From the safe, somewhat chilly confines of my Chicagoland abode, I have been remotely watching the goings-on at CES in sunny Las Vegas. So far, I've seen some pretty sweet gadgets: Window cleaning robots! Nanocoating for cellphones! Roving game balls!
However, the news I'm seeing on the tablet/cellphone front is, for lack of a better word, boring. Sure, there's the Windows 8 all-in-one laptops/tablets and the Surface Pro, but we've known about those for some time... plus, the Surface Pro is more laptop than tablet IMO (with battery life to match, I'm guessing.) The Ubuntu mobile OS is exciting, but way too far off, and may very well be dead/outdated before it even hits. BlackBerry 10 looks promising, but will it get the developer and consumer support it needs after being asleep at the wheel for so long? Who knows.
This serves as a reminder of how difficult it is to get one device that does all the things I want well, which is partly due to hardware, partly due to software, and largely due to limitations of said software. This is part of the reason I recently acquired a Microsoft Surface, a tablet I've fallen in love with, but still can't replace both my Nexus 7 and my iPad mini. I figured it was a good time to break down what I'd really like to see in a tablet, by discussing who's ahead and who's behind for each feature.
Gaming: iPad mini
Due to its perfect size, low weight, and HUGE selection of apps, iPad mini is the clear winner for gaming by a long shot. Both the Nexus 7 and Microsoft Surface have a powerful gaming chip, but fall short on selection. Plus, the Surface is a terrible form factor for mobile gaming.
Emulation: Nexus 7
If you're into emulation at all, I won't have to go into too much detail here, but Android by far has the best support for the emulation crowd, plus the best selection of apps. Apple doesn't even allow "emulators" on the App Store in the classic sense.
Reading: iPad mini
The iPad wins once again in the reading department due to its shape and low weight, although the Nexus 7 isn't far behind.
Browsing: Microsoft Surface
So far, I have enjoyed Internet browsing the most on the Surface, due to the gorgeous widescreen display, clean view of Metro's version of Internet Explorer, and the additional benefit of touchpad support with the Smart Cover.
Sharing: Nexus 7
The Nexus 7, or any Android device really, is vastly ahead in the sharing department due to the integrated share widget. I can send a link anywhere from the share function, whether it be to Twitter, Buffer, Google+, Evernote, email, Gmail, Pinterest, Pinboard, the list goes on. You name it, Android can share it there. Not so with iOS, where sharing has to be built into the app, and on Windows RT, which can do it but simply doesn't have the developer support available for every app.
Audio: Nexus 7
I take my music listening somewhat seriously, and as such a dedicated equalizer is crucial for me. The Nexus wins simply because Android allows for a custom EQ program to run in the background and be active for any app. I haven't found anything on Windows RT that allows me to do this, and iOS simply won't let you, unless the app has a built in EQ. This does me no good, as the uPnP sharing apps I've tried don't allow this, which brings me to my next point...
Media Streaming: Nexus 7
I store all my media on a uPnP/DLNA server which is accessible by any network device in my home... screw iTunes. As such, music streaming on the iPad is largely broken, requiring me to use either a bare bones, crap-app or a paid app. Several apps on the Surface do support uPnP playback, including Microsoft's own, but they're clunky and slow -- plus, the EQ issue still exists. However, on the Nexus 7, I can stream music with uPnPlay (an unfortunately named, but fantastic app) with an EQ running in the background. Problem solved.
Video Streaming: Microsoft Surface
Simply due to the screen, the Surface wins out. Its widescreen format may be unique, but is perfect for watching movies.
Doing Actual Work: Microsoft Surface
One of the main reasons I bought the Surface was for performing "real work," that meaning spreadsheets, professional documents, and so on. The smart keyboard cover is brilliant, and I can type at near full speed on it with ease, plus it takes up no extra space in my bag. I can run native Word and Excel as well as have access to Microsoft's Lync client. Yes, the other tablets have programs that can do this, but the Surface combines a "real" keyboard, a "real" touchpad, and "real" Windows all in a very convenient package, plus Remote Desktop.
Switching Between Apps: Microsoft Surface
The "multitasking" features of Windows RT are fantastic. I love the Charms and the ability to quickly and effortlessly swipe between apps, as well as the dual-pane interface. iOS's app switching sucks, to put it bluntly, and Android's is solid, but nowhere near as fluid.
Maybe next CES I'll see the perfect tablet.
Or perhaps not -- it seems that in today's landscape, you simply can't have it all. Of course, the gadget geek's solution is to simply own all three. (Thanks Craigslist!)