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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

iPad 3 vs. Android 3.1 when using media

Several months ago, I purchased a Toshiba Thrive running the Android 3.1 OS. A few weeks ago, I got the new iPad 3 for work to test how tablets could work with our system. I have to say that in my opinion, the Android beats the iPad hands down, no contest. I know everyone works differently, and if sales are any indication, my view is well in the minority. That said, here are the reasons for my views.

Let me say at the outset that I have long been a fan on Google and relatively hostile to Apple. Apple turned me off in the early 1980s when they refused to let users upgrade memory in their computers (or do anything else). As a PC person, I was used to making upgrades myself and didn't want a manufacturer thwarting my efforts. Over the last three decades, Apple has only gotten worse with it's OCD attitude that no one can do anything any different way than Apple wants. Much of this leads to unnecessary complication and expense. Google gives you just about everything free. Apple seems to go out of its way to make all of its products, upgrades, add-ons and service much more expensive. Those attitudes are why I have become a big fan of Google.

I also want to say that this review does not discuss the basics (graphics quality, physical weight, battery length, etc.). Those things are readily measurable and have been discussed in other reviews far more professional than mine. I've also skipped things that were similar on both (such as my use of Kindle or Netflix). My focus here is on my experience ease and range of use.

I bought the Thrive over several competing Android Tablets because of its ports. I liked that it had a full size and a mini USB port as well as a full size SD flash port. I also have found the full HDMI port handy for hooking the tablet up to my TV. Anytime I want to add any media, I just copy the data from the SD reader on my laptop and stick it in my tablet. From there, I'm good to go. Many other Androids only offer a micro SD and may not have a full USB, so pay attention to that when buying if you find those important.

Setup and customization was relatively quick easy and painless. Within a few days, I was quite comfortable with everything. I have hit a few snags, such as the fact that the tablet cannot read RTF or WordPerfect documents. Also, the camera does not seem to work with Skype. But other than that, I've been quite happy.

Compare that with my iPad 3 experience. Since many employees at my work were buying iPads and asking me for help using them, I decided to purchase a new iPad 3 so I could help with them. Apple has a well crafted reputation that everything "just works" without having to do a great deal of setup. My experience has been that for an advanced user, this is not the case and is very frustrating.

First, music: I don't listen to music all the time, but like to have my tunes handy. Most of my preferred selections are oldies that I have ripped from my CDs. With my Android, I simply copied a list of my music onto a flash card and stuck it in my tablet. It's there whenever I want it and can play right away. With iPad, there is no such option. The only way to play music is through Apple's iTunes. I had installed iTunes on a computer many years ago. It was incredibly intrusive, taking over all sorts of functions automatically without asking me. I have no desire to go through that again. Since there is no other option on the iPad, I'll just have to do without. My other option would be to spend hundreds of dollars repurchasing on iTunes, all the songs I have already purchased several times, no thanks.

Second, video: As with music, most of my videos I want to watch on my tablet are personal videos I have made myself. On my Android, I again simply copied them onto the tablet and accessed them. No problem. Again, with the iPad, there is no way to do this. As a work around, I have many of my videos uploaded to Youtube. I can simply watch them that way on either device, but often I have my tablet somewhere without Internet access. In that case, my iPad is useless.

Third, documents: If I want a cloud based solution for any documents, I just upload them to Google Docs and then access them on my tablet. I also have the option to connect my tablet directly to my Windows computer and have it show up as a drive. From there, I can copy, move, add, delete documents. I also keep many important documents on a flash drive in my wallet. I can just stick that drive into the USB port on my tablet and have immediate access to them. There is also the option of moving files via my SD Flash card. In short, there are a wide variety of methods to move files back and forth, even when Internet access is not available. With iPad, no such luck. I can go to Google Docs and use that. But if I'm without Internet, I'm out of luck. There is no apparent way to save a document locally to my tablet.

Fourth, email: On the Android, I entered my Gmail address and password. The tablet automatically synced my address book and multiple calenders, as well as my email inbox. I can select what calendars I want to show, as well as import or export calendar or contact info. The iPad made things much more limited or complicated. I still have not figured out how to sync my contacts. There is an account setting to sync contacts which is turned on, but not syncing anything. With my calendar, it syncs my main calendar, but I have half a dozen calendars (different activities and things shared with different people). Only the main calendar can be shown. I spent a few hours yesterday working through some work arounds for this. But so far, nothing has worked. I expect there is a solution, but it is not easy or intuitive as it was with my Android.

Fifth, photos: I have for years stored family pictures on PicasaWeb. The Android found these right way and showed them to me in my picture gallery. I have the option to cache selected pictures in case I want to view them when not connected to the Internet. With iPad, it appears I have to move my whole collection to iCloud -- not worth the hassle.

Admittedly, my experience is biased by the fact that I have used many Google products for years (such as Gmail and Picasa) and one might expect that Google built the Android OS to be more amenable to interaction with its other products. If I had been using iTunes and iCloud for years instead, perhaps my experience would be different.

One place I would think Apple has the advantage is with Apps. It's well known that Apple has many more apps available than iPad. But I have to say, Android wins my pick there too. I tend to be cheap. Android gives me a wide variety of free apps that do just about anything I want. Apple seems to charge more for just about anything, with far fewer free apps. I think this has to do with the difficulty of App makers getting into the Apple store. Because of the complication, many people who want to give away a free product just don't bother.

Apple also has an advantage when it comes to downloading movies or music. There is a much broader selection and it seems to work easily. That said, Apple charges a real premium for streaming. I looked up a few movies that were selling for close to $20 for a digital copy. That's more than I pay for a DVD where the manufacturer had to burn, package, and ship the product to a store. On top of that, if you are watching video regularly using a cell connection rather than wifi, you can find yourself saddled with hundreds of dollars in download costs each month.

I should also add that the iPad comes with a "USB" cable that doubles as the charging cable. However, connecting it to a computer does not give you access to the iPad hard drive and you cannot copy files back and forth. I also put "USB" in quotes because rather than having a real USB port on the iPad, you get some special proprietary port. This means, you will have to spend $30 to buy a replacement if it breaks or gets lost, compared to $1 or $2 for a replacement USB cable that uses standard connections. I was a little annoyed that I could not charge my Android via the USB port, but had to use the special adapter which came for that purpose, so Android did not win any points on charging hassles.

There are many out there who enjoy the iPad and other Apple products. If you are already invested in iTunes and iCloud, your experience will probably be much less painful. If you don't mind paying big money for apps and media, as well as streaming costs, the iPad may be quite enjoyable for you. But if you are not already fully invested in Apple, or don't want to continue paying premium costs for everything you do, I strongly recommend going with Android.

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