I’ve been using tablets off and on since 2009, almost a year before Apple’s iPad allegedly changed everything.
I remember one of the first tablets I ever bought – the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. By today’s standards, with a 4.8-inch display, it hardly qualifies as a tablet. In fact, its display was smaller than most high-end Android smartphone displays today.
But in 2009, that’s exactly what it was. It was powered by none other than Android, featured a kickstand on the back for media viewing, and came with a single-core 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 256MB RAM, 160MB storage, and a microSD card slot.
I remember how jazzed I was at the thought of such a device. It was, in essence, a blown-up version of the Android smartphone I carried at the time – the HTC Hero on Sprint. But its larger display made it ideal for gaming, watching videos, and even browsing the Web. The 3.5-inch display on the Hero was admittedly small, and I longed for a device better suited for my use cases.
However, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet was one of the most disappointing devices I’ve ever purchased. It was horribly slow and laggy, it didn’t ship with Android Market (now Google Play Store), and the battery life was excruciatingly bad.
I had tried to tinker with it and sideload Android Market to no avail. I loaded Inglorious Basterds onto a microSD to watch from the tablet and recall only barely being able to make out what I was watching on the hour-long ride to see my grandparents. And after a week and a half, I decided to return it and wait for something better – maybe even a little bigger – to come out.
The very next year, Apple introduced the very first iPad. I was hesitant (read: I was not at all a fan of Apple at the time; I was instead a die-hard BlackBerry user and a recent Android convert) at first. But after watching several people review the iPad, I gathered some funds and went out to buy my very own 16GB Wi-Fi iPad.
Unlike the Archos tablet, this iPad was fantastic. One of the very first applications I purchased for it – one I still use today from time to time – was the KORG iElectribe; it showed me how such a device could actually fit into my life. Games were available by the truckload, Web browsing was surprisingly great, and, most importantly, productivity applications were popping up left and right.
After that, I was hooked. I’ve been stuck on tablets and their immense potential ever since. However, my usage patterns over the years can be likened to a roller coaster.
To date, I have personally owned no less than 30 different tablets – every iPad model to date, both Nexus 7s, several Galaxy Tab models (including the very first), a Nexus 10, four different ASUS Transformer tablets, the Motorola XOOM, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. It sort of became my thing, and I somehow became the “tablet guy”. When everyone called them stupid and pointless, I trucked on, writing several thousand-word articles from iPads and Android tablets almost every day.
Over time, though, it never fails. My usage always seems to taper to effectively nil. It’s the very reason I’ve owned so many tablets. I would buy one, use it for three months (or until the honeymoon phase came to an end), and I’d sell it. A few weeks later, I would begin to miss having a tablet around, so I’d buy a different, newer model, swearing I wouldn’t stop using it in the following months.
I came to the (premature) conclusion in late 2012 that tablets simply weren’t necessary. That since my phone at the time – the Galaxy Note II – was so large, I didn’t actually need the Nexus tablet or the iPad. So I swore off tablets … until the next cool one came along.
Like the others, I used it relentlessly for several months, until I tossed it in a drawer and forgot about it for a while.
However, when Apple announced the iPad mini with Retina display in October, I knew I’d want it. Resistance was futile. My biggest gripe with the original iPad mini, like many, was the display. Apple fixed that, bumped the CPU, and doubled the RAM. Awesome!
I’ve been using the iPad mini with Retina display consistently since I reviewed it back in November, nearly eight months ago. There may have been spurts of maybe a week or two that I didn’t use it due to how busy I was at times, but I haven’t put it down and forgotten about it for months on end. I use it regularly – I always have. It lays propped against the nightstand next to my bed every night, and at least five days out of seven, it get’s a solid amount of use, whether it be fun, work, or a balance of the two.
So what changed?
Before, I was looking to my iPad to disrupt my workflow, to change how I worked and improve various aspects of my life, to make my life easier. In hindsight, that was never going to happen with any iPad or Android tablet – not even the Surface Pro 3 for me.
Now, I don’t try to do too much with my iPad. I use it for a balance of convenience, entertainment, and productivity.
At the end of my work day, I close my laptop. And to avoid burnout, when the laptop is closed, I rarely ever open it again before morning. My current afternoon mantra: if something can’t be done via mobile, it can usually wait until morning.
So after I finish work, I will take care of email and other work-related tasks from the iPad. I also do some casual reading or gaming from the iPad in bed. I’ll casually look through some news feeds to see what I missed throughout the day, or I’ll create a note stack in Evernote for another one of my crazy ideas I may never see through.
Something beyond my own mental shift happened, though. Developers started creating truly useful applications, services, and user experiences specifically for the iPad and other tablets.
There are applications I prefer to use from the iPad. I have Reeder 2, for instance, on my iPhone, MacBook, and iPad. Of those three versions, I prefer the iPad version. I prefer to create and edit notes from the tablet edition of Evernote. I prefer to handle my Todoist tasks from iPad. If I’m chatting at night, I prefer to do Hangouts from my iPad, not my phones. I prefer to journal in Day One from the iPad over the MacBook app. I prefer to shop on Amazon through the dedicated iPad app over the browser from my Mac. Likewise, I’d rather create and edit IFTTT recipes from the iPad, not the browser. My preferred way to browse reddit at night is … you guessed it, through Alien Blue on the iPad. And I’d rather game from my iPad or Nexus 7 over any of the phones I own.
So it isn’t that my view of tablets has radically changed or that tablets themselves have become so advanced that I simply can’t live without them. Rather, developers have found a solid balance of productivity, usability, and mobility with tablets. And while many people still write them off as glorified toys, I still reach for my iPad mini when I want to get things done at night.
It’s surprisingly convenient, and since I do the brunt of my work from a laptop every day, I don’t feel like I’m never off the clock anymore. (This is a real problem for someone who works from home with no set hours, especially in this business.) It’s a simple mind hack that has worked wonders for me.
Tell me, ladies and gents. Does your tablet usage wax and wane over the course of a year? Have you found your tablet increasingly useful and tablet applications have evolved over the years? Or do you still, after all this time, find tablets to be the most useless gadgets ever?