What Tablet Should You Buy?

Hi, I am Frank, and I am the designated geek. You know, the type of person who you and your friends seek out on all matters technical. At this time of the year designated geeks get asked for recommendations for what computer, smartphone, or tablet to buy. If I am asked by a person I know every well, I might provide a specific recommendation, but usually my answer is going to be preceded by questions such as how they intend to use the device and whether they have any preferences.

I find that unless someone has very specific preferences, like they will never use Android or Windows, most people want to buy the best device that they can afford. Consequently, my recommendations on tablets are driven by price points. Obviously, if you absolutely want an iPad, you can go straight to Apple’s web site and pick one you can afford, although I do not recommend an iPad that does not have at least 32 GB of storage.

My answer to the question of which tablet to buy is a bit more complicated this year than last because of the emergence of large screen smartphones. Before buying a tablet, you might want to consider whether a 6-inch or 5-inch screen will suite the needs you will have for a tablet and smartphone. Many people are now opting to not buy two devices, but instead buying the iPhone 6 Plus, Nexus 6, Galaxy Note, or Moto X smartphones.

Frankly, I prefer smaller smartphones like the original Moto X, but they aren’t going to replace a tablet for me, and if you are like me, are interested in buying a new tablet, and don’t care whether the tablet is an iPad or runs Android, then my main question to you is, how much do you want to spend?

If you don’t want to spend more than $200 on a tablet, then you will stick with one of the 7-inch models available. While Google no longer sells the Nexus 7, you can buy good 7-inch tablets from Amazon (I recommend the Kindle Fire HDXs) and HP (I recommend the HP 8 G2) [Disclosure]. You will also find many 7-inch tablets for sale for less than $200, in some cases much less, but I do not recommend them because they either have very poor screens, slow processors, or too little memory to run Android apps at what I consider acceptable performance. Do not buy a tablet that has less than 16 GB of storage!

If you don’t want to spend more than $300 on a tablet, I recommend the Nvidia Shield, which runs Android, has a great screen and a fast processor. If you really want an iPad, the lowest price one I would consider is the 32 GB iPad Mini 2 for $349.

If you don’t want to spend more than $400 you have three options, if you are going to mostly use the tablet to read books then I recommend the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, if you want a Google Android tablet then I recommend the Nexus 9, or if you want the ability to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time, then I recommend the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4-inch tablet.

Chances are that if you are willing to spend more than $400 on a tablet, you are interested in an iPad. You can buy either the 64 GB iPad Mini 3, if you are ok with a 7-inch screen, the 32 GB iPad Air. I do not recommend the 16 GB iPad Air 2, the minimum iPad Air 2 I recommend is the 64 GB model that costs $599.

If you are willing to spend more than $400 and want Android and a screen larger than the Nexus 9’s 8.9-inch screen, then I recommend either the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition if you want a stylus, and if you want one of the largest tablet screens there is the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.

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Why I Bought The Google Nexus 9

I’ve purchased the white, 32 GB, version of the Nexus 9 tablet, which will become my daily driver, replacing the Galaxy Note 8. The Nexus 9 will also replace the 2012 Nexus 7 that I have mainly to test updates to Android. I will be writing of my experience incorporating the Nexus 9 into my work flow.

The main reason why I bought the Nexus 9 is that my other tablets are approaching two years old or older and are getting long in the tooth in terms of processing power. I have also made the decision that going forward all of my devices will have at least 32 GB of storage after encountering problems upgrading to iOS 8 on my 16 GB iPad 3.

I waited until Apple’s iPad announcement before making a final decision on which tablet I was going to buy this year. So why did I choose the Nexus 9 over an iPad?

During this fall’s iPad announcement I decided to not buy the iPad Air 2 for two reasons: price and functionality. Apple is only selling 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models of the iPad Air 2, and having determined 16 GB is too little storage, that pushes me to the 64 GB model that costs $599, which is more than I want to spend on a tablet that does not have LTE. I also decided that while the iPad Air 2 will run much faster than my iPad 3, it doesn’t really have any features that I consider “must-have.”

Of course, if price is my main hang up, there are lower price iPad options. I could buy last year’s 32 GB iPad Air for $449 or I could buy the 64 GB iPad Mini 3 for $499. While the iPad Air is a perfectly good device, at this point why would I spend nearly $500 for a device that is not the latest model? Frankly, it seems to me that the Nexus 9 is positioned to compete with the iPad Mini rather than the iPad Air, so I went through the mental exercise of comparing the two.

I decided on the Nexus 9 over the iPad Mini 3 for three reasons: screen size, ecosystem, and long-term viability.

Whichever tablet I picked is replacing the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as my daily driver tablet. Having used the 8-inch screen on the Note 8 for some time, I have decided that I prefer a larger tablet screen. The iPad Mini’s screen is practically the same size as the Note 8, so it would provide no improvement on that front. I felt that the 8.9-inch screen that the Nexus 9 has could be hitting the sweet spot between the iPad Air and Nexus 7 and in just the brief time I have used the Nexus 9 I find this to be the case.

