Monday, February 4, 2019

What's a Computer?



Remember that Apple commercial? I do. (And it's think it's pretty great.)

I've always been someone who's enjoyed computers. Being on computers, playing on computers, playing inside computers. Whether it's Linux (Ubuntu and Linux Mints being favorites), Mac OS, or Windows, computers have been there to create, work, and share.

So let me get to my story. I built a desktop PC for gaming and productivity about two and a half years ago.It's got a 4K monitor, mechanical keyboard, the works. Whenever I left the house, I used a Surface 3 with the keyboard cover. The desktop was for work, play, and final edits of books. The Surface was the daily workhorse for all tasks. Recently, the Surface 3 has been having issues due to the wear and tear over the years.

I wrote ten books on my Surface. It was used everyday. Eventually, it was on its way out the door.

Here is where our story begins.

During a gaming session, my graphics card died. That’s the short version. The long version is several hours worth of tests revealed that only my graphics card died, as many other things could have resulted from this experience (fried motherboard perhaps?). So I had to find a new card, order it, get it, and you would think that’s the end of the story. But no. Then the new graphics card had problems with accepting an updated driver.

About four hours later, after trying many different workarounds found online, a single Reddit comment turned out to be the correct path to fixing my graphics card. Finally. What should have been easy, turned out to be not-so-much.

After that experience, and a few others that had been building up over the months, I was done with computers (mostly). I was done with the non-glamorous techy part of computers. I wanted something that worked, something that was easy to maintain, and something that I could carry arond. I started to look at tablets.

I was afraid of switching to non-computer, basically anything not Windows, Mac or Linux. This would include iOS, like an iPad, an Android tablet, and even Chromebooks. These feature sets are so limited compared to a business OS (Windows) or a creative production OS (Mac).

Switching kind of signaled that the work I do is not demanding. Almost as if it wasn't "real" work. So I looked at what I did, and realized that I was right; my work isn't that demanding on a computer. I wrote, edited, and published ten books on a Surface 3 with 2 gigs of RAM. Everything else I do is online, like this blog and email. If I need to do video and edit it, I have a desktop PC that has the power to do all those things easily and quickly. So why did I need a laptop again?

Going through all the steps to fix issues or factory reset Windows made me want the simplicity of an iPhone or an Android. So that's what I did. I picked up an iPad and an Android tablet to test out.

My two tablets I used are the base model iPad with a keyboard case, and the Barnes & Noble Nook 10.1 with a keyboard case as well.

The iPad is simple to explain. Tons of apps, great third-party peripheral market, the gold standard of tablets (battery life, performance, usability). This would be my work machine, like the Surface 3 before it. Side Note: Microsoft's Surface tablets are great, but to get a desirable "acceptable" performance the cost goes way up. At the time of purchase, base iPads were basically at their Black Friday discounts.

The Nook 10.1 was an interesting choice. I wanted a Chromebook, but a nice Chromebooks can run a high sticker price to get good specs. And at that point, the Android emulation is still pretty spotty. While the Nook 10.1 is an underpowered Android tablet, it can do the majority of what a $400-$500 Chromebook can do, at less than half the cost. So my Nook 10.1 became a quasi-Chromebook.

The experience was liberating. The form factors on both these machines are small and relatively light. Both the iPad and Nook 10.1 give great battery life, with a bonus on charging from a battery pack instead of tied to a wall unit. There are some concessions, obviously. No mouse because of the touch screen. They have power, but not enough power to do more demanding tasks. Programs may or may not be made for them as opposed to Windows or Mac.

Still, I was just so easy to start of both of them.

Let's talk about how great cloud storage really is. Both tablets have Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive installed on them. I completely reorganized how those folders work so I can efficiently work in documents when needed. The always-online life works. No more emailing documents or making sure I was downloading/uploading the correct files.

Out of the two, the Nook 10.1 relies on the cloud the most, specifically Google Drive, with a little bit of OneDrive. Because of the low specs of the device, working off an Internet connection is really the best place for it. Considering a lot of Chromebooks run off a Rock chip, the MediaTek in the Nook runs just fine.

The iPad lives up to the hype. Some brands cost more because people pay extra for the label on the device. In the iPad's case, it really is worth the cost. The keyboard case I bought could be better with some key placements, but all in all, I feel just as capable as when I had a Surface. I'm also tied to Scrivener for my work flow, and Scrivener on iOS is amazing and much better than the Mac version. Night and day difference.

The Nook has ended up as the media machine, or a better description is that it is the tablet I actually use when I get back home. At night, work (usually) stops. I like to enjoy time with friends and family, I like to watch a movie every once in a while, so I'm cutting back on being a workaholic (somewhat). I love the fact that when I do a little bit of traveling, the Nook is capable of being my laptop for a few days. The truth is, when I travel I want to be traveling, not working. A blog post here and there, jump into a Google Doc for an hour.

Where I was afraid of tablets before, they have completely exceeded my expectations. There's less inspecting, less downsides, and they work when needed. Both Apple and Google have such robust stores that whatever application someone needs, they can have. I would recommend anyone to look at what they do, and see if a tablet with a keyboard case can do everything they need.

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