Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Laptop vs. tablet

Times being what they are, I sometimes accept payment in "kit" instead of actual money. That is why your perpetually impoverished narrator has access to an iPad and an HP netbook, along with an aging but still-groovy desktop workstation.

Although everyone says the tablets are taking over, I almost never use the iPad.

This machine has only two uses: As a gaming machine and as a book reader. When it comes to games -- well, maybe my gaming days are over. Even the latest iteration of Angry Birds is a bore.

I enjoy reading books on the tablet, but I do not love getting the books onto the effing device.

"Just send it to yourself via email!" people tell me. Yeah. Right. Look, the books I read tend to be hefty PDFs from the Internet Archive or Scribd or some similar source. When I'm on my desktop, sending these books via Yahoo mail can be a long, tedious process -- especially on a night when the network is, for some reason, slow. Then you have to load the books onto the iPad's book reading program, which is an even greater irritation. You have to do each book individually; there's no batch command. Last time I tried to get five pdfs onto the iPad, the whole business took more than twenty minutes.

Getting books onto that underpowered, much-reviled netbook is a whole lot easier. I have a huge library of books (all nicely cataloged according to subject matter) on one of the hard drives on my desktop system. With a few swipes of a mouse, I drag and drop the books I want to "portable-ize" onto a jump drive. In just a couple of minutes, I can sweep dozens, hundreds of books onto one small external drive that fits right into my pocket. (That's where stuff belongs: The pocket, not the Cloud.)

Boom. That's it. Good to go.

You can snap that tiny jump drive into any USB port on any real computer (yes, the netbook, slow though it may be, counts as a real computer) and you have a whole library with you at Starbucks or on the bus.

That's the big problem with iWorld: The people who designed those devices are so fucking insistent on making money from their apps that they won't allow you to transfer files in a normal fashion. I can't stand the iPad's operating system. It allows you no control.

Tablets are for fools who like to pay money. The iPeople love to tell you: "There's an app for that!" Well, in the world of real computing, there's also an app for everything and anything you might want to do -- and you don't have to pay for the app. In just about every category you can think of, there's a good free app available to PC users. Even if you want to learn about something as complex as 3D modelling, you can grab hold of a fine program like Blender without paying a dime. 

I haven't quite finished my discussion of the problems involved with reading books on the tablet. On a purely physical level, the iPad should win out in this category, since the lack of a keyboard makes the device easier to hold in a comfortable position. But the iBooks app sucks when it comes to displaying PDFs, because you can't zoom in.

In the world of real computing, we have the all-time killer app for people who like to read books: The Scientific and Technical Documentation Utitlity (STDU), which works for epub, mobi, comic book formats, PDFs, and just about anything else you can toss at it. It's free.

I've had it with people who say that PCs are only for people who do "power computing" and "content creation." That's bullshit. Tablets won't allow you to do all sorts of stuff which no-one would classify as "power computing." For example, I like to cut and paste the day's most interesting news stories into one Word document file and then listen to that file via a text-to-speech reader. I got into this habit back in the days of Windows 95. Think about it: The iPad cannot easily do that which a Windows 95 computer could do. Progress?

Oh -- and don't get me started on the lousy web browsing experience in iWorld. If you switch back and forth between tabs, the page reloads each time. And it is often nearly impossible to scroll down the page using the touch screen without activating some link that you did not intend to hit. The browser often conks out for no reason. Nobody knows why; I've researched the matter online.

Writing blog posts? Forget it. Writing is just barely tolerable on that tiny underpowered netbook. It's impossible on an iPad.

I'm not a Luddite. I like the idea of a tablet that I can put in my pocket -- something that can keep a charge for a full day. But please give me a portable device that works more like a real computer. I want a USB outlet that works normally. I need an OS that allows me to see precisely where the files go. I need scroll bars so I can go through a web page without activating things I don't want to activate.

Tablet makers: There is no need to reinvent the computer. Just make the old computers smaller.
Comments:
There are tablets that will do that, Joe, they just aren't made by Apple.