I know many will raise their eyebrows over the idea of one picking the Android ecosystem over iOS, but for me as someone who has been using Android tablets for several years, I’ve grown accustomed to the apps and functionality that Android provides. I prefer Android over iOS, even if it may not be the best tablet UI. My hope is that Lollipop makes Android a better tablet UI than previous generations of Android.

Finally, I have doubts about the long-term viability of the iPad Mini, and I think there is a good chance that the Mini 3 is the last in its line. I was shocked when Apple first announced the Mini because in my opinion Apple built it in response to the Nexus 7 and other 7-inch tablets. Steve Jobs basically said Apple would never make a 7-inch tablet, and I believe if he were still alive that would be the case. Under Steve Jobs Apple never responded to their competitors.

Now that Apple is selling the iPhone 6 Plus, I am skeptical whether people will continue to buy the iPad Mini. If one wants a smaller screen iOS device, the 6-inch iPhone 6 plus seems to be the way to go and eliminates the need to buy two devices. If you want a device with a screen larger than 6-inches, why would you pick the Mini over the Air? I think the iPad Mini is basically the equivalent of the iPod Mini, a product category that has a short term need but is eventually replaced by other Apple products.

By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple released a 6 inch iPod Touch that replaces the current models and fills a price point need for a lower price iOS device.

So, now you see the reasons why I picked the Nexus 9 over the iPad Air and iPad Mini. I honestly did not even consider other Android tablets, particularly Samsung’s, because I still think there is value in owning a “Google” device, and I don’t expect the Play Edition versions of other vendor phones to be around much longer. In just the little time that I have had with the Nexus 9 and I can already say that I am very happy with the purchase.

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A Smartwatch Is An Accessory, Not A Personal Computer

Due to Apple’s event last week, there is currently much discussion about the viability of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is the first new product category from Apple since the iPad, and the first since Tim Cook became CEO of Apple. Reaction to it is mixed, torn between those who have faith in a company who has successfully convinced us in the past that we really do need a product, such as the iPad, and those who see the Apple Watch with its complicated looking home screen and multiple buttons as very “un-Apple.”

The problem is, I think, that Apple has not clearly communicated why the Apple Watch exists and why one needs to own one. When it launched the iPhone, Apple told us it was the best music player that could also make phone calls, browse the web, and handle email; later thanks to the App Store, the iPhone became the device for doing whatever one needs (there is an app for that). Apple told us the iPad is really the only personal computer many of us need, marking the beginning of the “post-PC” era.

After watching the launch of the Apple Watch, do you know why you need one?

The problem is not Apple’s alone, before Tim Cook took the stage last week Google had already announced Android Wear and its first consumer incarnation in smartwatches. I can’t help put feel that smartwatches are a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. I don’t doubt that seeing notifications on my wrist may be convenient, but do I need it? In contrast, a smartphone is pretty much a necessity today. Why? Because for most the smartphone is their primary personal computer.

A smartwatch is always going to be an accessory, and I think the thrashing about that we are seeing is an attempt to make the product category something that it is not. Because it is an accessory does not make the smartwatch a bad thing, accessories are an important part of a lot of different markets. Think of the “regular” watches people own today, they are pieces of jewelry, some more pretty than functional, and jewelry by definition is an accessory. Indeed some people spend thousands of dollars on accessories.

The smartwatch is not a personal computer on your wrist, right now it is an input/output device for smartphones. Input/output devices like monitors, keyboards, and mice are called accessories. What I see is Apple and Google attempting to make the smartwatch much more than it is, most likely to justify their high price.

Should the smartwatch be a personal computer on your wrist? I do not think so, mostly because I don’t think it is feasible to make a personal computer in a form factor that looks good and is comfortable on a wrist. I do think, however, that one reason why I might want a smartwatch is to accessorize my personal computing.

Regular watches as jewelry are accessories for people, smartwatches need to be accessories in the same way and to become that they need to integrate with more than just smartphones, they need to integrate with the world around me. For example, it is widely accepted that userids and passwords are not secure, and with the seemingly endless stream of announcements of data theft, it is clear we need a more secure model of authentication. What if the smartwatch, while securely attached to my body, could be used as a factor in two-factor authentication? Here, I am thinking of something like how the Apple Watch will work with Apple Pay, but used in all instances of authentication and not just for payments.

In my opinion, the smaller the device the more specific its function, and the problem I see with both Android Wear and Apple Watch is that they both are trying to do too much. Right now, I think Android Wear is better on track with its focus on notifications, but both platforms attempt to incorporate applications that make it more of a general computing device, and as I said, a smartwatch is an accessory, not a personal computer.

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A Coral Reef Is An Ecosystem, A Super Market Is Not

An ecosystem is more like a coral reef than a super market. All sorts of aquatic life depend on a coral reef for their existence and if that coral reef is destroyed most of the aquatic life that depends on it would also die. While I need a super market to buy food, if the super market down the street closes I can always find another one.

