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This is Karn's personal view on what is affecting WebKarnage in the world of web and here in the studio. Don't expect subtlety any time soon...
Android Tablets or iPod Touches:- Practical Uses.
A few months ago, we decided it was a useful idea to have something that made support and minor development tweaks possible, without having to take about £1k of MacBook Pro about to places where I wouldn't have my eyes on it, and the public nearby. It's not just the size (the 13" MacBook Pro is hardly a monster) but the cost in money and time/hassle of loosing my main machine with all the work and private information on it.
My first purchase to this end was a second-hand first generation 8GB Apple iPod Touch. Super-simple to set up in terms of email accounts, browser bookmarks, Address Book settings, calendars and more. Small, great battery life, and with the added purchase of FTP On The Go, ready to get in there! £70ish for the unit, about £10 spent on apps, & £10-15 spent on extras.
Downsides:- Very small screens (3 inch) are not the best thing to try and access a Direct Admin control panel on, and the small touch keyboard isn't practical either. Not easy to answer emails or support system threads on either. It really does take too long to do very much except read messages.
Fun sides:- Loads of great time-wasting games to be had! From the inimitable Angry Birds from Rovio Mobile (hugely popular and addictive). My son fell very quickly in love with this great little unit, and several of the great games we had on it. The Nintendo DSi was immediately relegated to second place for mobile/portable gaming! Not something we expected. He soon was using it more hours a day than I was, and would ask for it the minute I got home!
We decided that with various things being improved on the later iPods and iOS4 (which the first generation iPod touches won't run) that maybe an upgrade/update would be beneficial, but how much? Was there another option, maybe less game oriented (to reduce my son's possible involvement!) that would be in a reasonable price bracket? iPads were not an option here, as I'd end up taking around something that was getting too similar to the value I wasn't wanting to risk, and without file management to boot.
In comes the Eken M003 Android v1.6 based tablet! Just less than £90 for the unit I chose, 8" screen (800x480) 128MB RAM, 600MHz CPU, 1GB internal storage, and good connectivity. These are available on eBay from a good number of China based sellers, we had a delivery time of just 8 days, arriving in perfect condition. I added for now an existing (existing in my possession) 2GB microSD card to it's dedicated slot. It still has a USB2 port which takes storage, keyboards and as it turns out mice too! The Android 1.6 operating system that comes installed, is very visual and logical to operate (many similarities to iOS as you would expect) and reasonably well rounded for basic computing (web browsing, Documents To Go for office docs, email, Youtube, Google Maps & more).
Initial experiences were OK. Touch screen unsurprisingly not to the Apple standard at all. More pressure required, and both slower and less accurate too. Looks fine though, and dealt with Youtube videos, Google Maps and web browsing rather well. The zoom out to get web pages to fit the 800px wide screen (when held in landscape) was very practical, far more so than on the smaller iPod screen. The stated 1-2 hour battery life was very quickly proved to be incredibly conservative in most of my use, with the system telling me I had 46% battery left after 2 hrs 30 mins of use! A bit of a negative is the lack of a really good sleep mode in the system, meaning that if you aren't going to use it for a while, shutting it down it the only real option.
Adding new applications brought some interesting points. There was an App Market app on the M003, but this was not the Android Market, but another 3rd party one! Here we start to see Google's version of 'open' they were trying to make a big noise about. Apps available (even when free) in the Android Market it would appear are not allowed to be available outside the market once out of beta. Not quite so open as Google would like you to believe.
Games on this machine would be the only real disappointment, not really for me but as far as my son is concerned! The response isn't really all that quick, and the processor and memory are probably not enough to go with the screen resolution for gaming. The iPod has this machine well taped when it comes to gaming. Maybe getting one with 256MB would make quite a difference, and certainly it would seem the 10.2 in bigger brother (mentioned again later) would be a much better match. I can't speak from personal experience.
I thought exploring the options of the USB connectivity would then be important. USB keys of various sizes proved to be very good! Finding free apps on the web for Android on another computer, and using the USB key storage for transfer was very straightforward. Installation was too. I also managed to download packages directly from both it's App Market app and the browser and install them.
Next I thought I must try using a keyboard. Wow! Now we're talking! Not just fast typing, but a mouse pointer on the screen that can be moved using the arrow keys on the keyboard, with return to click the virtual left mouse button. Browsing the web now becomes very quick and easy! The old Packard Bell keyboard I had plugged in for the test had a USB port on it to add a mouse. Well, it would be churlish not to wouldn't it?! One Microsoft Intellimouse later and I was operating something that felt much more like a full computing system than I had any right to expect. The scroll wheel actually scrolls down selectable items rather than normally down the page, but still useful for sure. Touch screen clicking and scrolling can also be used simultaneously, making this feel very slick in all.
The FTP app I had found, AndFTP is one of the most responsive apps on the device and very well thought out. The cost? Free! Brilliant and generous work from Lysesoft. Really works well from our tests here. Combine this with the File Browser Android has, and things are really good.
The fact that the Android operating system gives you simple access to files on USB devices and it's other storage makes things so much easier than on the iPod, the comparisons for this type of work stop being worth making. the iPod has been left a long way behind. Yes, the newest iPod Touches will probably use the Bluetooth Apple keyboard, but just look at it's price. Roughly 2/3 of the price of the M003.
Don't forget that the only way I can make these price similar, is to buy a old iPod and a new M003. A new iPod Touch 8GB here starts at more than the 10.2 in screened big brother of this M003 that also has 256MB RAM, a 1.1GHz processor and runs Android 2.1 as well. This is actually the machine I would suggest most people wanting mainly web development and surfing should actually go for, as long as the extra size isn't prohibitive.
I have now ordered a few more cheap extras, a flexible silicone USB keyboard and a 32GB microSD card being among them. I could go on for far too long on how well these little chaps work. Very competent for what we needed at WebKarnage, but not for the world's gaming community. My son now has the iPod Touch, and I have this Eken tablet, both of us feeling we have the unit that suits us best.
What should you buy? Well, that totally depends on what you need the unit for. I expect many will love the iPad (my sister certainly loves her's) but that's not right for me, as was referred to earlier. Many of you might have an iPhone (I'm not more than doubling my contract to get one) that will do for you, but it won't compete for me with a larger screen + portable keyboard. Would I buy the exact model I have for children wanting to play games? No, you want either a similar one with more RAM (it's not upgradeable by the way), a faster processor, or both! You will have to decide for yourselves.
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