Tablets


Tablets 1999-2012

Weasel words: This page represent my personal experience with personal equipment.
This is not to be considered a recommendation or endorsement of any sort, just my opinions which can change. Notary Sojac y'all.

My experience with computers is a long one beginning with playing tic-tac-toe at the Franklin Institute in 1957 and is equalled only by a fascination with vehicles of any kind, air, land, or sea. Put together the result has been many years on the bleeding edge.

Have always appreciated small but that has its limitations, my first "personal computer" was a 32 lb 4.77 MHz "luggable" that had a 9" screen (bigger than the 5" of an Osbourne) but for 80x25 you did not need much, just more than a NTSC TV could resolve. Dual floppies, RS-232 & Centronix ports but could do quite a bit. Access was via a modem and 2400 baud could finally scroll faster than I could read. 640k memory (a meg cost $3,000.00, more than many cars), & took two floppies (10MB hard disk was another $3k) to completely boot including "Virus Protection".


Columbia VP 1600 (from Columbia 1983 Sales Brochure)

WARNING: what follows is personal opinion. To skip, go to /rant.

That was then, this is now and people are getting used to "anytime/anywhere" and most could care less about "content in the cloud" made possible by unmetered access such as "Smart Talk".

Unmetered access is important because it has allowed the US to leapfrog many other countries who prefer to maximise revenue by charging for every bit and byte. Today you have a choice of 3GB/mo for $30 or unmetered data, text, and talk for $45-$50.

The hooker is that such plans are limited as yet to devices that cannot do very much seemingly because the majors have generated a lot of revenue serving cell phones "by the drink". This is just one of the many colliding technologies but the bottom line is that To view a 2 hr HD movie on Netflix takes about 3GB of data. At $10/GB this gets expensive fast.

From an unmetered home with cable or DSL, this is not a concern. If the device is 3G/4G and metered, welllll.

This is just one of the collisions taking place. VOIP is rapidly replacing analog (land) lines. Once voice lines carried data at up to 56 Kbaud. Today cable provides up to 40 Mb/sec. However phone calls unless within a system (why f&f on the same system do not count against minutes) need both a telephone number and an IP.

This duality is why cellular devices, even smart devices approved for unmetered service do not have video (HDMI or even composite) output. Yet.

End Rant

All of that said, I have a list of requirements that I feel are necessary for a tablet of any size to be fully useful:

Musts

  1. SD card slot or Flash Drive able to be used as random (not purposed) memory
  2. 802-11 WiFi capability
  3. Satellite GPS
  4. Bluetooth
  5. Ability to use external power (charge) while doing any of the above.

Wants

  1. Composite, VGA, or (preferably) HDMI output *
  2. Composite or HDMI input **
*- rare
**- missing at present

Of these the most important is probably #1 since that is essential to the ability to have multiple contexts such as for dual or multi-boot. Yet in late 2012 more and more devices are leaving this capability off. Apple today treats extended memory as part of their license and cripples any USB memory device to limited functions (e.g. photographs, music, and video).

The devices pictured above all have serious elements missing (the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 was originally advertised as having HDMI capability. Months after my purchase and numerous queries that capability was redacted.).

There is still a sharp and artificial division between smart phones and tablets (some tablets now include Skype and are Vonage capable). The result is a byzantine labyrinth of plans, schedules, and capabilities. Unmetered data, voice, and telephone service is available for fixed locations but not mobile. Devices which have unmetered 3G/4G "data" have no HDMI output. Netflix has realtime capability but not download now/play later for remote locations & on airplanes.

Recently I added an Samsung "Proclaim" (SCH720C) to the mix along with one of the $50/month "all you can use" prepaid plans since I finally was having personal needs that exceeded the capability and appropriate use of my company phone.

While I still think Samsung customer service leaves a lot to be desired and even though most reviews found it wanting in some areas, it seems like a perfect fit. For one thing it is LOUD and has an M4 rating (have to pay 2x as much for anything else with this). 3.5" screen like an iPhone 4. Android 2.3 which is ok. And can be used as a mobile hot spot when I need a bigger screen (see 7" and 10" units above). Can even be used with my iPad. Can also connect an amplified set of headphones with mike when not in a Bluetooth-enabled car.

