Comparing Tablets

We’ve been thinking about buying a couple of tablets to replace/supplement the aging laptops that we currently have as backups for use in class, and for work trips. I’d suggested tablets as a cheap alternative to laptops, and for the selfish reason that I was interested in exploring Derek Bruff’s idea of Google jockeys in relation to my upcoming SCORE fellowship. In each of my classes in the last course a student had a ipad/ laptop or kindle and i guess it’s about time to start engaging with these technologies, to see if they might be useful in class, as well as for short form replacement computers.

This relates to a blog I read this morning describing an iPad lending programme at the University of Cincinnati. This concluded that iPads (and other tablets) can be used for new and innovative things, but often aren’t. I know at Lancaster University they had a similar programme (but lent to students rather than staff) which was discontinued due to lack of interest.  

So anyway suitably wary of some of the hyperbole surrounding the use of tablets, and with the view of looking for a low cost, dip the toe in the water, entry level tablet which at worst will be used as a replacement laptop, I solicited suggestions and got a few (thanks @beersoft and @liamgh !) and thought I’d put together a comparison table, using the Apple iPad 2 as a benchmark.

To re-iterate it’s likely that these tablets will be used by staff to access email and work documents when at conferences/ meetings, used as a replacement for faulty PCs for staff to give their lecture, and possibly in innovative and interesting ways to promote better learning.

I should also say that I spent about 30 mins putting this together so it may well contain errors, I’d welcome any comments or corrections! Including whether there are other criteria I should have looked at.

Also worth noting that there are various options and iterations of each tablet currently available, so I’ve included the links to the actual amazon/ pc world pages that I used as a starting point.

  Storage Options Scroll Advent Vega Samsung Galaxy iPad 2
Amazon price [not necessarily the cheapest], vega not available at amazon, gone with pc world 139.96 199.99 285 460
Size of screen 8” 10.1” 7” 9.7”
RAM 256 MB 512 MB 512 MB 512 MB
Hard drive (* expandable) 8 GB* 4 GB* 16 GB* 16 GB
Processor 800 MHz 1 GHz 1 GHz 1 GHz
OS Android 2.1 Android 2.2 Android 2.2 Apple iOS
Connectors Mini-HDMI, usb Mini-HDMI, usb Usb ‘TV out’ but not HDMI No usb, Video output available with adaptor
Full web (ie flash) Yes Yes Yes No


So looking at the above, the Advent Vega seems like great value, and that’s what I’ll be suggesting.


About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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3 Responses to Comparing Tablets

  1. Jeffery Lay says:

    The problem with reducing comparisons using mere specifications like the above is that it totally ignores the intangibles such as quality of software, user interface, and overall user experience – things that while hard to quantify are not actually hard to compare in hands-on experience.

    For example I personally find that most (not all) software on the iPad is noticeably easier to use, more consistent and more pleasurable in use than most (not all) counterparts on the would-be rival tablets. Such things are partly down to personal taste and experiences, which makes it extremely hard to compare the experiences of different people, but relatively unbiassed users who are given a chance to try all the alternatives are likely to recognise this more easily. If you could work out a taxonomy for these things you’d be doing the whole industry a favour!

    Meanwhile, the specifications you’ve chosen to compare above suggest a bias… for example “Full web, ie flash”. Flash is not part of the web, it is not a W3C open standard: it is a proprietary plugin wholly owned and controlled by Adobe. A widely-used plugin, true, but it’s no more part of the Web than a Java VM, or a niche plugin that plays C64 .SID music files. What’s more, the quality of Flash reproduced on mobile devices varies widely (in some cases it’s unusably bad and causes crashes of the entire tablet, though this situation is slowly improving) and few if any of the implementations out there perform well with all Flash content.

    A comparison of specs and prices is a perfectly good starting point, but it’s doing the reader or client a disservice to suggest it’s the whole story.

    One reason that loan pools of iPads aren’t particularly successful (I know, I maintain a small one myself) is that the devices are intended for personal use. This is also potentially true of most other tablets, but it’s more obvious on the iPad because it’s a very different UI to anything most users have encountered before. They’re personalised devices, and once you have personalised them, they work how you like them, within the constraints of the system. But loan pool devices are either in a virgin state, or more likely set up in a standard state by the loan administrator, and are probably locked down for security reasons. These aspects are likely to actively alienate the user – a personalised device which cannot be personalised is not an appealing prospect, and it’s not worth personalising a short-term loan device. That said, when people have borrowed an iPad from me for a longer period – something around a month or so at a guess – they tend to come back pleased and impressed, and interesting in buying their own. It takes time to get used to any device, and the more personal the device, the more time is needed to discover the relationship between device and user. Loans are simply not conducive to this process, nor to the pleasure one can get from using a device that’s well known and optimised for one’s patterns and preferences.


    (Full disclosure: I’m biassed, in that I support staff Macs and iPads at the OU)

  2. cheers for your comments jef, it’s good to get a contrasting perspective!

    I should probably disclose myself as a recent android convert (from nokia). I am now a big fan of android, although I’ve not really had a play with it on tablet.