A friend of mine had a Toshiba tablet that ran on Android(I know, Google) that had a USB drive and a file directory. He loaded books and stuff he needed for college classes on there, took pictures of anatomy slides with his actual camera and loaded onto the tablet, BOOM!

They also tend to be cheaper than the iPads too, so next time you're gonna take payment in tech, ask for one of those instead.
 
I've never used or held an Ipod or netbook or tablet, but I realised they were aimed at passive idiots who are incapable of deciding what they want to do and setting out to find the best way to do it; who don't keep track of how much they're paying for stuff; and who don't understand the difference between online and not online. At the ideal modern consumer, in other words.

What do these schmucks get told about where their files go? And where do their files go? Can they even see a list of top-level directories, or what?
 
i-pads and other tablets that are Android based are good for watching video. I have an Android based cheap tablet for watching Youtube and use as an internet radio. The Youtube app was free at SlideMe but many others are on Google Play and if your machine manufacturer didn't buy a license from Google you can't download them.
 
Another thing: the passivity of people who use these devices makes it more difficult for someone to make a splash by self-publishing something in electronic format, in the sense which includes controlling its distribution and making a bit of money out of it.

(Rather than, say, signing up with mutated vanity-publishing operations such as Lightning Source or CreateSpace, which any idiot can do and many have done).

By the time you'd said "you can read this on anything; just get hold of STDU Viewer", 99.999% of your potential market would have turned off. What you'd said would be too challenging for them, before they'd got to any of your 'content'.

weep...
 
Joe,

Totally off-topic and feel free to delete but I saw this post by Dmitri Orlov and I just had to send it to you. Here is a snippet

"... it is hardly an accident that “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan” is an anagram for “My Ultimate Ayn Rand Porn.”

http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-image-of-enemy.html#more

 
I agree entirely. I have an ipad and a Nook Tablet. I dont use the Ipad. I use the Nook Tablet a lot. Totally open "operating system" and you can even jailbreak it and load the new operating system onto a micro SD chip which you can insert.

I use the Nook. I keep the ipad around for guests. And the nook cost $200.

Harry
 
A netbook is a perfectly good computer. I'm writing this on one. Had to get used to a slightly undersized keyboard, but otherwise fine. Also had to replace windows with linux so I could use a lightweight window manager due to the tiny amount of RAM. But if it can handle youtube and the iPlayer and run Firefox, and you get total control of it, what else is there?

For ebooks I use calibre, although I mostly get mine from Project Gutenberg. Calibre has a built-in search utility to look for various vendors of books and download the one you're looking for. It can also convert books, which is useful as I somehow have a kindle and a load of epub books it won't read.

 
Stephen, Calibre is great for conversions. However, it creates second copies of everything and puts them into a "library." Waiting for that library to load up is a pain.

STDU just works.
 
A computer revolution is starting. Haven't you wished for a state-of-the-art version of a Commodore 64 or an Atari--or a smart phone that was truly a computer? It's coming soon and all without Microsoft and Apple and Intel, dinosaurs all.

Google "Raspberry Pi", "Mele 1000", ODROID, Cubieboard, Pengpod.
 
I have five computers of various sizes & disposition (none tablets or pads); my favorite is the now discontinued Alienware m11x. Helluva lot of power in small package. Game wise if you have the horsepower-- look at Skyrim.
 
In addition to, out of professional necessity, owning and using both Mac and Windows computers of varying configurations, I also own an iPad and Android Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 is my most used device for non-work related activities. So while I am far from an iPad fanboi (though my 2 year-old daughter has certainly become a fan-grrl), I am surprised by your professed difficulties moving PDF files to the iPad. There are numerous PDF readers for the iPad (I use PDFMate, which is not necessarily one of the best but adequate and free) and moving a PDF over to it is as simple as hooking the iPad to my PC, clicking on PDFMate in iTunes/iPad/Apps, and then finding the PDF on my computer from a dialogue and dragging and dropping it to the appropriate box. It copies over and it‘s done. How much easier and quicker can it get?
 
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