I’ve been meaning to blog about the two tablets I’ve been playing with for the last year+ for quite a while, and just never found the time or motivation. Let me say up front that I’m not writing this with the intention of swaying anyone’s opinions or influencing anyone’s purchase. I’ve been mulling the goods and bads about these two tablets around in my head for a long time and I just want to put them down somewhere so I can keep track of them.
My first and main tablet is my iPad (first generation) with 32 GB of memory and built-in GPS/3G networking. I bought it on May 11, 2010. At the time, we were just about to head across the country on a family driving-across-America vacation for two weeks. While I was definitely enamored with the iPad, I was trying to justify its $729 price tag by loading it up with movies and then having the kids watch the iPad as we trekked across the lower 48. While we did do this a few times during the trip, my shiny new iPad didn’t really serve this purpose as I had originally imagined and for the most part, the kids just did their own thing while we were driving. But it is smooth and stable and functional and does just about everything I could want in a tablet.
The second tablet I have is the Nook Color. I bought two of these off eBay on February 28, 2011 when they were $199 a piece. At the time, my wifey was asking for a tablet to play with and I’d been following the news of the Android hackers who had gotten a whole lot more functionality out of the Nook Color than it had been intended to provide. My wifey still uses her hacked Nook Color every day now, running CyanogenMod 7.0.3 Stable. I chose to keep tinkering with mine, however, so I’ve been running the CM7 nightlies for a while and now have CM 7.1.0 Stable installed. To be fair, I think I’ve pushed my Nook Color well past what it was designed for, so I think that quite a bit of the frustrations and complaints I have with my Nook Color are due to the inherently unstable hackery therein and are not indicative of Android tablets as a larger group, or even of the experience one would have running the stock software on their Nook Color.
But I think I’m through with trying to keep tweaking my Nook Color. $199 was a pretty inexpensive price to pay for a 7″ Android tablet, especially at the beginning of this year when there weren’t nearly as many options for Android tablets in the market. But I think I’ve reached the limits on how functional and stable and optimized and fun I can make it and am now tired of banging my head against this wall that won’t budge. So I wanted to list out some things about both tablets that are both good and bad below, and I’ll probably keep adding to them as I think of them over the next couple of months.
iPad – Pro’s
- The little dude is really, really stable. Even though iOS 5 seems to have some twitchiness that Apple hasn’t quite ironed out fully yet, my iPad1 almost never gives me problems with stability. Apps may crash every once in a while, and this probably has as much to do with iOS 5 as anything else, but the overall device stability is fantastic. Apple did a great job of protecting the core OS from app instability and I think I’ve only had to reboot my iPad a handful of times in the year and a half that I’ve owned it.
- Battery life is really good. It got worse with iOS 5, but it still lasts me a few days between charges with quite a bit of use throughout the day.
- Having an on-device GPS is really nice. While I typically been using my HTC EVO 4G as my GPS device and mapping solution when I drive, the big iPad screen + GPS Drive HD makes for a really nice GPS/turn-by-turn-map solution.
- Video playback is superb. My darling bride and I typically end our days together in bed, watching Snooker or some TV on my iPad, hooked up via Bluetooth to my Jawbone Jambox. Aside from some obnoxious video buffering problems that pop up every once in a while, the iPad1 plays back videos of all kinds (especially with the VLC iOS app) flawlessly.
- Bluetooth works flawlessly. This I especially appreciate because the Nook Color has a Bluetooth range of (no, seriously) about 10 inches. My iPad1’s Bluetooth stack is extremely stable and I can easily sit my Jambox down in one room for my wife to listen to and take my iPad with me into another room and still have a flawless music connection going over Bluetooth. Using my external Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad is quite enjoyable and accurate.
iPad – Con’s
- It’s not very customizable. In the customize versus stability trade-off department, this is understandable, but still kind of irritating. I love to tinker with my devices, so this bothers me every once in a while. And it’s sad, really, but I get bored sometimes with an otherwise perfectly working and stable device. I wish I could change UI themes and such on my iPad.
- Well, sort of in the customizable department, but I really wish you could change the keyboard on iOS devices in general and the iPad in particular.
