This is a personal account in The Tablet Wars. Mine is not the voice of the powerful insider; I don’t represent any company and have no major stakes from which my opinion will yield major benefit. If you want professional reviews I would recommend The Verge. Instead imagine me as a common soldier of the American civil war… a certain David Snow, the baseborn son of a wandering freed slave and Sioux woman who took up arms in a Minnesota regiment based out of Fort Snelling with the hopes that my personal journal of the war would be meaningful to me at some point in the future when all the emotions of war were distant even if the fog never lifted.

Ruminations of War in Dakota Territory

My interest in tablets began with the first announcement of the iPad. I recognized that these devices presented a new form factor, a new way of experiencing the web that to date had not existed. My thinking was influenced by reading people like Donald Norman from whom I grudgingly understood that the clunky multi-purpose “computer” would be replaced by devices that had computing power but much more specific in their goals. Early tablets were fascinating but too new and expensive to have any appeal.

Arrival at Fort Snelling, First Encounters

While it may not count as a tablet, my first handheld was a Kindle DX. You would be hard pressed to find someone who loved their Kindle the way I loved mine; it a perfect fit for my primary use case of reading. I chose the larger Kindle DX because it would enable me to purchase digital copies of technical books and fit each page to the screen. After having it I made the quick realization that the Kindle’s MOBI format was the best reading experience, despite the screen size. This turned out alright since the two publishers I tended to buy from, O’Reilly and Manning, release their eBooks in multiple formats including MOBI (Kindle format). Another key benefit of the Kindle was the ability to read newspapers and magazines while skipping all the clutter of owning physical copies. It’s incredible how fast that can build up, especially since I spend a lot of time reading what’s in print. Combined with my packrat sensibilities, it made for a permanent mess in my home office [1].

I had a chance to get involved first hand with The Tablet Wars last year after I got a unique opportunity to develop a web based application targeting mobile devices. The company provided me with both an iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab to use as part of the effort. The project was fun and challenging but my use of the tablet devices was limited to testing our application and getting stock quotes. The iPad 2, with a combination of a better browsing experience and more mature app ecosystem, fully eclipsed the Galaxy Tab in my usage.

It became clear to me that while the iPad 2 always had the “whiz! bang! swipe! color!” showiness that could impress onlookers (for about 30 seconds), I preferred my Kindle DX for reading, especially anything long form – my skeuomorph bit is definitely off [2]. The information flow on the Kindle worked better for me as well: content from blogs and other subscriptions was pushed to it on a periodic basis so I spent most of my time just focused on reading. The browsing and app centric model of the iPad 2 gave me a tendency to hunt and peck a lot, clicking through links or grazing from one app before switching to something else. A disciplined user may not have this problem though I am skeptical because the device lends itself to that mentality.

Shipping Out with the 68th Regiment of USCT

The introduction of the Google Nexus and the rumors at the time of a Microsoft Tablet pulled me completely into the war since I realized that I needed a little more interaction (e.g. email, calendar) than my Kindle could give me in a portable tablet. It made a lot of sense to start the process of saving [3] to get a ramp up for a decision around the time Microsoft released something. As a programmer of things primarily Microsoft, it seemed to make sense that theirs was the ecosystem that would make the best fit for me. But I was not ready to commit because there were many other wildcards: I love the Amazon ecosystem and wanted to keep what I had purchased over the years of having my Kindle DX as well as continue to have the ability to buy from their vast selection of books [4]. This made me interested in the Kindle Fire HD. Add to this all of the positive reviews of the Google Nexus products and I was in a state of indecision. The one thing that became steadily clear was that I wasn’t interested in the Apple ecosystem for one simple reason: I hate iTunes with the heat of a thousand suns [5].

