The personal computer era has been around for a while, for those that have missed the memo, and during that time the consumers have had very little say in the direction this industry has headed. What I mean by that is that we, as consumers did not get a say as to when advancements were needed or even wanted. We would make our purchase and suddenly 6 months to a year later find out that we “needed” to buy again. The good news for consumers however, is that over the last couple of years that has changed. The technology has been forced to slow down by more clearly defined consumer demands and software jumping off the hardware bandwagon and working with consumers instead of hardware companies to figure out what the next product needs to have.
The good news is many of the tech companies out there have figure out this shift in the way business is done and have begun to adapt. They have changed the business model from telling consumers what they want to instead listing to what consumers want. However a few old die-hards have decided that they know best and we should listen to them, drink what they tell us as it were.
We can see some of this in todays offerings for consumer level computers. We could start with Apple and spend the entire article there, this is basically their business model and always has been. However I think we should instead focus on Microsoft. Windows 8 is an old story so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the OS itself. I have covered that pretty well I think and if you missed the three articles I did on it feel free to browse the archives and read them. However I will focus on their efforts to change the way we look at a computer.
Now let me explain this a bit before I make my point. You see Microsoft has always made an effort to help define the image of a what people see as a personal computer. It was after all in their best interest to exercise some level of control in this area. However up until recently that control has been a quiet guiding hand. To use the popular phrase, they led us to water but never forced us to drink. That however has begun to change.
Microsoft has launched a number of sites that are supposed to be designed to help the lay people, such as many of you, make a good choice when it comes to getting a new PC. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, something to help people see the choices they have and help them make solid decisions. We do this all the time on the show and people find it helpful. That would be good it did offer real choices. Every one of these setups I have looked at only offer laptops, tablets or all in one systems. Now this would not be bad except many of these recommendations are being listed as good for gaming. NONE of the recommendations I saw would make a good gaming PC for any but the most casual gamer. Also what about other form factors?
Thing this is just because of the move to Windows 8? You would be wrong, this started before that. Go back and look at the various Windows commercials were Microsoft talks about helping people buy a new PC. Every one of them were laptop and all in one models. You did not even seen an HTPC or tower configuration system in the videos.
One of the things I have always loved about the PC and the PC world is the freedom of choice. You can have a PC that is HUGE or tiny. One that is designed for pure hard core gaming or design for only light web browsing. Companies would offer us a range of choices, often to our dismay because we had so many but still we had choices. Over the years as the focus has shifted from hardware to software we have seen those choices diminish, not in a bad way. We have found that the budget system, at least the cost of it we used to pay, now buys us a more powerful machine. This has caused some overlap in the type of PC we buy but that is a natural progression. A natural change to the way we see PCs might not be something we like but I for one can accept it. However when we see companies that have traditionally let the market direct the path with them offering gentle nudges, switch to heavy handed tactics of forcing a direction, this is a problem to me.
Is our hobby moving to smaller form factors, well of course it is, I mean why do you think our build series is looking at ITX designs? However we can make this move in a way that does not limit our choices. Small Form factor of today is not the same as yesterday. Heck even yesterday was not that bad. Back in 2008 when enthusiasts said you needed a full tower to build a “real” gaming rig, I did a build we called the Itsy Bitsy Might Spider. This was a full powered gaming rig built in a micro ATX case. Now we see the move to even smaller, but the key here is that we can make this move without making a sacrifice. That is not the choice given to us today by some in the industry.
This of course is all my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Email in your comments or post them here under comments for this entry. Any comments of course might be used on the air for further discussion on this topic.
I am amazed at how often I talk to people and they ask me if they should get a Tablet or an iPad. They then say they have also considered a Nook or maybe they will mention a Kindle and not realize that in each of these instances, based on the conversation they are talking about the same thing. Tablet PCs some in a variety of flavors and brands, Apple is just one of them. You see ALL iPads are tablets, not all tablets are iPads.
Lets begin by breaking down the tablet market into three main platforms, iPad, Android and Windows 8 RT. All of these are Tablets and truth be told at the end of the day all of them perform essential the same for 90% or better of typical users. The major difference between the three is in the platform. Windows and iPad are both run in what is known as a “walled garden”. This means the apps that you can use on your devices are limited to those that have been allowed by Microsoft or Apple to exist. Google has made Android more open, though it does still have it’s walled garden section, it also allows for easier methods of getting apps to the consumers. This is good and bad as the walled garden will in theory protect you from poorly designed apps or even malware more than an open approach.
When deciding if you want to buy a Tablet or not the first thing to consider is what do you expect from it. You have to realize that Tablets are basically larger cell phones. They exist to bridge the gap between the cell phone and the laptop and they work off basically the same technology of most smart phones. This means if you want them for e-readers, browsing the net, goofing on Facebook, tweeting, or playing basic games then they can get the job done. Using these as a full time PC or a replacement for a desktop unit can be a lesson in frustration. With this in mind lets look at each platform and what it will offer you.
The iPad is the most well know of the Tablets on the market. Apple would have you believe it is the first Tablet for consumers but this is not true. The first Tablets trace their linage back to the late 1980s and early 1990s and were Windows based. The problem was the hardware to make them really usable in the manner intended did not exist yet at a level that made them consumer friendly. Apple however should be credited with creating the current Tablet crazy.
