When is a tablet not a “tablet”: a critique of the 7″ slate/tablet

Apple iPad (Source Flickr)

At its debut, the iPad was much derided for its name, though I found it entirely appropriate. When I think of a pad of paper what comes to mind is an 8.5 X 11 inch yellow legal pad. Legal pads accompanied me to many a class while in school and meetings as a professor.  My legal pads worked well for taking notes, creating drafts of term papers and articles for publication before laptops were widely available.  I didn’t even consider using a 4″X 5″ notepad for anything important. I welcomed the chance to have a portable computer that could substitute for paper tablets.  But the laptop, even though quite portable, still cramped my style. I desired a device that was light weight, comfortable to take notes with in meetings, AND lets med do serious writing  ….. enter the iPad tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab (Image Courtesy samsungmobile.com)

What I need in a mobile work device is a size that is comfortable to write with, powerful enough to handle word processing, easy connectivity to cloud computing resources, and loaded productivity apps for getting my work done. My 13″ MacBook has served me well, but the lighter and smaller 10″ iPad serves as a much better mobile work device. The iPad accompanies me to most meetings and serves as my classroom presentation device. The word processing capabilities easily handle my needs when drafting an article. Combined with its communication and media capabilities, it has practically replaced my laptop. The iPad has undoubtedly brought the tablet computer to the masses and we’re finally seeing competitors entering the market.  Apple’s competitors are now scrambling to create a device that functions as well as the iPad. The Samsung “Galaxy” is one such device that has garnered several good reviews, and a few not so stellar ones.  The major differentiation, beyond the OS, is size and cameras.  The Samsung “Galaxy” is being hailed as the first true competitor to the iPad.

But are seven inch “tablets” like the Galaxy a real competitor to larger tablets like the iPad?

To be a “competitor” means that it can adequately meet my needs as well as my  iPad does. First and foremost a 7″ screen size kills the Galaxy as a competitor to the iPad as a work-oriented device. The 7″ screen of the Galaxy has only 45% of the screen real estate of an iPad. Reviews have noted how cramped the keyboard is and awkward typing feels on it. I cannot see how such a device could hold up to a student trying to take notes during an hour-long lecture. Writing drafts of articles or term papers would be tedious at best. So, for a “tablet” as I have described earlier, it fails. Various reviews give it high marks as a portable media and communications device. Yes, one can do email, play music, and watch videos. Reviewers suggest that it serves nicely as an eReader. But these reviews tend to be related to reading trade books. It questionable how practical a device of this size is for interactive textbooks.

Seven inch tablets fall short as a tool for getting the work of a student or a professor done.  Seven inch tablets are like 4′” x  5″ paper notepads compared to legal pads. They are to a 10″ tablet  as a netbook is to a laptop, they minimally serve your needs, but not in a very productive way.  When is a tablet not a tablet? When it’s seven inch slate.   Do you need one? I don’t.

About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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