Battles, Victory at Appomattox

After several months of saving and reading reviews, the decisive moment was the introduction of the Microsoft Surface. I wish it was victory for the Surface but what made for the decisive moment was instead a realization that the device was not for me. This did not come down to technical specifications or the lack of apps, as many have been eager to point out. I, and many others like me, were simply priced out of the Microsoft ecosystem. The introductory price along with a keyboard would have run for more than $600, as steep if not steeper than a brand new iPad 3. I also recognized that the introductory RT devices were running a different version of Windows altogether and this would generate compatibility problems. Finally, the limitation of installing software only through the Microsoft store gave me a similarly distrustful intuition about things, similar to iTunes.

I haven’t given up on Windows 8, or a future in which I run a Microsoft operating system on a tablet device. But at present, the cost of these devices makes them fit into the category of “laptop replacement” rather than tablet. I’ve been ogling the Lenovo Yoga and anticipate owning one sometime before the end of next year [6]. When I’ve got the money saved I’ll probably shop for something that can fake the tablet experience but that also has enough muscle to help with my day to day computing.

In the end, after realizing I wouldn’t pick up a Surface, I decided to purchase a Galaxy Nexus 7. The decision between that and the Kindle Fire HD wasn’t easy, but in the end it had a slight advantage for a tinker like me where the Kindle Fire HD is a great device for consuming content, running apps, and living in the Amazon ecosystem. The price point, $199, was good as well for a device I intended to use as a corollary rather than a replacement to my digital life with the computer.

Reclusion to Northern Minnesota, Final Thoughts

One thing I’ve learned over the years as a programmer (and as a human?) is that I’m a walking edge case. My thought process and decisions make a lot of sense for me because of my personal use cases but because I think and go about things differently than most people, I can never say that what works for me applies to others. A teenage boy who is really into Michael Bay films and video games, for example, might be better off with a PS Vita than heeding the advice of a man with a toddler and gray hair like me [7]. With that said, here is a summary of what I do on my tablet and why the Nexus 7 was a great fit for the money I spent:

1. Email, Calendar, Reader, other Google Stuff
The Google ecosystem is top notch and their apps on the Nexus 7 are first class.

2. Web Browsing
Chrome on Nexus is excellent.

3. Financial Information
I use Bloomberg and CNBC apps. The CNBC Realtime app on iPad is much more robust so I’ve shifted more to Bloomberg on the Nexus. Truth be told Twitter is the best financial app – search $SYMBOL e.g. $DDD 

4. Music
TuneIn Radio Pro, Pandora, Amazon Music, Google Play all do the trick. TuneIn Radio is a great way to catch my old home station, KCRW and explore international radio stations.

5. Skype
Works great, especially since I’m many leagues from my immediate family.

6. Facebook
Pretty decent, on par with the iPad native app

7. Twitter
I have come to love Falcon Pro more than all my other twitter clients on any platform (Tweetdeck, Metrotwit, etc)

8. Evernote
Great for consuming documents. The app allows for recording audio so I usually speak a quick note I want to make to myself. I’ve also started to leverage the Evernote Web Clipper in lieu of Instapaper for some web pages, especially where content format is important (e.g. sample code)

9. Pluralsight
Not quite as good as watching on my PC but still a great option especially when I need to be away from the computer (e.g. watching a toddler)

10. Amazon Kindle
Where I read virtually anything from my library.



[1] There is still a mess. Technology doesn’t solve genetic/familial predispositions.

[2] I guess you could say I’m more of a minimalist or utilitarian. Animated page turns, fake leather calendars, “book shelves” all represent noise. Think Rococo versus Bauhaus.

[3] If you are working on saving toward a specific goal, try out Smarty Pig as a way of helping you put the money away.

[4] It’s not just the well known authors and best sellers. Some of the most interesting reads I’ve gotten from Amazon are the cheaper, self-published eBooks. Books like ANESthetized, which I would never find in a store.

[5] There are many reasons for this but let’s start with how bloated the software has become. I do love my iPod though so I’ve been using Media Monkey. Price was another factor though the iPad Mini didn’t have the technical specs to compete with the Nexus.

[6] It would be nice to see a variant that let me have at least 8GB of RAM though I think 16GB will be a requirement for my next machine.

[7] I should disclose that my wife has an iPad 2 that is as perfect a fit for her as the Nexus is for me.