Unplanned, I’ve spent the last two months without a tablet and the last month without a modern smartphone. My Galaxy Tab bit the dust in an overnight charging fit at the beginning of March and my phone is still the Nokia N8 – nothing compared to todays smartphones! I briefly used a Sony Xperia Arc, and I enjoyed it, but it got passed on to my wife who needs a solid smartphone more than I do. I’m able to chop and change devices far quicker than my wife is and when her original Xperia started going wonky, it was easier to hand-over the newer model rather than try and fix the issues.

Not many tech reporters will have done what I’ve done so it’s worth thinking about where the 7”  tablet really did fit into my life. Was I kidding myself that I needed a tablet? To be honest, I miss my tablet and have tried to resurrect it on many occasion but of course, I can live without it. It turns out it was more of a social device rather than anything I really needed for business but it did mean that I didn’t have to use a Swiss Army Knife to build a house. There are hundreds of tasks for which a 7” tablet is better than anything else.

Since 2006 I’ve been convinced that I needed a larger, handheld mobile internet device. In early 2006 I had already defined an internet tablet in the first of my Carrypad blog posts and although it took over 4 years before I found a solution. (Galaxy Tab unboxing in Sept 2010) I was pleased that I had been right about my use cases. The phone needed to be in the pocket, have a camera and basic internet capability but a Carrypad was the device to offer a quality web, video and reading experience.  During my time with the Tab it was used every day without fail, went with me everywhere and became deeply embedded in my online life. My Wife hated it – never really knowing if I was just playing, working or chatting to my Mum!

I woke up to it in the morning and read RSS feeds, Twitter updates and Techmeme. During the day I used it to take notes, play podcasts, track WordPress comments and ‘play’ the social networks. I pumped out a good number of blog posts too. Thumbing in portrait mode was the best on-screen keyboard experience I had ever had. In the evening I generally used it in laid-back mode on the sofa, again playing the social networks and directing content around. Gtalk, Skype, shared calendars e-books and audioboo podcasts also came into the mix.

When the Galaxy Tab died at the beginning of March, I thought I’d be in serious trouble. A new Ultrabook and my trusty, long-life Nokia N8 has managed to fill in the gaps well but I’m not 100% happy. I know I need that extra tool in my kit.

It’s important to know that I have other tablets around. A few old 7” Android tablets with terrible performance, a 5”Android tablet with no Google market, a 10” Android tablet and a few tablet PCs. The 10”+ device are devices I can never get on with. If I’m going to use a 10” screen it will be at a table with a keyboard and a decent processor and windowing OS.  A 7” ‘good quality’ Android tablet is where all of my tablet Internet activity fits perfectly.

What I’m not missing right now is the ‘charging dance’ every evening. Having three devices (phone, laptop, tablet) means there’s often one that doesn’t end up connected to a charger at the end of the day. I’m also not missing the temptation to lie back for hours, literally, just fumbling around with apps, games and social networks and convincing myself that I’m making productive progress. That wasn’t the case. My online time is now either through short-term periods on the phone (mail, reader, Google Plus, calendar) or more serious bum-on-seat activities where I’m productive with a keyboard, mouse, windowing OS and a decent CPU. This Ultrabook I’m using right now is perfect for that and the speed of startup really helps to bring it into use cases that I had with the tablet. Although the tablet was good for brief posts, microblogging, it’s clear that, if you can, you should get yourself in front of a table with a windowing OS, a decent processor and a good keyboard and mouse.

What I’m missing though are a lot of things that made my life easier.

  • Local train timetables
  • Great weather applications
  • Wikipedia lookups (and the subsequent wen-linked reading experience.)
  • Easy-to-read RSS feeds via Reader
  • Maps and my Google location history, in some cases more important than my URL bookmarks
  • Checking for spam comments on my sites via the WordPress app
  • Easy of social network ‘catch-up’ sessions
  • Tracking website performance via various apps
  • Being able to access full websites on a larger screen. Even a 4″ smartphone is too small in my opinion.
  • Book reading
  • Casual games
  • 3G Hotspot functionality
  • YouTube access (Tractor videos for my son, mainly)
  • Easy access to my google docs
  • Evernote note-taking
  • Taking the internet ‘load’ from my phone
  • The ultra-mobile fun that I associate with going light and leaving the laptop at home. Not recommended for business scenarios though!

There’s a lot more too.

The important thing here is most of these task won’t or can’t transfer over to an Ultrabook or smartphone. The pocketability, mobility and accessibility on an Ultrabook just aren’t there so given that I regard 7” as the optimum for my ‘reading’ activities, there’s still a need for a 7” tablet regardless of what I do with the phone.  A 5.3” tablet might be a tablet solution but I wouldn’t use it as a combined tablet/phone because of the battery life and size issue. Choosing a 7” tablet means having the advantage of better readability and larger battery.

I’ll be sending my Galaxy Tab away soon for an attempted repair but in the meantime, I know I have a minimum requirement of Android 4.0. The Original Galaxy Tab doesn’t offer that and as I don’t think it suits my pocket or requirements to be going for a high-end tablet, it looks like the Huawei Mediapad 3G and Galaxy Tab 2 are my best choices right now. I’ve already considered the Mediapad before but the recent Android 4.x upgrade makes it even more attractive now.

My bum-on-seat experience has taught me that while it’s fun, and easy, to use a big smartphone or small tablet, it’s often more productive, if that’s your aim, to get that laptop out. The Ultrabook style of laptop is a huge help but there’s still a huge range of activities where a mid-size tablet fits perfectly. For me, it gives me huge freedom in choosing a daily phone too. I just love that I still carry a phone that only needs charging every third day!