We happened to have a spare tablet around the house, a Lenovo K1 left over from a hasty spring shopping trip. (Let us pause for a moment to reflect on a world where a low-income family can have a “spare” tablet computer. Thank you.) The obvious pluses are light weight, small footprint, and presumably lower energy use, not to mention that we already owned it. I’ve been interested in netbooks and the Chromebook, but I’d just as soon keep the $300 in the bank, or at least off the credit card. Adding a Bluetooth wireless keyboard to a 10-inch tablet, I figured I could write finished pieces just about anywhere and not have to muck about with typing up handwritten rough drafts. The downsides? Well, the thing had never worked especially well and I wasn’t sure it would be up to the task. Still, with no money but some time to spend on it, I thought I should give it a try.
The first step we took was to “root” the device; that is, unlocking the root command structure. (When I say “we,” I mean myself and/or my tech-savvy teenage son. Everybody should have one.) Next, we installed a newer version of the Android operating system (from 3.2 to 4.0, for those keeping score at home). Unfortunately, these steps also involved wiping the system clean of all its settings and installed applications, and thus cost a few hours’ time in restoring them. The difference in performance was extraordinary, sufficient to allow the project to continue. I was able to find a suitable assortment of free apps to do what I wanted with the tablet, and it seemed I was on my way.
So far, so good, right? Boot time is brief; e-mail is easy to check; I can generate documents and save them to my on-line Dropbox storage; and I can carry a slew of books, music, and games for when I need a break. On the other hand, as Tevye would say, there are a few shortcomings. Being undocked from “Mom,” aka the OEM system, means a certain lack of aftermarket support. For instance, the Google Play store doesn’t recognize the device, so I can’t download any apps from there. Nor do some apps that I can install actually operate. Some websites look and act downright strange, and I can’t get a Bluetooth keyboard to work with the thing.
Well, no system is perfect, is it? The questions then are whether the system does what the user needs it to; does it better than an alternative; and whether the good outweighs the bad. In this case, I need to be able to do word processing and some basic spreadsheet work, browse the internet and handle my e-mail, and keep posting to my blogs. Games and videos are fun, but not what I’d call essential. The verdict so far is, as previously stated, mixed at best. Let’s take the questions one at a time…