- Hm, also in the customization department, but I really wish Apple would let you access things like music controls from the lock screen of the iPad. Android does a really nice job on this.
Nook Color – Pro’s
- I kind of like the 7-inch form factor. It’s different, at least. And you can conceivably throw it in a purse (which my wife does) and take it more places than you can a 10″ tablet like the iPad. Also, the little corner loop thing is cool, as are the lanyards you can easily put on it. It is definitely smaller in my SackPack than my iPad is.
- Extremely easy to customize and root and it’s just about brick-proof. If you’re looking for a toy to hack and play with, this is a really nice one. Of course, the flip-side of this coin is stability, so YMMV (mine certainly did).
- Customizable on-screen keyboards are really cool! I love SwiftKey on my Nook Color and Android phone. It is SO nice and I really wish iOS let you change keyboards.
- I don’t think I like the 7-inch form factor. I know, this contradicts what I said above, but the difference in screen-render-and-view size as well as room-to-interact size between 7″ and 10″ tablets is pretty significant. I don’t think I’d want anything smaller than 10″ for a tablet I’m going to use every day.
- Not very stable. At least, I’ve given up trying to get the CM 7.1.0 Stable ROM to be stable and reliable on my Nook Color. I know, this is more a statement of the stability of the CM 7.1.0 Stable ROM than it is of my Nook Color, and I could probably have a stable device if I just ran the CM 7.0.3 Stable ROM like my wife does, but that bothers me. If it’s a customizable toy then I want to run the latest and greatest on it, and that doesn’t work for me. From the widely-known Sleep Of Death problems to app crashes to bad battery statistics/voltages, etc., stability on my Nook Color is nothing like the stability of the iPad.
- Bluetooth is a joke. This, again, is because the Nook Color wasn’t even supposed to have Bluetooth at all. The Nook Color hackers found a way to get Bluetooth working, but the range is limited to 10 inches (no, seriously, 10 inches!), so it’s all but useless.
- Screen responsiveness and precision is bad, compared to the iPad. Now, this, I think, is maybe more true to all 7-inch tablets? Or at least, I would think that the precision required to click on things on 7-inch tablet is much higher than that on a 10-inch tablet. At any rate, I am constantly finding myself clicking on something other than what I intended to click on on my Nook Color, and only rarely find that happening on my iPad.
- No built-in GPS. While TetherGPS lets you use the GPS from your Android phone on your Nook Color, it’s not nearly as nice as having GPS built in on the Nook Color.
- The CPU seems to just not be able to keep up. Even overclocked at 1.2Ghz, my Nook Color hits 100% CPU usage an awful lot and it freezes the entire tablet very often, which makes for a pretty unreliable experience.
- Battery usage is really bad, especially in the CM 7.1.0 release. I think it was much better in the 7.0.3 release that my wifey is running, but I can’t let the little guy go for more than a day and a half, it seems, before he’s dead.
- External keyboard support is really bad. I’m not sure how much of this should be chalked up to the horrible Bluetooth support on the Nook Color, versus problems with the keyboard software on the NC reacting badly to the external keyboard input, but using an external keyboard has never worked out well for me on my Nook Color. I’ve even had the Android keyboard software force close on me a few times while I was using my external bluetooth keyboard.
I guess that’s all I’ve got for now. Again, I’m not trying to sell you anything or sway your mind at all. I just wanted to jot down the experience I’ve had with both of these tablets and keep a running list somewhere to remind myself why I’m using what I’m using now. =:)
And finally, yes, I’m aware that it’s not entirely fair to call the Nook Color an Android Tablet. It was never intended to be one, and it was meant primarily as an eReader with limited other applications. But it’s all I have to go on for a comparison.
I think that from the experience I’ve had with these two tablets, I truly would like to try a new, full-featured Android tablet that has built-in GPS, Bluetooth, and a 10-inch screen. My concern is that rooting said tablet and tweaking the UI too much or installing custom ROMs, etc., is going to end up in the same instability that I have with the Nook Color, and that would make me über sad. But maybe not? I’ve been told the Xoom is the most dev-friendly and kept-up-to-date Android tablet right now. Any suggestions?