Almost forgot that I created this little blog to ramble and wax poetic about my tech dreams, desires and–yes–even disasters. Sorry to those of you who were following my tech blog regularly and missed me. Good news is that I have a lot of tech thoughts bouncing around my mind right now, so I’M BACK!
Today’s blog is further evidence that I’m no fanboy. I’m going to upgrade from my second generation Nexus 7 tablet (currently running Android 4.4.4) to, well, something. I’ve thrown the gates wide open. I’ve even looked (albeit very briefly) at the Nokia 2520 Windows RT tablet (because it offers a built-in LTE radio). Yeah, Windows RT is dead. Windows 8.1 would be nice, but my Dell Venue 8 Pro was just too small for effective use, and at that size (8″), I found that I really preferred Android as an OS. Would still love to mess with a Surface Pro 3–but the configuration I’d want runs $1299 before adding the $129 keyboard…and they have yet to release a Surface Pro 3 with built-in LTE radio.
As an aside, I know, I can use my phone as a hotspot…but right now T-Mobile is offering $10/mo for my new tablet to have 5gb of data, less than an expansion of my current phone data package would cost. (Despite what you may have heard, I get pretty good, quick service on T-Mobile’s “Data Strong” network all over the place…and I’m not really going to use it much driving in the middle of nowhere because–well–I’m driving in the middle of nowhere.)
I still have one line on Verizon, so I even looked at a Verizon-only option: the Samsung Note Pro 12.2. This was very promising: the ability to have most of what I like about Android plus the ability to have four multitasking windows on the screen at once, the stylus for every-once-in-a-blue-moon use, the big laptop-replacing screen, the ability to add microSDXC cards for additional memory. Unfortunately it would run me a whopping $850, or $45/mo on Verizon Edge–plus the data costs. I ran the numbers–with my current setup on Verizon, adding the Note Pro 12.2 would cost me an extra $65/mo including hardware payment, 6gb of data, and extra warranty. Oh, and then while I was thinking about it, Verizon changed the Edge plan from upgrade-eligible every 12 months (as long as you’ve paid off 60 percent of the cost of the tablet) to every 18 months!?! Sorry–I upgrade my technology too quickly to be stuck for 18 months…and $60 is a lot of money. Adding either the iPad Air 2 or the Nexus 9 to my T-Mobile plan would run me an extra $45/mo for 5gb of dedicated data (not including the hotspot data on my phone), the monthly payment for the tablet, and the extended warranty/JUMP! plan that would allow me to trade in the tablet after only six months. Sorry Verizon–I know your service in more remote areas is more reliable, but the cost-benefits analysis comes out in favor of T-Mobile.
So, my quandary: if I’m going to stick to T-Mobile, I have three choices (I’m going to leave the older, smaller Android tablets and the last-generation iPad Air and both iPad Mini models out of the running): iPad Air 2 (likely 64gb model), Nexus 9 (tweeted out by T-Mobile as being available next Wednesday) or the Samsung Note 10.1 2014 Edition.
Samsung Note 10.1 2014 Edition
Not a bad tablet in it’s own right, the Note 10.1 (2014) is a solid device. It has a sharp display at 10.1 inches, 2560x1280px, stylus, multi-window capability, a decent if not remarkable battery, and sufficient accessories to make me happy (really, just a decent keyboard folio case and the ability to use an MHL-to-HDMI adapter for video output). Price isn’t bad ($599 or $0 down and $24.96/mo). Reviews are solidly four-plus stars (out of five). Just updated to Android KitKat 4.4.4. Wait–that’s the problem. It just updated to 4.4.4, but 5.0 is now floating around out there. A quick search for “Note 10.1 2014 Android 5.0” pulls up–not much, one or two very vague mentions of a late first or early second quarter 2015 possible release, and nothing directly from Samsung at all. Then there’s also the matter of TouchWiz, Samsung’s “we can do better than stock Android” launcher skin and bloatware. Now, I’m not a hacker. I don’t spend inordinate amounts of time messing with settings (I save that inordinate time for youth hockey busy-ness). However, TouchWiz does have two major problems: 1) it tends to slow down the other system operations, and 2) the fact that Samsung is wedded to their own special interface suggests that it will take considerable extra time before they release their own “take” on Android 5.0 Lollipop. Also of concern about the Note 10.1 (2014) is the processor–a 2013-model slower chipset (Qualcomm Snapdragon 800). RAM is good though at 3gb. In the end, I think I’d be better off waiting for something fresher from Samsung–something with Android 5.0 and a capable CPU/GPU combination already onboard–if I want to go this route.
