The gadget conundrum

For the past several years, I have been swimming in papers, borrowing laptops and leaving stacks of notes around the house from meetings. The work on various Craft Council committees (as well as my own researches and photography) generate a slew of wreckage in their wake and also mess up my house. This reached a critical point this spring and I resolved to do something about it. I needed something light-weight, portable and easily-used in meetings held in a wild array of eclectic locations.

What I need is a tool and not a toy and “therein lies the rub”. Marketing tends to focus on the Toy Factor of things like the iPad; their appeal lies in the way that you can access content and enjoy graphics, watch videos, play games, use video conferencing and social networking and generally play with them.  There’s that word again, “play”. Now I have no objection to toys, but when you’re looking for a tool that shares many tech specs with the item marketed as a “useful toy” (which means a toy that you can justify to yourself as having some sort of practical application), the waters get a little muddy and it’s hard to discern what it practical and what is goofball fun.

My search parameters were as follows:

  • require wifi, bluetooth and touch-screen in a tablet device
  • need a minimum of 32 GB storage, especially if I intend to do any image manipulation (which I do)
  • must be able to use word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools
  • should do a really nice-quality slideshow of images for presentations and
  • have to somehow be able to hook my camera into it via usb
  • must be able to somehow connect a portable HD to it
  • must be connectable to a TV or projector
  • should have a keyboard or have one that can be added
  • should be responsive and comfortable to use
  • webcam should work well, camera is not really important
  • must be durable and portable and as light as possible (although the laptop I was using is so bloody heavy that ANYTHING feels like an improvement!)
  • battery life should be enough to get me through a long meeting or a full night of reading with my Kindle app
  • should be as cheap as possible; preferably in the $500 ballpark as opposed to the $1000 ballpark. While I enjoy technology, I also enjoy eating, making mortgage payments and saving for retirement.

So here’s what I gleaned from the two to which I narrowed it down:

iPad 2

iPad 2, 32GB storage with wifi (not 3G) – $619 – 1.3lb

keyboard case – $99 – 1 lb

adapter for camera/memory card/usb – $35 – weight neglible

various apps that I require – $50

total weight around 2.5 lbs, with necessary accessories

total cost: $803, before taxes and any other gizmos that I might find that I need

pros:

  • lighter: tablet section is MUCH slimmer and lighter
  • apps launch a little more quickly because it’s a closed system
  • interface is more “fun” and flashier
  • battery life (up to 10 hours)

cons:

  • cost – the unit itself is pricey and then they nickle and dime you for attachments to replicate what should be standard features
  • USB not built in (which is really important for the types of work I do)
  • no memory card reader built in (which is an obvious money-grubbing tactic and therefore makes me grumpy).
  • memory card reader attachment sticks out and is just asking to be broken. (same for usb)
  • appears to be built more for receiving and viewing content than entering it or creating it
  • total reliance upon ipad apps (although there are thousands, so this is probably not a huge deal)
Acer Iconia W500-BZ607

Acer Iconia W500-BZ607 with windows 7, 32 GB storage and wifi – $509

keyboard case – keyboard included, carrying case $50

adapter for camera/memory card/usb – not required, 4 usb ports available on unit along with card reader

total weight around 3.5lbs, with all accessories

total cost: $559 before taxes

pros:

  • cost
  • complete operating system, with more power and ability to do complex things
  • SD card slot (with the card neatly tucked all the way inside), so my 32GB unit can become a 64GB unit for a few extra dollars
  • keyboard snaps to tablet easily and detaches easily
  • very nice screen! Touch feature works beautifully. Am thinking an articulated stylus would be great for drawing.
  • windows OS means that most of the apps I use at home can be used on the tablet, so I can synchronise easily between them
  • worked beautifully in a meeting and handles all the file formats I regularly need quickly and cleanly.

cons:

  • weight (it’s about 1 lb heavier with accessories all-in)
  • not as gimmicky – if you’re looking for a toy, not a tool, this tablet probably won’t appeal to you. It’s a workhorse.
  • battery life (realistically seems to be about 5.5 hours)

I’m still trying to decide whether to keep the Iconia. I’m really enjoying it, but the two factors that niggle at me at the weight difference and the flashiness of the iPad. Of course, the price difference is a really strong counter-argument, as it the card reader/usb issue!

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