Tab Frenzy!

Oct 31, 2012 No Comments by







Can you bear it?  Forget boughs of holly, this Christmas every hall in the land will be decked with tablets and smartphones.  Apple is punting its teeny tab iPad Mini, Samsung (Galaxy Tab) and Google (Nexus 7) likewise, while Microsoft has just launched the Surface tablet (above) and Amazon is peddling several new versions of its Kindle, including the Fire HD which is extremely iPad-like but at a fraction of the price of Apple’s gizmo.  A glut of new smartphones have also been introduced to make a bulge in your stocking – the iPhone 5 will be vying with Samsung’s Galaxy S3 (not new, we know but the principal rival to the iPhone 5 nonetheless), the HTC One X and Nokia’s Lumia range that use the Windows 8 operating system (as does the Surface tablet).  It’s also a fist-fight between operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft/Nokia’s Windows 8.  There’s been a lot of ad-type yammering about Microsoft’s Surface tab and their alliance with Nokia that produced the Lumia range of smartphones but TF can’t help feel that, unlike Amazon and Google, Microsoft hasn’t given punters a decent reason to not buy an Apple device.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD

Google’s Nexus 7 tablet

For the money the Kindle Fire HD (£159) is difficult to beat and the Google Nexus 7 (spookily also £159) likewise.  Neither has the pant-moistening cachet of an Apple lust-inducer but both are backed by humungous corporate clout and use technology that will only improve.  And don’t go thinking that because the Fire HD is a Kindle it’s just an e-reader.  You can use it to surf the web, download or stream kerzillions of TV shows, movies and songs (and books) all of which can be stored for free in Amazon’s cloud.  For the full spec, click here.

The Surface tab is direct competition for the iPad, costs £399 and can be attached to either a laptop-like ‘type-cover’ (£109.99 extra) or ‘touch cover’; a keypad-cum-cover-cum-stand (£99.99 extra).  But be aware – this latter keypad is a virtually flat surface and does not have resistive keys like a laptop.  Over the years there have been many attempts to persuade consumers that a near-virtual keyboard with none of the tactile fluency of a typewriter represents progress.  Aside from the touchscreen keypad on the iPad, all have failed.  Maybe it’s a generational thing – who learns to type on a typewriter any more? – but touch-typing on a flat surface is nigh-on impossible.  That’s why people still use BlackBerries. Oh, and the Surface tab isn’t available with Windows 8.  Yet.  If you want one now its operating system will be Windows RT, which is sort-of Windows 8 but not quite, as this blurb from the BBC’s website explains: “Windows RT appears similar to the full Windows 8 system and is designed to run on ARM-based processors. Unlike Windows 8, Microsoft only allows Windows RT to install third-party software from its own online store, and the apps can only run via the system’s touch interface and not in the traditional desktop mode.”   ARM processors are most commonly found in smartphones which is a reflection of Microsoft putting the onus of future developments into mobile devices (like everyone else has been doing for years…).  And if you have a PC that runs Windows 7 and want to upgrade it will cost you.  Not much but not nothing.  Providing your device can cope with the new systems both Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) allow users to upgrade their operating systems for nowt.  But not Microsoft.  Oh no.  And Surface is wi-fi only; there’s no 3G option.

Got a headache yet from trying to wrap your frazzled brain around all of this?  One operating system for Microsoft’s new tablet and another for Windows-based PCs.  The two are sort-of the same but not quite.  Why would you bother?  When trying to prise consumers away from the cosy familiarity of what they know the last thing you want to do is give them options that are certain to confuse.  And then TF reads that Acer (who make PCs) has delayed the launch of their new tablet that will run Windows RT because of, what? – a lack of confidence that anyone gives a shit about Surface and Windows 8 and that it’s all too expensive?  Surely not.  In the US, the 3rd gen iPad also starts at $499 but with half as much (16GB) storage as the base model Surface.  But then if you keep all your storage munching stuff (photos, videos, tunes) in the iCloud, a device’s internal storage capacity becomes less relevant.  Microsoft took a punt that going toe-to-toe with Apple on price would see Surface tabs flying off the shelves.  Can you remember a time when comparable Windows devices cost the same as their Apple ‘equivalent’?  We can’t either.  Apple was beautiful, slick and expensive; Microsoft was utilitarian, ubiquitous and cheap.

And while we’re having a standard Fogey grumble here’s another: in the US the basic 32GB Surface tablet is $499, which at current exchange rates is £310, not the £399 that we’re being asked to pay.  It’s the same story for many products in terms of it representing a US-UK divide.

Whinge moan, whinge moan.  If you want an informed opinion of the Pro version of the Surface tablet, David Pogue of the New York Times has written this review that any Fogey could understand.

When TV started it was such a novelty that viewers would tune in to any old shite.  Likewise movies, radio and, if we re-wind a view centuries, print.  The notion of books as entertainment only really took hold when the printing press was some 200 years old.  Caxton, Gutenberg and their ilk mostly printed religious texts and dictionaries.  It can’t be long before we take e-readers and tablets for granted the way we eventually did with mobile phones.  TF is still wistfully amazed that it can call its mum in Plymouth, Devon while farting about in New York.  Clear as a bell, no time-delay.  Miraculous.  And now there are smartphones with incidental, built-in cameras that knock ten bells of poo out of stand-alone digital cameras of, say, five years vintage.

It’s what that smartphone or tablet can deliver that will make the long-term difference.  Better start investing properly in content.  Writers, remember them?  Otherwise all these whizzy gizmos will end up unused, unwatched and unloved, mouldering in a box in the loft or mingling with LPs at Oxfam.