Web browsing, Facebook, shopping, music, video, game playing, research and a few hundred things more are made for tablets. That's how I see it.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Cheapskate's guide, Part 1: Tablets

Revised with reader's comment below.

November 17, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

When the lady from OASIS, where I teach, sent an email a few weeks ago to tell me that my upcoming Mac class didn't have many students signed up, I immediately understood why. She knew where to reach me. She sent it to my iPad.

The fact that the instructor -- ahem, the guy I see in the mirror -- wasn't even using his Mac explained everything. Macs are so last century. So are PCs. I use my iPad and Android tablets throughout the day. I use my Mac when I have to do something old fashioned. Like reindexing my website. Or backing up the seven or eight hard drives on my desk downstairs.

I'm not likely to stop using my Mac entirely, but I'm clearly a tablet kind of guy. Web browsing, Facebook, shopping, music, video, game playing, research and a few hundred things more are made for tablets. That's how I see it.

So let's start this year's Cheapskate's Guide by declaring The End of Old Fashioned Computers. In capital letters, just like that. If you're starting to pine for that MacBook-whatever or that Dell ultra-something laptop, wake up; this is the 21st Century. Laptops are going away. Desktop computers are going away, except in offices -- and they'll be turkeys there, too, in another decade or so.

If you haven't already jumped on the post-PC wagon, here is a one-paragraph summary: Tablets come in three types -- Apple's iPads, Microsoft's Surface models and Android's various kinds. iPads are uniformly wonderful but almost inexcusably expensive. Surface tablets are a work in progress and are, like iPads, incredibly expensive. Android tablets range from ridiculously cheap to stupidly expensive, and are clearly the best buys among tablets.

Your friends will tell you to just go out and buy an iPad. That's fine if you don't mind the cost. All the models of iPads cost a lot, and competing tablets running Android usually don't. I'm ignoring Windows tablets because they're like the fourth leg on a three-legged stool -- unnecessary and ill-conceived. To name just one objection, the regular, non-pro Surface tablet is called a "Windows RT" device but it can't run Windows itself and won't run your Windows software.

The hottest-selling iPad is the Mini. It's $299 for the least-capable version. The Android tablet I recommend instead is the Hisense Sero 7 Pro, at $129 -- less than half the cost. (Walmart sells the Sero 7 Pro.) The Sero 7 Pro even has a memory card slot so you can add extra storage easily, something you can't do at any cost with the Mini.

You can argue that choosing an iPad is easier. You have only a few models to choose from -- the new full-size iPad, the new smaller Mini, and the old-model iPad 2. Apple limits the models intentionally, for that precise reason -- so you'll go right to the Apple Store instead of comparison shopping among hundreds of Android tablets. (I find it odd that Apple is still selling the technologically ancient iPad 2. That's no way to compete with Android tablets.)

Here are my main Android recommendations. Small tablet: Hisense Sero 7 Pro from Walmart, $129; Mid-size tablet: Amazon Kindle HDX Fire 8.9-inch direct from Amazon (search for Kindle Fire on the Amazon website), $379 and up; large tablet: Google Nexus 10, direct from Google at www.google.com/nexus/10, $399 and up.

What about cheaper, less versatile Android tablets? Here are some that can get you started, at bargain prices. They are all available at Walmart's website, www.walmart.com:

Nextbook 7-inch, $69; Velocity Micro Cruz 9.7-inch, $119; Visual Land 10-inch, $149. Even as I write this, I see prices falling. Don't be surprised to find a 10-inch Android tablet for less than $100.

Cheap? You bet. Take that, iPad.

Next: Good smartphones, cheap plans.

Comment from reader

Here's an interesting comment I received.

Just read your column from last week, and I'm not buying it for one moment. Tablets spell the end of computers the same way that microwave ovens spelled the end of the kitchen stove. Sure, some things are a lot easier in the microwave, but have you ever tried baking a cake in one? Each tool has its purpose, and while you can use a hammer to put a screw into a piece of wood, I wouldn't recommend it.

I love my MacBook Pro, my iPad, and my iPod Touch (I also love my Oxford commas, which I'm also told are on the way out), and I use them each for different things. I know that if I intend to type anything longer than a paragraph, or want to do some serious word processing, I need to put down the iPad and get out the laptop. I've tried using the iPad as a mini-laptop, and it just didn't work...even with the external keyboard, it just wasn't up to the "heavy lifting" that I wanted it to do, and that my laptop could do without breaking a sweat.

My MacBook Pro is the kitchen stove...it can do pretty much everything. My iPad is the microwave oven (and I can't tell you the last time I actually made Rice-a-Roni on the stove in a frying pan). And my iPod Touch is the toaster. They all have different purposes and a little overlap. If all you're ever gonna eat are frozen dinners, then the microwave is just fine. But if you intend to do some cooking from scratch, you'll need the stove.

And college students who try to get by with just using an iPad instead of laptop? Good luck when it comes time to write a paper that needs footnotes and other special formatting that Pages can't handle.

Keith E Gatling

Here's my response:

I agree with everything you say. Except for the time factor. At this point in time, your computer is more powerful, more useful and more essential, but that's only because we don't see around corners very well. Just recently, meaning in the last five years or so, many people I know told me they thought the trend toward ditching land lines in favor of household cell phones was crazy and they'd never do it. I said that too.

Guess what happened? (To me, too.) The wired phone is dead. Most Americans no longer have razor strops, cloth diapers, CB radios and wall phones. Before long, they also won't have traditional desktop PCs, and then, a little later, laptops.

Not because these things aren't useful. But because they started fading out of sight when substitutes came along. The replacements might be better or worse -- it doesn't matter. What matters is that they were successful. The Oxford comma has all but disappeared for the same kind of reason -- it's useful, but that doesn't matter; it's been replaced by the worst possible fate, nothing at all.