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Issue: Spring 2014

How I Learned to Love My Android Tablet

"It's fun to use to browse the web.", said the Kobo publicist. Hmm. Reading web pages on a 7" screen, it took me I while, but I learned to love the little 7" beauty. For those who haven't noticed, last year I compared e-readers here at Festivale. I rapidly became addicted to getting my fiction digitally. I want it. I need it. I click it.

Of course, I'm not impressed by the fact that my continued possession of the material is reliant upon the retailer. Digital Rights Management sucks. But otherwise, I'm ignoring life and writing and reading, reading, reading. I read with the Kindle App (thumbs down for Amazon not completely supporting multi-language readers like myself), and I read with the Kobo App (thumbs up for it's ability to search for epubs on the device).

For me Android (the operating system) has always been one more potential rod for my back. Early forays into using the Kobo (and Android) for more than just reading were fraught with unpleasantness. I connected the tablet via USB to my Windows 7 notebook and discovered that not all files on the Kobo can be seen in Windows Explorer. Not because of extension, or properties, or creation software, just random snarkiness. Richard Hryckiewicz says he's seen the same thing on other Android devices.

I developed a workaround for this. I downloaded an excellent free app (program) called ES File Explorer.

File Explorer uses the wireless connection (on Kobo Arc, Kindle Fire, and Google Nexus) and will scan the local area network for devices. One can connect to these devices using that device's username and password, and access files. The only downside with File Explorer is that it doesn't identify devices by name. For that I use Fing.

Using ES File Explorer I could transfer files between devices, including ripped movies and television shows. Yep, I could watch them on my android tablet. The devices I tested all have excellent resolution. I could also stream movies across the wifi, but in almost every instance at some point the movie drops out and I have to restart it. Sigh.

More critically, I could write notes and articles on my android tablet and transfer the files to my Windows machines. I will be publishing a detailed review of Android word processors in the coming weeks.

For testing I used OfficeSuite Pro. I got the trial version with the Kobo Arc and since the price was low and I was happy with the product, I bought it. (I will be publishing a review.)

Android e-reader Apps

Let me talk quickly about the ereader apps.

So far I haven't found an app that does what I'd love -- writes my notes and highlighted text to a separate, related file. For reviews and for studying I like to flag sections of text but with most readers (except the Sony e-reader) the notes are lost if and when the book file is removed. Why? I'm not the only person who habitually removes books from the reader. Except for the Kobo Aura e-reader all the devices I've tested have fallen afoul of the author order sort. They blame the publishers. The mobi and epub formats should have an author sort field, if they don't, this needs to be addressed. Until it is, large numbers of books on a device are a pain to sort through.

For a review on the Kobo reader/library/store app, click here.

For a review on the Kindle Fire reader/library/store interface, click here.

The Interfaces - Using the Devices

I tested the following devices: Kobo Arc, Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus and the Google Play Pendo. I was supposed to test the Samsung devices but they never arrived.

The Kobo Arc comes preloaded with Kobo's storefront/reader/library apps and a range of freebie apps. It is a relatively standard Android interface with a desktop interface called Tapestry that enables the user to group apps, apply a wallpaper and generally make the device one's own.

The Nexus is a standard Android interface which enables the user to move apps between screens of app icons, and to set a wallpaper.

The Kindle Fire is a variation. The device is hard-coded to act as Amazon set it up, which is more like a multi-media playing/reading device that can run other apps rather than a tablet computer. It combines icons with a hard-coded menu across the width of the screen. For a more detailed review of the Kindle Fire, click here.

The Pendo rapidly failed testing. It ran Android, or to be more accurate, it wandered Android. An inexpensive device it still failed to deliver good bang-for-buck. The Pendo used battery power at a ridiculous, unworkable rate, and Richard Hryckiewicz and I both failed to get any computer or notebook to talk to it using the USB connection.

Talking to Other Devices

All the devices I tested talked to the Internet via wifi, although not all would talk to all sites with the provided browsers. They were all supposed to connect through USB for file transfer and charging, but the Pendo didn't work. The Kobo Arc I tested didn't have bluetooth, but the newer models do. The Kindle and the Nexus both had bluetooth (the Pendo didn't), and for me that was a win.

Because here is the thing about my Android tablet. It's a small size, about the same as a paperback book, even in its protective case, and I take it everywhere.

I can read just about anywhere, although changing the brightness to adjust for direct sunlight is easiest through the Kobo app, or other readers such as Moon Reader. It couldn't be done within the Kindle reader on the Kindle Fire and had to be done through the global settings for the device (bummer).

So if I'm taking the tablet everywhere, and it has word processing capabilities, why not use my coffee shop time to write articles and reviews?

Yes! This is why bluetooth is so important, because I can use a small bluetooth keyboard to comfortably type my pieces. Yes, I could hunt and peck with the screen keyboard, but yuk! it's slow and prone to errors.

I chose the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Windows 8 and Android, which is a bluetooth tablet that works well with all the bluetooth-enabled Android tablets I tested it on, including with the Kindle Fire.

The Tablet keyboard comes with a hard case that unfolds into a stand for the tablet. The keyboard has full-sized keys and I easily typed my 100+ words a minute on it.

The only downside was I had a tendency to reach for the (non-existent) mouse, but the keyboard fits easily (and lightly) into my backpack, barely sticks out of my handbag, and together with the tablet offers a lighter, convenient alternative to carrying my notebook around every day.

The keyboard also doesn't have a sleep mode and ran through (4 AAA) batteries quickly if left turned on.

Remote Control Collection

So yes, the Android tablet makes working on the go easy, but how about working at home? Could it, for example, remotely control my media PC and save me getting up and down, or using a full-size wireless keyboard. Oh yes it can!

All right, I admit I was excited to find the Remote Control Collection. I put the server app on my media PC (Windows XP in my case), and used google play to download the software. With it I could easily use my Android tablet as a mouse pad. I paid for the app and I got a less effective version of my Windows desktop on my Android touch screen. I found the gestures for controlling the Windows desktop not intuitive and slow. But it worked. It worked on all the devices because it uses wifi, but the Pendo, again, was too slow for usability.


So what would I buy? That's a difficult question. What would I recommend? Hmm. If you are a user who wants a multi-media playing/buying device with maybe a bit extra, and you're happy to marry Amazon, then the Kindle Fire is easy and effective. For more flexibility and better apps, the Nexus or the Kobo are the choice. They are reasonably priced and run standard Android apps from Google Playstore, the Kindle does not.

For me, devices that have a smooth surface with no border are less pleasant to use. They may be pretty, but they slip in my fingers, whereas the 'framed' devices have a better grip.

Have I given up my notebook? Of course not. It is a workhorse that I use everyday. But the Android tablet has given me an increased mobility for a lighter weight and a smaller footprint that I appreciate when I am on the road. In the words of a friend, "I want it, I need it, I'll use it every day."

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