design by Google” while going to the Google site to check out the current generation of Nexus.  I must admit, it is sweet sounding with a quad-core 64-bit processor,  3 freaking GBs of RAM, gorgeous display, and you really can’t get any purer Android than you get going with a Google product.

However, I also got really really pissed at their website.  Almost every picture shows it with a keyboard, even the over view mentions how its keyboard is designed for flawless integration, and so forth.  Then when you get to the details, you realize it’s $499 price tag for the 32 GB model does NOT include the keyboard so heavily marketed with it that I presumed it came with it.  Nope, that will be another $149 if you please.  Ugh.

iPad Mini 2

iPad Mini 2The iPad Mini is the second generation of the now four versions of the “mini” iPads, which are roughly 2 inches smaller than my current iPad.  It is also, unfortunately, “old” having come out in 2013, but it comes with the A7 chip, retina display, and 1 GB of LPDDR3 DRAM.  Bought direct from Apple, it comes with iOS 9 as well, though it originally came with iOS 7.  I’ve frequently heard that you shouldn’t do more than two major versions of iOS as after that they tend to start having trouble handling it, but Apple itself is still selling the Mini 2 with it so…

It isn’t the newest of the new, but I did try one of these out in the Apple store here on campus and it was nice to have a tablet that fit in hand easily.  It does have a 32 GB option and is affordable at $299 with educational pricing.  Apple is out of refurbished for these but they usually go for $269, not enough savings to make it worth not just getting new anyway.  Gazelle doesn’t list them at all.

iPad Mini 4

iPad Mini 4Obviously if I’m considering the Mini 2, I’ll consider the Mini 4, which is the current of the Mini line.  In many ways similar to the Mini 2, it does have the newer A8 chip, the fingerprint thing though that’s not a huge deal for me, and it now boasts 2 GB of RAM.  It was also the first device to ship out the gate with iOS 9, so I’d have plenty of upgrade use/time left in it.

Unfortunately, the move to the Mini 4 also meant they dropped the 32 GB option, leaving me again with having to 64 GB (16 is just too small based on my current usage).  That brings the price to $479, the same as the Air 2, but unlike the Air 2, it has no refurbished ones available and again, Gazelle doesn’t have either.


Google Nexus 9

Google Nexus 9The Nexus 9 is the current generation of the Nexus line of tablets.  It’s specs are generally in-line with the others, with the standard dual-core 2.4 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, good size, and nice display.  It comes loaded with Lollipop, and has a 32 GB option.

It’s a good solid option, but unfortunately it’s also out of stock at Google, which usually means they are about to release a new version.  New it was priced at $479, which is also kind of ridiculous compared to the significantly higher end Pixel C.

I also admit, I’m a little more leery of the Nexus line after my experiences with my Nexus 4 phone, that stopped working earlier this year, despite being relatively young, and resulted in my having to get a new phone.  It’s also why I won’t consider a Nexus 7, which came out in the same year and is starting to show more “up and dying” reports in reviews.

Amazon Fire HD 8

AmazonFireHD8Amazon’s line of Fire tablets are highly regarded for their extremely affordable prices and options.  The Fire HD 8 is only one inch smaller than the tablet I’m used to, has a nice quad-core processor, HD display (duh), and expandable storage so can just get the lower cost 8 GB model and throw in a card.  It also comes in actual colors, not the same boring two as just about every other tablet out there.  It’s only 1 GB of RAM, but at the price, I’m not expecting it to really compete on specs with the others.

At only $149, it’s a steal, but that price means “special offers” in your lock screen (it’s $15 to get rid of those, which them reduces you down to boring black again) and reviews note that it’s “HD” display really isn’t and for a tablet aimed at media consumers, it’s disappointing in quality.

However, even with that low price, I’m strongly disinclined to consider an Amazon Fire because it runs Fire OS and is extremely locked to the Amazon world.  While Fire OS is ostensibly  built on Android, Google Play store is locked out for you without hacking the tablet, so you’re stuck with whatever is available in the Amazon App Store, which is much smaller than the Google store and jerkishly excludes many of Google’s apps including Google Drive.  They do give a ton of them free, but still not worth the loss of choice.

Dell Venue 8 7000

DellVenue8700When I was looking at Android options, Dell Venue 8 came up as a great option for a near stock Android experience.  It does hit most of my must haves, with 2 GB of ram, a nice quad-core processor, nice display, good size, and it’s relatively new, having been released in January 2015.  It’s only a 16 GB option, but it does have expandable storage up to 512 GB to take care of that.

It’s super thin, light weight (only .67 lbs), and at 8.4 inches would only be a small step down in size for me, though the overall design is a little ugly.  It comes running Lollipop, though the lack of availability to up to Marshmallow yet is disconcerting (and I believe at Dell’s control).  Still, while not quite as powerful as the Nexus 9, it’s certainly comparable enough.

It’s $299 from Dell, and they have a deal going where you can get it with the keyboard and case for $349.  The biggest hitch to the Dell, however, is that it uses an x86 architecture CPU, which was not compatible with some apps, which includes Office (or did, supposedly they did fix that later, but it still seems iffy) and apparently some banking apps.

Which one will it be?  That has yet to be fully determined…