Take two tablets and call me when you’re ready for three…


We’ve been a one tablet household for nearly two years now. That tablet, my wife’s iPad, has been her primary computing device for nearly the entire time she’s owned it. The iPad pushed her laptop to her desk, and her desktop to the garage. For anything less than actual content creation such as largish documents or web and graphics work, she almost never goes to her Windows machine.

Since my computing needs tend to extend beyond content consumption, I have always carried my laptop with me. However, more and more opportunities seem to have arisen lately, such as watching TV, waiting for a child to finish an activity, or generally any moment where pulling out the laptop was enough inconvenience, that I just choose not to do it. My Droid 2 (that I still love) filled in that gap somewhat, but with the small screen and relatively short battery life, it just wasn’t good substitute for a dedicated device that wouldn’t leave me without a phone when the battery died.

So, I started thinking about a tablet for myself.

The first question was iPad or Android tablet? I decided pretty quickly that I would go Android. Although my primary computing device is a MacBook Pro, and my wife loves her iPad, I couldn’t bring myself to go iPad. First, I consider the iPad to be far too expensive – especially for the occasional use I envisioned. I went expensive on my primary computing device in my MBP, That was enough, I don’t need (and honestly couldn’t afford) to have every device in my life to be at the high-end premium level. Second,  I  have some investment in Android apps. They didn’t cost much, but as I will continue to use an Android phone, I don’t want to have to buy every app I want once for Android and once for iOS.

Since I wanted Android – what tablet did I want? After evaluating several online, as well as using the local Best Buy as a showroom, I really liked the Galaxy Tab 8.9 (probably because the Tab 2 7.0 wasn’t on display yet). It was reasonably light, snappy, had a vivid screen, and overall seemed comfortable to use. The problem I had with it was the same as I had with the iPad – price.

OK, given that price was always going to be my sticking point, what was the cheapest tablet I could find? I really wanted something that I wouldn’t cringe when handing it to my 9 year old daughter. Using that criteria – there was only one – the Kindle Fire. With refurbs from Amazon going for a little over $100, they were practically disposable. If I bought one and didn’t like it, I’d just return it without remorse.

Now, before everyone cringes at the thought of using the Fire as their primary tablet, here were my main pros and cos of the device:

Pros

1) PRICE
2) Did I mention price?
3) The 7″ display (10, and even the 8.9 was a little large for me)
4) Cloud storage via Amazon

Cons

1) OS – uses a customized (crippled) version of Gingerbread
2) No Google Market (Google Play), can only buy apps from Amazon Market
3) Only 8 GB storage
4) No bluetooth
5) No cellular connectivity
6) No camera

The pros don’t need a lot of discussion. I am notoriously cheap, so price is a huge factor. I liked the size, and would have ended up with a 7″ tablet if at all possible anyway. The cloud storage is nice, but honestly in the week I have used the device, I’ve never used the Amazon cloud in favor of Dropbox.

As for the cons:

Amazon’s OS. Hated it. It was EXTREMELY responsive mind you, I just hated the UI. Easily fixed – Go Launcher will replace the default UI without even rooting the device. It took under a minute to install. It doesn’t change the underlying OS, but it does change the interface to something almost exactly like the Android 2.3.4 version on my Droid 2.

No Google Play was also a little annoying, but also fairly easy to overcome. Putting Google Play apps on the Kindle Fire (sideloading) isn’t difficult at all. In the device menu of the Fire, turn on “Allow Installation of Applications from Unknown Sources”. Now all you have to do is get the .apk files to the Fire. You can do this via USB, but I find that cumbersome. My method is to use the “Astro Files” file manager on my Droid 2 to make a copy of any app I want on the Fire. After backing up an app using Astro Files, the .apk the file ends up in \backups\apps on the SD card. From there I move it to the Dropbox folder, and voila, the .apk is available to the Fire. Click to install from Dropbox, and Angry Birds lives on the fire without paying another $2.99.

Only 8 GB storage. Can’t do much about that with no media card reader, but between Dropbox and USB I can’t see this being an issue with a device that will primarily be used for e-mail and web browsing.

No bluetooth also doesn’t have a workaround, but I only use a bluetooth headset for phone calls, and haven’t felt a lack yet.

No cellular is actually a benefit for me. I don’t want to pay for another data plan, and if I did, it would be far more useful to enable my phone as a hotspot then in buying a data plan for all of my devices individually.

No camera is the only item I have actually felt the lack of so far.

All in all, I feel I’ve ended up with a decent Android tablet. Once I consider the price, it is a screaming awesome tablet. (I love how that works). Amazon has just announced the next version of the Fire should be out soon. Will I buy it again? Probably not. If I have to go to the $199 full price, then the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 at $249 overcomes all the negatives with only a $50 differential, and then the Fire can be passed on to my daughter who already claims an ownership stake in it anyway…

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