I see constant references to “ecosystems” in the context to shopping. The Apple ecosystem is based on the iTunes store where one can buy music and movies, and Apple’s retail stores where one can get support and buy products that work with Apple’s hardware. The Amazon ecosystem is its web site where one can buy books, music, and movies that can be played on personal computing devices.

In my opinion an ecosystem is more than just the ability to buy stuff, to me an ecosystem is about sustainability. Putting personal computing in context of ecosystems, can a user continually benefit from using a computer that improves their life? For me ecosystems aren’t just whether I can buy books, music or movies, but also whether the information I need to grow and be productive is available to me.

Google is an information company that makes money by selling ads associated with information. Apple is a hardware company that makes money by selling the best hardware. Amazon is an online retailer that makes money by making it easy for users to buy stuff.

A coral reef doesn’t exist to form an ecosystem, the ecosystem that forms around it is a consequence of its existence. In my opinion, Google is the only company of the three that has as a result of its primary purpose the formation of an ecosystem. It not only provides music and movies, but it also provides access to a wide range of information, from email to maps, to information on Google Now, to web searches.

I have many reasons to go back to the “coral reef Google” because my life involves more than just buying stuff. I need answers to the questions I have as I go about my life, and each time I go back to the “coral reef Google” to nibble on more information, “coral reef Google” benefits from my presence.

When I need to buy something, I usually go to the “supermarket Amazon” because I trust it to have the product I need at an affordable price and the company ships the product to my front door. Frankly, no device whether it is sold by Apple, Samsung, Motorola, or HTC is going to prevent me from shopping at Amazon.

Now we come to the challenge that Amazon has to over come in selling their Fire smartphone. The questions I need answers to occur much more frequently and at many more locations than my need to shop. If I am lost and need directions to the nearest store, I need those directions right now and I know I will find those directions by asking Google on my smartphone.

On the occasions when I need to shop, while it might be convenient for me to do so on my smartphone, I am most likely capable of waiting until I have access to a notebook computer. I most likely don’t need to shop right now, and if I do need a product right now, I am going to the store for which I need directions to and not to Amazon’s web site.

For most people the need for answers and information is more important than the need to shop. Android phones that have full access to Google’s services are best suited for providing answers and information. Unfortunately for Amazon, it is also very easy for me to shop from Amazon on those same Android phones.

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Amazon’s Phone May Not Be On Fire

It’s far too early to say whether Amazon’s new smartphone, announced today, is going to succeed or not, but first impressions matter. Having read what has been written about the Amazon Fire, I currently have two thoughts. Amazon has added enough to the Fire Phone to differentiate it from the iPhone and other Android handsets. Dynamic Perspective aside, however, I am not sure Amazon is trying hard enough to really sell this phone.

No other smartphone, or tablet for that matter, uses sensors or cameras to improve device navigation. The closest thing that I can think of is Samsung’s Smart Screen feature they include in their tablets and phones that keeps the screen on as long as the front-facing camera detects your face. We are currently entrenched in touch and swipe interaction with devices, so I applaud Amazon for taking a stab at providing a different approach.

The question, of course, is whether Dynamic Perspective, and the UI and navigation enhancements it provides is so compelling that consumers will chose the Amazon Fire phone over an iPhone or any of the Android phones.

Which leads me to my sense that Amazon is not trying hard enough to sell this phone. The price for the Amazon Fire is the same as an iPhone and most Android phones, as are the performance and specifications. Why would you buy an Amazon Fire smartphone rather than an iPhone 5S or a Samsung S5?

In my opinion, if Amazon was pushing to sell significant numbers of this phone it would have much more aggressive pricing and include bundled services. With the Prime Music streaming release earlier in the week, I really expected that Amazon’s phone would be the first to come with AT&T’s Sponsored Data. As I understand it, with Sponsored Data, Amazon could have paid AT&T to allow Prime Music streaming to not count against a user’s data cap.

Instead, the on-contract price for the Amazon Fire phone is $199, no different than other phones, and there are really no bundled services. You do get one year of Amazon Prime, which is a $100 value but I don’t think consumers will view that as a discount on the price of the phone, and it is a limited offer.

I don’t think Amazon’s smartphone sales are going to be on fire, for now. Amazon is surely planning to be in the smartphone market for the long haul, and so I expect the Fire will be on more carriers and will bundle services over time. The risk, however, is expecting the Fire to over time have the same results as the Kindle.

Even though Amazon sells everything, most people first think of it as a a book store. The Kindle, and the Kindle Fires, as ebook readers, are a natural product for a book store. You think of ebooks, you think of Amazon and the Kindle. When consumers think of smartphones, are they going to think of Amazon?

While one can understand why Amazon wants to sell smartphones in order to sell more products, it is hard to understand why consumers will want to buy an Amazon smartphone. For the Fire to succeed, Amazon will have to provide consumers with a reason for why they want it.

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