What I found interesting was the pricing plans available. For example you can get a "free" smart phone with a two year contract providing unlimited voice and text plus 2Gb of data for $110/mo (plus $10-$15/mo tax). That figures to a minimum of $2880. OTOH an prepaid plan has unlimited voice/text/data for $50/mo. tax inclusive which is $1374 over 24 mo. including the initial device cost. 

Since my current HotSpot is $30/mo with 3Gb, together the two redundant plans (I like backups) are $80/mo, only 2/3 of the major contract. Nice thing is that both worked well in the wilds of the Smokey Mountains where my company cell phone could not get a signal. Modern times. (October 2012).

It is amazing how fast you get used to this. At one point on a walk (slower than a hike) I decided to take a different path back. With the GPS in the phone and Google Maps, this was easy. Another time was looking for a fast food joint that the counterperson said was "near Lowes". Actually was about a 1/2 mile away but could pull up directions without another call.

What all of this really means is time saved/instant knowledge. All you need to know is what question to ask (and Google corrects speeling).

Usage is the big question. On vacation I was using about 100 MB/day but with little streaming. Just adding one NetFlix video could be multi-GB. Is an area that could use advanced compression or pointers and an on-board datastore.

This also runs in to conflict with the automakers since each provides their vehicles with onboard touchscreens that have much of the same capabilities. The problem is that each car has a different dedicated system and they are in hot competition with each other.

So new car purchasers are paying $1,000 and up for a device that was obsolete when it came out and cannot be used without the car.

My vision is a bit different: the car just provides an amplifier and speakers (and possibly antennas), everything else is a personal device that can move between vehicles.

 

In the best American tradition all of this is possible today, it just requires several different devices rather than just one. Current three display (GPS, Android tablet, back up camera) install does not show telephone/hotspot on belt

Note that this is a complex system that could easily be replaced by a single display, just not quite yet. I am working on it. Oddly enough the hard part is integration of the backup camera, today there is no composite input device for Android or iPad. The other issue is that while Google maps (and the Apple equivalent) tries hard, standalone GPS devices have more capability.

So today all of the pieces are there, just not in one place. Unfortunately the current trend toward devices that have no expansion (or even much repair) capacity is not making this easier. What will the future be like ? Just know it will be different but would not buy any land line stock.

 

9 Dec, 2012: I have seen the Next Big Thing

For some time I have been working with Android and iOS and they are well developed but are limited in some forms. For one so far there is no app to recognize a composite video input device like EasyCap. In fact I am seeing a tendency to remove things like external sdCard sockets that might make profitable peripherals unnecessary.

Apple has gone further to make things like flash drives usable only for  music/pictures/videos and not general storage.

For my part, I have been concentrating of Android simply because it is much more flexible and have the whole SDK system on a Windows workstation but again is limited.

Earlier when Microsoft announced Windows 8, I downloaded a prerelease and noticed that START was gone but after some effort was able to recreate a conventional window. It is obviously designed for a tablet and looks odd on a 24" monitor but seems to have all of the capability of Windows 7. Also the only using device was the Microsoft Surface RT tablet using a constrained form of the OS that requires special and limited applications.

Meanwhile several other Tablets were announced from Toshiba and HP but were in the $1000 range. On Cyber Monday Microsoft offered a 32 GB Tablet for $399. The difference, unlike the Surface RT, the Acer W510 was running Windows 8. A full-featured Windows 8 with USB and HDMI able to accept a 64 GB microSD card. So far it can do everything that I had been looking for in a Tablet. True the "GPS" is a joke, but a USB BU-353 plugs right in.

Since then I have added true GPS (not "internet aided") and a video input. I believe this is a real "game changer".

Video camera overlaying TorqueScan

 

Real GPS

Plays Movies

and even use a real display (not just for pictures and videos)

 

Padgett, Orlando, (c) December, 2012

 

 

Constructive comments to app1 at 6007 dot us
All contents copyright (C) 2012 by Padgett except where noted.