a sort of reasonable discussion on tablets

TL; DR version: HP is having a fire sale, selling their tablets for $99! I recently decided to buy one and if you’re in the market for a tablet, here’s an argument for why you should try to snag one

Sometime at the beginning of fall, I was having a seriously awesome day so the universe intervened and when I went to close to my laptop, I touched the screen and the LCD lights got all dramatic and broke under my thumb. I’m stronger than I look apparently.

I took my laptop to Best Buy and they asked if I had bought my computer from them and if it was under warranty, which I understand as shorthand for: “We can’t help you.” They couldn’t help me even if it had been under warranty, because Best Buy is The Worst.

I bought the cheapest monitor I could find, which ended up being a pretty nice (and fairly large) HP monitor. I assumed I’d find some computer guy in Kansas City or Lawrence that would be able to fix my screen, but all this tomfoolery happened on a Wednesday night and I had a paper due the following Monday (and a test that next morning and two seconds between that test and work to find something/figure out a way to fix the screen — woo hoo!) Of course, I never found that computer guy and the return policy on the monitor expired months ago, so my laptop was accidentally, but successfully, converted into a desktop.

On school days, I would pull up PDFs on my iPod and various documents on my BlackBerry between classes (and sometimes in class) to review and/or read over important lessons. My strained eyesight and chronically dead phone battery were screaming at me to do better than this.

So, I found a repair guy. His company was based in Texas and guaranteed a good-as-new computer screen in three weeks or under. I’m not really the type of person to send a valuable electronic with years of school and personal work on it to the boondooks based on trust and cute colloquialisms scattered about a website. Especially not for the price he was asking for, which was reasonable, but not for me. To put $300 into my laptop now would be to invest in it and tie myself to it for another two years, at least. That just seems illogical to me–it’s working fine as a desktop and I’m kind of enjoying having a larger computer screen, although it does make Skype video conversations a little awkward, as it looks like I’m super engaged with something directly to the right of the webcam. Nevertheless, I’m not investing in this laptop. And thus began the search for the perfect tablet–preferably one that cost as much as, or less than, the cost of repairing my laptop screen.

The first thing I did was go to Amazon and compare the Kindle Fire with the iPad. Amazon makes a lot of great arguments for how they’re basically the same product, but the key distinction between the two–the deal breaker distinction–is that the Kindle has yet to come up with a way to edit documents on their OS. While I would never write a long form essay on a tablet, you bet your ass I’d be doing edits on it. The majority of this was written on my Blackberry. My love for writing on the go is river deep, mountain high (so much so that I’m hesitant to ever step away from RIM and into Apple, I could blaze through an entire Dickens novel with this keyboard and that is an acquired skill I never want to let go). This was only the beginning of my search, but I proudly proclaimed that if you were any type of writer there was no other tablet you could get but the iPad. It had a wide-screen, document editing capabilities and an app store full of entertainment options for especially boring classes or pompous professors (because let’s be real).

Awesome! Done!

Except, the iPad doesn’t exactly fit into my predetermined budget. Like, no-fucking-way-I-could-ever-justify-that-even-if-it’s-the-holiday-season-does-not-fit-into-my-budget.

The second part of this search became my LOTR: Two Towers (oh yes, this shit just got epic) and I began scanning the Internet for articles cross-checking the iPad and other tablets in the same way the Kindle Fire compares itself to the iPad. SPOILER ALERT: comprehensive lists like that don’t exist. My psychology professor made the argument that “my generation” doesn’t know how to think critically because we have Google and I was totally trying to prove her right, but the “Top ‘Generic #’ Tablet” lists didn’t actually list features or compare anything the way I needed them to (CNET does a really fantastic job with reviews though–I just need more “man on the street” input). Consequently, in my free time, I would search tablets, read the reviews (users and critics) and then scour the Internet for some hyper-specific comparison article on that tablet vs. the iPad because, remember? It was the only thing I needed!

Honestly, this is where the search got a little exhausting because I was prepared to do little to no grunt work and even the slightest bit of investigation made me want to turn all Frodo and abandon The Ring. But! Turns out finding the information I needed was pretty easy. Amazon’s tablet section lets you compare the tablets to others listed in the marketplace. Apple’s tablets are only sold by individuals not the certified marketplace, so when you type it in you’ll be redirected to a page full of individual listings of first generation iPads and a defiant link to the iPad vs. Kindle Fire comparison page.

In the tablet section, I selected my most basic requirements: a 7″ screen, 32 GB capacity (at least) and 4G capability (but will settle for 3G) (standards! who’s gotta stick to them?) and went from there. I loved RIM’s tablet, but if I’m going to have the Godzilla sized version of a cell phone without the “phone” part, I wouldn’t choose Blackberry. I know, doesn’t really make sense, right? But everything I like about my Blackberry has very little to do with Blackberry (and there was a month when I was regularly tweeting mean things and just generally trolling their Twitter account) (and I say I’m busy–HA). The tablets I was most interested in at first were the tablets powered by the Android network, which got me super excited because THAT is how you compete with an Apple tablet. I would love access to the Android app store! The best part was that almost all of these tablets were at or near $300.

There were little problems I found though, like “tinny speakers,” low battery life or the worst thing of all: no customer reviews.

Then I found the HP Touchpad, a model HP discontinued in August with a memorable fire sale wherein they were sold for $99 for the 16GB version and $149 for the 32GB. It’s specs rival the iPad– most notably, the identical 9.7″ display and 1.2GHz processor (which is .2GHz faster). It’s also backlit for outside reading and the speaker system was designed exclusively by Beats by Dr. Dre. It comes with wi-fi capability, but not 3G or 4G, which is probably for the best if you’re like me and don’t really need to be paying for the extras anyway.

Right now, the Touchpad retails for a little under $300 on Amazon. HP discontinued the model after deciding they didn’t want to take part in the tablet game. They originally sold it at the same price as an iPad and were met with little success, but a demand was created when customers went wild over August’s fire sale. The company hasn’t definitively decided if it will still develop the webOS system or continue to build it’s app store, but they do offer Touchpad support services and carry accessories for the device ($10 herringbone sleeve, stop tempting me). Also, it has an awesome wordpress app and 300 other apps that PC Magazine has boiled down to a convenient Top 20.

If the company’s position in limbo between developing new apps or keeping their apps “fresh! (for August 2011)” here’s some awesome information: the Android OS can be installed on HP tablets. Did the Hallelujah chorus ring in your ears when you read that? Because it did for me. Beware though: downloading the Android OS voids your warranty, so see if HP’s webOS fails to satisfy or if Instagram really is coming to the Android network before you do anything rash. Both operating systems can exist on your device though–it’s just a matter of which system you want to enable and how badly you need that warranty.

HP is having a second fire sale, starting at 6PM tonight on their official Ebay account, selling the tablets for $99 again. If you’re buying the HP Touchpad in this sale, you will only have a 90 day warranty anyway, so there’s no point voiding it before seeing if there are any real problems with the tablet. All of the tablets sold in this second sale will be refurbished.

I ordered my Touchpad a day before reading about this fire sale, because OF COURSE I did, and it should be here before Tuesday. I can’t wait to test out the speakers, tinker with webOS and cross my fingers that HP decides to continue developing apps for it.

Do you use a tablet? Would you consider buying one? What are your tablet “needs” and should we refine Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to fit today’s society and its growing technology? Do you feel a little guilty looking at the phrase “tablet needs” and reflexively and simultaneously imagine starving kids in Africa being fed cornmeal by UN aid workers, holding their hands out Oliver Twist style because they want some more? Or…is that just me?

They day I get over my constant guilt about everything is December 21, 2012.