I should start this off by saying I’ve never actually played with one. Everything I know comes from reviewers and sites that I generally trust and my own observations from demos, videos, and so forth. I’ve been an Android fan for several years (not quite a fanboy, however, as I have owned two iPhones and an iPad over the years), and have followed the little droid’s growth and development. In Lollipop (5.0), Android has reached the point where even iFan reviewers comment that Android is now the stronger operating system. The hardware on the Nexus 9 isn’t too shappy either. 8.9″ display with the same resolution as the iPad Air/Air 2–which means a greater pixel density since it’s smaller than the iPad Air 2. Front-facing BoomSound (HTC) speakers that, even in negative reviews, impress pretty much everyone. The latest, greatest Nvidia Tegra CPU/GPU, a 64-bit processor that has tested as faster in it’s dual core form than pretty much everything mutli-core (4-8 core) that preceded it–and contains the graphic processor heart of Nvidia’s latest PC graphics cards. Solid build and construction (though a few reviewers have complained about the soft-touch plastic material on the back being loose and some concerns over the tablet being overly flexible). Price is decent–though sticker shock for a Nexus tablet. I paid about $340 (about a year ago) for my Nexus 7 (2013) with 32gb and LTE. The new Nexus 9? $599 with 32gb and LTE. More premium build and materials perhaps, but still a pretty sharp departure from the old affordability of the Nexus line. So, $599 up front or rumored/leaked to be $0 down and the same $25/mo as the Note 10.1 (2014). Aside from the forementioned pluses of the hardware and software, I can use my current, comfortable apps and widgets (although hopefully with the Material Design updates in Lollipop, nicer ones will be available) from my Nexus 7 and even my OnePlus One. I can use standard microUSB cables for charging or the rare cases of syncing with my PC. More importantly, I can plug a USB drive (bought a cool new “dual” USB drive that can plug directly into a microUSB port) and transfer files on and off–I can offload pictures and video and then move new video over without needing a PC or laptop: VERY helpful for roadtrips where I might not want to bring my laptop along for the ride. The new Nexus-branded keyboard folio also looks very promising. Mechanical keys, thin and light, supposedly adding practically no weight or bulk to the tablet, and very usable for “light” productivity tasks. I have a couple word processors and spreadsheet programs I can use (the new offline Google Docs, Google Sheets, and my old reliable OfficeSuite Pro). I love my Google All Access Music subscription and the Google Music app (though I understand this may be available for iOS as well). I love using Gmail. I’m just at home in Androidland. But there have been enough questionable and negative reviews to give me pause. Yes, I’m leaning this way, but willing to consider…
iPad Air 2
It’s an iDevice! iHave to buy it! Yeah, anyone that knows me knows I don’t think this way. I’ve owned three iPhones (an original, a 3gs and a 5)–but none of them lasted longer than two months as my primary driver. I owned an original iPad. Fun, but too restrictive…too difficult/impossible to personalize and make my own…too closed-system for my liking. Still, I don’t believe in absolutes. Heck, I even considered a Ford before settling on my Honda Insight. 🙂 All kidding aside, the iPad Air 2 is an intriguing option. Things have loosened up–a bit–iOS 8 has added a lot of Android to it. Remember how Mac fans used to say that the current version of Windows was just like a 3-4-5 year old version of MacOS? Well, things have changed a bit. iOS 8 is kind of like Android 4.0. Still, it’s an improvement in my book. The iPad Air 2 hardware is impressive. Depending on which review I look at, the A8X processor and it’s associated GPU are very speedy and most benchmark tests put them even or ahead of Nvidia’s K1 Tegra chip in the Nexus 9. Never have to worry about accessories for an iDevice. Plenty of them out there…though I can’t say I’ve seen many Lightning-to-HDMI cables. No lack of options for a keyboard folio though. The iPad Air 2 relies on iTunes for it’s apps, of course, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know I can use my Office 365 subscription to get the iOS versions of my favorite Office software. I know most of the apps I use on Android have an iOS equivalent (many probably started on iOS). iTunes is a great tool…EXCEPT…I like to put my own video on my tablets. Anyone know a good way to do that on an iDevice that does not require use of a PC or Mac with iTunes? I saw a little snippet somewhere of someone trying to use Dropbox to transfer video onto their iPhone or iPad, but it didn’t sound very simple or successful. Can’t exactly plug a USB drive into an iPad and transfer data over, can I? Price-wise, a 64gb iPad Air 2 would run $729 up front or $99 down and $26/month. Not too much worse than the Nexus 9 (except the $99 up front). Keyboard folio would be cheaper by a few bucks ($89-99 instead of $129). Still…the inability to do my own thing bothers me…and the fact that it looks like I’d need to take the iPad Air 2 and my laptop on a trip to transfer additional video to it (or load up the memory with videos and/or buy a costly WiFi-based hard drive for extra storage). 64gb is a decent amount of storage space…but I’d rather not have to take the time to sync things over before I leave on a trip if I might not watch them anyhow.
Conclusion (You mean I’m almost done?!)
So, there’s my dilemma. I’ve pretty much ruled out the Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 Edition). It’s down to the Nexus 9 or the iPad Air 2. Leaning towards the Nexus 9. Please feel free to share your thoughts. Nexus 9 won’t be available for another week (from T-Mobile with LTE radio), so I have some time still to ponder…
Technobabbling as always,