The Re-birth of the Tablet

by Stubborn Mule on 5 May 2010 · 6 comments

Last year I bought a Kindle e-book reader and wrote about its strengths and weaknesses. With the release of Apple’s iPad last month, people keep asking me whether I wish I had waited for that instead. The short answer is, no, but now a fellow gadget-aficionado, Tony (aka @thewordpressguy) has drawn my attention to another new device, the TEGA tablet, and has asked me for an opinion*. I am yet to get my hands on either device, but I won’t let that stop me expressing a view!

The history of tablet computers is showing every sign of repeating the pattern of mp3 players. The first mp3 player pre-dated the iPod by about 5 years, but it was not until Apple entered the market that they really began to take off. Two key factors behind Apple’s success were design and the iTunes store. Having owned a Creative Nomad Jukebox and an iRiver H340 before getting an iPod, I experienced first-hand how much better the user-interface of the iPod was than everything that came before (even if it lagged at times in its technical specifications). The iTunes store was even more important. While early-adopting enthusiasts like me may have had the motivation and patience to convert all of my CDs to mp3 format, this would not be true of most people. The iTunes store provided a simple and reasonably-priced way for people to get content onto their iPods. The rest is history.

Just like iPods, tablets have been around for some time before Apple entered the fray. The term was popularised by Microsoft in 2001, but tablets were around in one form or another well before that (you could even include Apple’s less than successful Newton). Just like the iPod, the iPad is no doubt a superbly-designed piece of hardware, with an intelligent user-interface (I am extrapolating from my experience with the iPhone as well as taking into account the plethora of articles I have read about the iPad). Combine that with the App store, which is to the iPad and iPhone what the iTunes store was to the iPod, and the success of the iPad looks assured.

While the iPod came to dominate the mp3 player market, the iPad may stimulate the emergence of a broader range of alternative tablets, much as the Google Android phone is showing signs of being a serious alternative to the iPhone. Based on Tony’s assessment of the TEGA, it could well be an early example of this phenomenon. While it does not offer Apple design, it does have a few other things instead, such as USB, card-reader ports (rather than having to rely on external adapters as the iPad does) and a built in 3G modem which allows you to pop in your own sim card (so no more 3G dongles). What may hold even greater appeal for some is that it is operating-system agnostic: while most people would buy it with Windows 7 installed, it will also ship with Linux.

The release of the TEGA is an interesting development and I am sure there will be more iPad alternatives to come, but that brings me back to the original question. Do I have Kindle-regret? Would an iPad, a TEGA or something else be better?

I do not. The Kindle certainly has its shortcomings, some of which I discussed in my original review, but here’s what it gives me that the alternatives do not:

  • electronic-ink display – while the page-turning flicker may be annoying to some, I continue to find it a very easy medium to read, particularly in bright light
  • battery life – with 3G turned off (except for when I am making a purchase), I get two weeks or more between charges. The iPad offers an impressive 10 hours, so the gap is closing, but the Kindle retains the lead for now. Clocking in at only 2.5 hours, the TEGA remains a laggard on this score and it cannot be a serious contender until this improves.
  • price -  compared to prices of portable computers only a few years ago, with prices starting at US$499 the iPad looks cheap. But at US$259, the Kindle is a lot cheaper. Of course, it cannot do what the iPad can do, but if you are after an e-book reader (as I was) that may not matter. The TEGA is closer to US$1,000 (A$1,187.98) and at that price looks expensive.
  • continuous partial attention – on a computer I cannot help flicking from email to twitter to following links, so perhaps I suffer from a touch of CPA. What this means is that a single-purpose device like the Kindle is ideal for me and offers a better, less-interrupted reading experience. It may seem absurd to some to want to impose restrictions on a device, but in this case it is an advantage for me.

As a bit of a gadget-obsessive, I may well succumb to the lure of an iPad one day (perhaps 2.0), or indeed a descendant of the TEGA or something similar. For now though, I will happily continue reading on the Kindle.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that if enough fellow-bloggers post on the topic of the TEGA, Tony will have the option of purchasing a heavily-discounted unit.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JamesGlover May 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

This is not about the Tega as, unlike you Mule, I am not bold enough to review a product I haven’t even touched yet. It is an update on the Kindle experience.

Having had my Kindle now for about 7mths I can say I like it better than when I started, especially now the choice of e-books has increased dramatically – largely as a result of Australian publishers reacting to the e-book demand and getting e-publishing agreements in place. One of the the things I most like about it is the size – it’s the size of a small penguin classic, one with 100 pages. It is easy to read anywhere but particularly in bed. About the only negative aspect, for me, is having to shine a reading light directly onto the page as, despite what a lot of non-users think, it is not backlit. I heard about the problem of page flicker from a non-user who described it (based on another user’s description) as like it was “flashing” at you as the page changes. For me it’s nothing of the sort and I barely notice it. I guess some people’s eyes/brains are wired differently and it may be a problem. Probably best to borrow one first and try it out.

When I read Wolf Hall it came into it’s own. You can either buy WH as a 1000 page normal print book and damage your wrists holding it up or a 350pp book with tiny print and damage your eyesight. On the Kindle you can vary the font size depending on the time of day. Even though I wear reading specs my eyes appreciate the larger font late at night or in poorer light. I know this would also apply to other e-book readers and it’s probably the main reason I prefer e-books over paper ones.

I also like the access to Wikipedia. I used it recently to look up a mathematics theorem that was mentioned in one of the books. In John Banville’s The Untouchable there were about 100 archaic words that I didn’t know the meaning of and the instant dictionary (just move the cursor in front of the word and its definition appears at the bottom of the page) made it quite enjoyable to come across them. Possibly a feature that most Kindle users have yet to make much use of.

Even if I buy an iPad, and I probably will eventually, I will still use my Kindle for reading books.

2 Stubborn Mule May 11, 2010 at 10:55 am

James: well, “eventually” came around soon, didn’t it?

Even if I buy an iPad, and I probably will eventually, I will still use my Kindle for reading books.

3 JamesGlover May 12, 2010 at 8:34 am

Yes I have bought my iPad and the accoutrement have started to arrive already. I have a wireless keyboard ftw. Anyway here is an update on the Kindle experience. Something negative for a change. Maybe I am worried about nothing much but…

Last night I bought China Mievelle’s Perdido Street Station from Amazon.com to read on my Kindle. About an hour later at 8pm – so plenty of time I think – I tried to download it. It took me about 40 minutes of trying, including turning on/off and rebooting as suggested. Amazon.com showed that the book was ready to download. It appears it couldn’t connect to Whispernet.

I wonder if the Whispernet contract Amazon has is bandwidth limited and as more Aussies have signed up we’ll see this sort of delay at peak times as normal. It is additionally annoying as I had to turn Wirless On to connect so chewed up the battery which was low and I had to get out of bed and recharge it – grumble, grumble, grumble.

Maybe it was just a one-off glitch but would be annoying if becomes common. Any thoughts?

4 Stubborn Mule May 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

James: that’s not good. I haven’t experienced it myself, but I’ll be on the lookout.

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