    To respond to a couple of your points. Becuase this is likely to be a toe-dipping exercise, and a key selling point would be as a cheaper alternative to laptops, price is a key factor. I haven’t really been tracking the tablet market that much, so I was really suprised that you could get a half decent tab for 200 odd quid. Whether or not the iPad is better to use it would have to justify the extra price tag, and having had a good play with android, I’m not sure that it could. (I may come to a different conclusion once I’ve had a play with android on a tab of course).

    As for the comments about flash, I’ve included it as a consideration partly because I know that flash is widely (but not universally!) used for potential learning resources, in oarticular online video which my previous project was concerned with and something I want to explore with my SCORE fellowship.

    Your comments about personalisation are really interesting. I think of tablets as big phones (rather than limited laptops) and i guess you would have the same issues if you were lending out smartphones! I was planning on using the tablets in class, and setting them up (with apps, resources and favourites pre-loaded) to be of specific use for the class. So ‘personalising’ them for the course.

    Anyway thanks again for your comments.

    • Jeffery Lay says:

      You’re welcome – I hope it comes across as disagreeing partly but constructively, rather than platform fanboyism! 🙂

      In terms of price, Apple set the bar with the first really successful tablet form factor (by which I mean something which isn’t a PC with a rotating screen or missing keyboard). Other have had to struggle to beat it… but they have, in many cases. Some have compromised on the hardware, but some of the larger companies have produced tablet devices that are actually quite decent! It’s hard to put a financial value on the intangibles I mentioned earlier. I can say that I’m glad I spent the extra on an iPad, but the circumstances and criteria you’re working under differ, and so your conclusion may indeed be more appropriate to your needs. If you do have the luxury of testing multiple devices, though, it’s worth comparing the iPad. Part of the reason it’s a success is Apple’s marketing nous… but there is more to it than that. Good design, which has been Apple’s forté for a while now, is more than how the device looks – it’s how it works. Back to those intangibles again – sorry!

      This is where I grit my teeth regarding flash, too. Items made in Flash often look good, because Flash makes the components and tools required for glossy visuals pretty easy, and things like decent text antialiasing and smooth animation really help with that visual punch. But that’s as far as Flash goes. It’s poor for usability (unless you put a lot of work into your production) and it’s terrible for performance. Note that this is apparently due to issues with the Adobe Flash player and not necessarily something inherent to the Flash scripting language or format… but as it’s proprietary, there are precious few alternative players. However, video is the easiest of all – almost all current small devices have support for H.264 video, and many use hardware acceleration, meaning much lower battery and CPU usage. The Flash hardware acceleration situation is improving at last, but still has a way to go.

      I agree about tablets being more like phones in the personalisation stakes. It would be doing all tablets a disservice to say they’re just overgrown phones, which is what some of the early iPad critics said… but at the same time, it’s not entirely untrue. Obviously most current tablets are based on OSs that were first seen on phones (though Apple claim that iOS had tablets in mind about six years before the iPhone was actually available). But they go further, partly because the extra screen real estate makes the form factor less limiting. One of the best things about a tablet is that the hardware can pretty much get out of the way and leave you to interact as directly as you can with the items on the screen, forgetting about the underlying OS, at least at a conscious level. To enable this, you need sufficient hardware power to respond quickly and smoothly to user input, and you need an OS and development system that promotes good production values by making things like animation and visual responses easy to generate (as Flash does to some extent, but patchily, and at the cost of other aspects of usability such as accessibility support). The Android OS is a good foundation, but nobody seems to have made as much focussed use of it yet, whereas the iOS lays down stricter ground-rules and enforces some behaviours that lead ultimately to the average quality of app being better. There’s nothing that says you can’t do an absolutely top-notch app on an Android device, or a stinker on an iPad… it’s just that all other things being equal, the average standard of software is higher on the iPad, even though the flexibility of the device is actually lower in some respects (e.g. limited multitasking, fewer connectivity options, a locked-down OS and App Store infrastructure). Whatever intangibles there are in the qualities of tablet device user experience seem to be something that Apple has mastered to a greater degree than any of their rivals. Ultimately, because I’m failing to identify exactly what it is that makes the iPad worth its extra money, all I can really do is suggest that you try one yourself. Not just a loan or pick-up-and-play, but try using your Android tablet of choice for, say, a month, then try using an iPad similarly, as if it were your own. Bear in mind that you have prior Android experience and favour the platform, and then try to eliminate this bias as much as you can. After all, if you decide that you prefer Android, it’ll be much more satisfying to know that you gave the alternative an equal chance, than it would be to quietly know inside that you had made your mind up before really trying.

      But I digress.

      You say you’re “personalising” the tablets for the course. But I’d argue that isn’t personalisation at all, because it is not the one thing that you cannot make it: Personal. At the very simplest level, one user might decide to group all media-related apps in one place, and all social apps in another, whereas another might group free stuff separately from paid stuff, or something else altogether. If the device is your own, you’ll set it up how you want it. If it’s locked down, or pre-set for a purpose, and it’s not yours for long, you’re more likely to simply learn to use it as it has been set up. There’s less emotional investment in a device that’s not your own… just like the difference between how you might drive your own car, and how you might drive a rental car, but taken further because you can configure these devices rather more than cars.

      Sorry. I’m rambling. That’s a consequence of trying to be logical in the office on a hot Friday just after lunch, when my brain insists I should actually be asleep on grass in the sun with a warm cat or two, and a glass of cold lemonade. I hope there’s something buried (deep) in my comments that’s worthwhile.

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