The iPad comes in two models, the full size model and a Mini model. The Mini is designed to go against the other 7” tablets on the market, a size that I personally feel is the best choice for a Tablet. Larger devices do give more screen area but they cut into the main reason for having a tablet, the portability. The 7” models fit will for one handed holding and operation and come at a lower cost. The min sells for around $330, this is priced $130 above three of the very popular models from the Android platform.
The iPad is a solid device and has a mature market which means a great selection of apps. If you have bought into the Apple infra-structure, having an IPhone, IPod and laptop or full Apple computer then the iPad is the absolute best pick of the Tablets. One thing Apple does very well is integrate their devices together to give a near seamless experience with moving between your devices. If however you run a Windows machine and use an Android phone then the iPad, in my opinion is not a great choice due to the price.
The Windows 8 tablets are very new to the market and that means that it’s market place for apps is much smaller than Android or iPad. This is a pretty big factor against Microsoft’s tablet platform but do not count them out yet. Microsoft is a force of nature in the computing world and it will not take long for them to have a robust market of apps.
While the Surface gets all the attention right now Microsoft has allowed other companies to develop tablets and many have already brought products to the market. This separates the Windows solution from the iPad in a big way as all iPads are produced by Apple only. This means in the next year or so we should see more designs and hopefully some pricing competition to lower the cost. At this time the Windows RT Platform seems to be limited in Tablets to larger sizes and this means it is price at $600 and more just like the larger iPad.
The Windows 8 interface, to me, is much nicer than the other tablet interfaces with the Live Tiles giving you a lot of information at a quick glance but the higher cost and the smaller app market make this a tough buy.
When it comes to the Android platform the most recognized tablet is the Nexus 7. The Android platform is made by Google and they have worked hard to get this platform out with a lot of partners. This means that there are a lot of tablets that use this platform and they range in price in size across the entire spectrum. The Nexus 7 is a 7” tablet priced at $200 and that is why it is one of the most popular choices on the market. The 7” tablet fits well in a hand and the $200 price point is pretty easy to swallow, even in the current economy.
The Nexus is open and allows you to get pretty much any app you like from the Google store as well as some third party pass. The app store has a very large selection and then you add in the ability to use apps not found on the store, you get a broad app selection. In fact the open platform even allows some use of apps from Apple and Microsoft.
The Android market however can get a bit messy as there are two sub-divisions of the market. Both the Nook and Kindle tablets make use of the Android system but do so in a walled garden environment as we mentioned with Apple and Windows 8. Both Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon have stores to allow specific access for each of their devices. This is an advantage offered by the Nexus over these two tablets in the fact that if you want to make use of both stores and what they offer you can easily do that on the Nexus.
The Kindle Fire HD is a 7” tablet that uses the Android platform but is designed to work specifically with the Amazon store. While it lacks the wide open store setup of the Nexus, Amazon has worked hard to make sure you have a large selection of books, movies and music. With the interface specifically designed to work with the Amazon store this is really simple to use. They have also populated the store with a number of apps that have been Amazon approved.
Priced like the Nexus at $200 the Fire is a great choice, especially if multimedia is what you want your tablet for. It still does all the same basic functions but if you have bought into the Amazon structure then this tablet makes it easy to make use of it.
Barnes and Noble were not to be outdone and they brought the Nook HD. Just like the Kindle this tablet is limited to a store that is made by the company making it, in this case Barnes and Noble. While Barnes and Noble might not have the large multi-media selections in their store they are without a doubt the leader in e-reader options with the largest selection of books and magazines.
As with the other two Android platform tablets the Nook is a 7” tablet priced at $200. Having seen all three of these tablets I can tell you I was most impressed with the Nook when it came to display quality, it has the highest resolution screen of the three.
Were the Nexus is a tablet that can be a reader and the Kindle is a multi-media platform that can be a table, the Nook at it’s heart is an e-reader than can be a tablet. If you want your tablet for books and magazines the Nook is the best choice by far. Of course if you have already bought into the Nook system then it is a clear choice.
Now there are a ton of other options when it comes to tablets, the Android platform is full of choices but I feel these three listed are the best of those choices. The iPad is a great tablet but the extra money does not give any real benefit at the end of the day unless you are committed to the Apple ecosystem. The Windows 8 platform looks impressive and in a year or two could be a real contender but for this shopping season the lack of a 7” model and the high price to me makes it a none choice. The hard decision time comes when you reach the Nexus, Nook and Kindle.
The Nexus offers a clear advantage of the open architecture or does it? Having a million apps sounds nice, until you realize you will likely only use a few of those and have to weed through the ton of crap apps that make up those million apps. The Nook and Kindle both have a more limited choice but the limit is in an area that in my opinion matter s less. Both offer great web browsing and let you use Facebook or Twitter to your hearts content as well as the social gaming. They can get email, do Skype and play movies and music.
The Nook is a bit more sedate when it comes to features, not offering a camera for instance. However it does offer an easy to use family profile system so the family can share the tablet and not mess it up for each other. The rest of it’s features reflect this kind of real world use philosophy.
Is there one right answer as to which is best, NO. That however is good news because that means there is a tablet with the features and price point out there someplace that will fit your specific needs.