[T]his is something I wanted to talk about for a while, it is about using android devices to replace a laptop for photographers, jump in for the first part.
For most of the time, I had two laptops, a back breaking behemoth that is now my desktop, and another smaller and lighter one for mobile use (or a UMPC). During the course of the last decade there has been many form factors that has now met their doom. Fancy industry words like “UMPC”, “Netbook” are now defunct or will be. I had a bunch of photography companions over the years, and will tell you why they did not work for me and why I'm using Android as a laptop.
I had a Fujitsu lifebook and a Vaio P. Sold them both within a month without loosing much. The problem with UMPCs is that they are fun, but you can't really do serious work with them. Well, you can, but it is very hard to, think writing a book on the iPad virtual keyboard and you will understand. I think the real problem was the OS, they both had full blown windows on them! Tiny screen, full Windows, it's a pain to set up and use. At some point of having them, I felt like I simply had expensive toys and promply sold them, I do not regret them one bit. These things could be perfect for backing up, but dedicated backup devices are better (more on this later).
Like I said, I had laptops, one as a desktop and the other a real laptop. I had a black macbook and couple of others, and I must say it was FRUSTRATING to juggle between two computers. First thing I had to do is set up my laptop, that took a long time to format, reinstall windows (or Mac OS), install all the programs (Adobe stuff takes their sweet time) and custumize everything (speed hacks, shortcuts, etc). But more than this having two computers created conflicts for me, I never could find a good workflow between two Windows (or Windows-mac) machines, import catalog on laptop then transfer? Simply view and then transfer? How to backup two computers without wasting space? Make specific folders for laptop or sync them all? I really could not handle two computers, it was really getting me frustrated so I simply stuck with my desktop (a behemoth laptop).
- The size (your hands hurt, it's like holding half a laptop)
- Full blown OS (not only it creates frustration for me, but using full windows on a tablet was a pain)
- Heat (they were laptop, not tablets as you know them, so they got REAL hot)
- You end up needing a keyboard or dock
Boy these things were popular, now nobody uses the word anymore, nobody makes them anymore, it's all about tablets now. The problem with the netbooks are heat, battery life, weight, and full blow OS. The general problem with small devices or slate tablets having windows it is that windows was not designed for small screens and tablets. The combination creates bad user experiences, the form factors were never the problem but the software was. The industry needed an innovator in order for others to blindly try to catch up.
The new frontier: iPad
The old tablets were a profuct before their time. They were GREAT devices (except for some shortcomings) mind you but the software was not researched at all. “Tablet” Windows XP or Vista was the same old windows with extra stuff for pens. It took Apple to give them a good kick in the nuts with their iPads for them to seriously look at tablet user interfaces. The iPad had the interface right and the right form factor, it never gets hot and it's a joy to use.
Content consumption vs content creation
Before going on let's make a difference between two concepts: Content consumption and content creation devices. A content consumption device is a device where you consume content, may it be music, video or video games. A PSP, an iPod, A portable DVD player are all content consumption devices. A Content creation device is a device where you can create content, like make word, excel, PSD, files, edit and export images, etc.
A laptop or desktop are content creation devices (also content consumption because you watch videos on your laptop). For now iOS and Android devices are on the threshold of being content creation devices. Their primary use is read books, surf the web, watch movies, listen to music, get GPS directions, call, etc. but we are coming into an era where these are beginning to be serious tools to actually create music, create graphics, create blogs, etc.
The iPad for photographers
Hate it or love it, from early on the iPad was seen as a potentially serious tool for content creation. Some of the music apps on there are high level, and they give you great options, so much so that Gorillaz recorded a whole album on the iPad. Not only the iPad has the most apps, people seem to create more higher quality apps for it, and it's the apps that makes it a content creation device or not. But beyond the software, the iPad has no removable storage, USB port, file system, and is overall too dependant on a computer. Plus some apps will never make the Apple cut because of their policy.
Why a mobile OS
I think there are lots of form factors that hit a great note in the past, but the software always came short. What Apple did is show the world what a carefully researched interface could do. Mobile OSes are coming of age, and are running some pretty heavy specs for “mobile” OSes. Mobiles OSes are very intuitive and easy to use, and there is a lot that you can do more easily than a laptop, like install software. I think these are the future, or hybrid OSes will be. Full blown OSes will be relegated to desktops and more heavy work. You can see this is the future because Microsoft is making an identity crisis with Windows 8, and Apple makes their MAC OS look and feel more like iOS.
Android came in late, and android tablet came in even later. The Google app store lacks many Tablet centric apps that the iPad has, and the very good content creation apps are very few. This is the bad new, the apps are not quite there yet and it will be a while when companies realize that tablets are a force to be reckoned with. Take Adobe, they made a Photoshop for tablets…..taht will not let you open or save anything higher than say 1000 pixels…. they made a TOY version of a serious tool. I can't wait when they will finally release something serious for tablets like Lightroom with touch interface. But beyond the apps, the strength of android is that yo you have a lot of choice for your laptop replacement, including the Asus transformer series.
What android can and cannot do
Android is still young, so do not expect to do what you can do on your laptop. That is for the future, when app makers realize they have a huge market in their hands. What it can do for you, right now, is substitute your laptop well enough that you do not need it to take on when you travel. So far you will not be able to do huge photo editing that can be ready for print, but you can do photo editing while travelling to know how the end product is going to look like. So it's basic for now, but very useable, but the future will be much brighter.
What to looks for in tablets for photographers
Here is what I belive you have to look for in an android tablet for photographers:
- Higher end tablet (non of the cheap ones, sorry)
- Integrated USB ports (now you know why I don't like iPads much)
- USB allows USB host (it can run an external drive)
- Integrated SDHC card reader
I am not a big believer in the strict tablet form factor, but the hybrid form factor (tablet+keyboard) for serious work. I have a hybrid tablet, I can count how many times I used the tablet alone.
Asus padfone ( & keyboard)
I have this and I use it every day. The price is justified if you know you will stick with it for years (I know I will). It is useful because you always have your portfolio with you and you can show it off on the tablet if you have it with you. You do not need to deal with many portfolios on different devices, it's on your phone and on your tablet. It has 2 USB ports, SDHC card reader, mouse pad, all in a very high performance package. I use it for my photography and will tell you all about it the next upcoming posts.
You need to get the keyboard because it's where the USBs and SDHC card reader are located and the keyboard has an external battery. The prices are proportional to internal storage. But for photography what you really need is external drives. The padfone is significantly bigger than the transformers.
Very nice tablet with wacom digitizer (so it's finger + real wacom pen), sdhc and one USB port. Keyboard takes the USB port and hides the SD card slot.
Any USB OTG tablet
USB OTG means USB on the go, and that means if you have the appropriate cable, you can put in regular sized usb devices like hard drives and sdhc card readers into a mini USB port. Make your research to be sure what kind of devices your tablet can support. Also see if you will agree to put up with having cables, external card readers and USB hub before you buy.
As you can see the best form factor for photographers is actually a tablet+keyboard that run a mobile OS. The are light, have huge battery life, and none of the hassle of a full-blown OS. They are limited now but good enough, but the future will force developers to create more “applications” then quick buck “apps”. Next time we will see about Android backup solutions for photographers.