Phones, Tablets, and Even Windows 8

Last year I purchased two Kindle Fires for the family to use. The UI could be just a little bit/slow twitchy at times, but never so much to make you put the device down.  Looking at the usage over a year it was mostly games mostly played by kids followed by movies from Amazon Prime. Great travel/meal distractions to keep them quiet and engaged. Overall they worked out fine and a decent value at $200 each. Back to those in a minute.

Mid year I purchased an iPad for my wife. None of the UI twitchiness we saw in the Kindle, very very responsive. The kids like it because it has a few games that aren’t on the Kindle, but seem to like the Kindle form factor better. My wife prefers using a laptop or her iPhone, the iPad being more suitable for desk/lap use than reading/solitaire at bed time.

This year I watched the Kindle Fire v2 emerge with better tech specs, and the HD version with a camera and a few other upgrades. I bought one to see what we thought, because we also debated getting the iPad mini. The HD was a hit at home, though I think it’s slightly wider form factor is too wide – kids don’t hold it with one hand so doesn’t matter to them. There ended up being two factors for us; cost ($200 vs $329, and Amazon content vs Apple). I just didn’t see enough difference in the mini iPad to justify the extra spend. That’s for me, and that’s also looking at content – Amazon works for us. So, after a non-technical and probably non-objective comparison we now have 2 HD’s, the old Kindle Fires handed off to to Mom for various kids to use when they visit her.

Couple other notes. The Kindles have an HDMI out,kids love plugging in to play games/watch video on the big screen,even if with a 6 foot cable tethering them. You can also get a season of A-Team for $5 and I don’t know if life gets better than trying to explain Hannibal being Hannibal. I haven’t tried yet but Amazon also has a new program coming just for kids that gives them their own login and a special set of content, plus time limits and still better parental controls (which are decent on the v2’s already).

Back to the content for a minute, both Apple and Amazon want you to use their stack and they don’t make it easy to mix and match, often in small ways. For example on the Kindle you can “borrow” one book a month if you’re a Prime member – can’t do that using the Kindle reader on any other platform. If you’re not technical or not interested in driving outside the lines you’ll live within the stack, and I suspect largely be happy with it, as long as you’re only using one stack!

I also wanted to get a dedicated tablet for me to use. I debated the Kindle Fire v2 because its not quite as wide, but a friend convinced me to try the Nexus 7 instead. It’s yet another stack, Google everything instead of Amazon or Apple. It’s interesting to run stock Android and see the similarities/differences to the Android on my Droid Maxx – not that many, but a few, and a few more compared to the customized Android on the Kindles. Having used it for a few weeks I like the form factor – easier to read than my phone, comfortable to hold. I don’t miss the Amazon stack, so far at least – book reading works just fine from Amazon and that’s the biggest piece I need.

Next we replaced my wife’s laptop with an Acer V5 Touch running Windows 8. The reviews were so-so, but she wanted to try it anyway. At $600 you get less than 2 hours battery life which didn’t matter because it’s a ‘use at home’ device, Windows 8, and a touch screen. I tried Windows 8 more than a year ago and was less than thrilled, so I bought this expecting in a few days I’d be reloading it with Windows 7. Having a touch screen does change things. I look over to see her type and then swipe, other times one hand is steadying the display while she swipes more. That part is logical of course, we know that from the iPhone forward plus watching any new computer user touch the monitor expecting something to happen – now it does. She couldn’t find Control Panel, took me a couple minutes to find it. The change from tiled Desktop to plain ole Windows is still jarring to me, and I suspect to everyone else. The tiles are interesting, I don’t know if compelling. If you’re reading this I’d tell you the Acer is fine for family, not the one you want for you.

Here is how my family uses devices these days:

  • Kids: Old iPhones as iPods used mostly for music, Kindle Fire HD for games/video, PC with Windows 7 for browsing, Windows games. Amazon for content.
  • Wife: iPhone for music/games/browsing, a seldom used iPad, Windows 8 laptop for browsing/shopping. Apple for content
  • Me: Droid Maxx for basics, Nexus 7 for reading/misc, Mac Air for work/writing (with Win 7 on Parallels). Amazon for content

The small/medium/large device format seems to work for me, so far. I wonder if I’ll care less about the phone features over time if I use the Nexus for more day to day stuff. Mostly the laptop and Nexus are in my backpack and go everywhere with me, sometimes I’ll take the Nexus along if we go to dinner and are talking/shopping/looking at something. Do I need three devices? Does anyone? I don’t know yet.

I have to think Apple will bring touch screen to the Mac Air soon, I’m surprised they haven’t already. Windows 8/Surface? Price + Content is how you win, so far they don’t seem to hit either. I’m not anti-Microsoft, I just don’t think they sell anything that draws me. Apple has Itunes, Amazon has well, Amazon, Microsoft has ?

Looking into 2013 I’m curious to see how the market evolves. Ultrabooks seem obvious, yet also seem to struggle to get market share. I see a lot of people using iPad with bluetooth keyboards and I think that model will grow. I’d like to see the bezel shrink on the tablets, reducing the form factor without reducing the functionality. I think Amazon has the best strategy so far and they are playing to the family angle – very smart.