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A Wish List For Tablets In 2013 453

timothy writes "For the last few years, I've been using Android tablets for various of the reasons that most casual tablet owners do: as a handy playback device for movies and music, a surprisingly decent interface for reading books, a good-enough camera for many purposes, and a communications terminal for instant messaging and video chat. I started out with a Motorola Xoom, which I still use around the house or as a music player in the car, but only started actually carrying a tablet very often when I got a Nexus 7. And while I have some high praise for the Nexus 7, its limitations are frustrating, too. I'll be more excited about a tablet when I can find one with (simultaneously) more of the features I want in one. So here's my wish list (not exhaustive) for the ideal tablet of the future, consisting only of features that are either currently available in some relevant form (such as in existing tablets), or should be in the foreseeable near future; I'll be on the lookout at CES for whatever choices come closest to this dream." Read below to see what's on Timothy's wish list.
Here's my current mild-fantasy feature list; if you know of better ways to meet these desires, or even more compelling features you'd like to see, I'd like to hear them.

Integrated GPS navigation with built-in maps, not relying on an (always brittle, often expensive) ongoing data connection, or relying on a 3rd-party app. Even cheap standalone GPS units come loaded with maps, which means putting those maps on is possible, and (except from the standpoint of the companies who sell you data by the byte) it would be a good idea. Google's maps app provides a passable workaround, in the form of cached data, so you can load up the maps you need for a given route while you're sitting at a cheap and fast broadband connection, but in practice I'd found it iffy; sometimes the navigation refuses to recognize the maps I've loaded.

So long as you've got a data plan you don't mind dipping into, and are within cellular coverage range, that's fine, but large stretches of the Western U.S. in particular could leave you reliant on paper maps or a really good memory. If Garmin and company can put 6 million points of interest on pocket-sized GPS devices, and has been doing so for the last decade, shouldn't tablet makers do the same? (Not that freshly updated maps with handy chunks of crowd-sourced data are a bad thing; they just shouldn't be the only option. Graceful failure is reason enough to include a basic map set by default.)

(Two related pipe-dreams: 1) Future integration, too, with Gallileo and Beidou — the EU and Chinese equivalents to the U.S. made GPS constellation, and 2) integration with Open Street Maps. Every tablet should be a mapping tool, not just a map reader.)

A full sized USB port. Two of them, even better, but I'd settle for one. USB keys are the easiest way to transmit a certain size of file, close range, in particular when that's already the medium the file occupies. Things like Dropbox help, but don't pass the Mom test (at least in my family), and require extra steps if the document / podcast / video clip is right there in your pocket, just in an unusable form. The other reason I want a full-size USB port is that as impressive it is to have a tiny computer and display in a pocketable device, there is not yet a more efficient way for a sitting person to enter text than a keyboard, and tiny tablet-focused portable keyboards are a weak tool of convenience rather than actually *good,* generally. For light travel, sure. But I'd like to pop to the coffee shop to work for a while with a 1-pound tablet and a real keyboard. Workaround: There are Bluetooth keyboards, but the only true way to get a full-size USB ports for most tablets is by picking up a dongle from Amazon or Deal Extreme, but that's both an extra part to break or lose, and a hassle that it would be nice to skip.

A better "swiping" keyboard. Since I can't always carry a Model M keyboard, I want a keyboard as good as the Swype version that came with my aging but once high-end Samsung phone (Galaxy S). I've tried some Swype versions intended for tablets, but they made the mistake of making the control surface bigger (I suspect to "take advantage of all that space") rather than kept it sensibly small and fast. Being able to zip my finger around quickly is exactly why the one on the phone has totally changed my view of touch keyboards. The swiping keyboard that came with the newest versions of Android is a mixed bag: it's welcome, but at least in my experience so far suffers worse accuracy than does Swype. (On the other hand, the actual included vocabulary seems broader; I've had to customize the dictionary much less often.)

Daylight readable screen of some kind. Pixel Qi is the obvious one right now, but there's also one from Mirasol that I've seen demoed, but which seems unlikely (sorry) to see the light of day. Except for the impressive use of the same technology in the OLPC project's XO kid-centric laptops, Pixel Qi's screens have been mostly going into military and industrial displays, though, rather than into consumer tablets. There's a market waiting for daylight readable color screens!

Hardware toggles for cameras and all wireless capabilities. That is, anything which could betray privacy should be labeled and defeatable. Among other good reasons for this, it might make some devices more acceptable in workplaces with restrictive policies on personal technology. At the last CES, I saw a few Chinese Android tablets that had what looked from their icons like external Wi-Fi toggle switches, but wasn't able to quite confirm that with the vendors. Not every camera-equipped, Wi-Fi-equipped laptop has a physical toggle for either or both of these, but some do, and I'd pay a few more dollars for the capability.

HDMI out: This is common enough on recent tablets, but mostly in the form of a tiny mini-HDMI port. There are a few exceptions, but I'd like to see more. Just as with USB, I'd rather a slightly chunkier case if it means not needing a fistful of finicky cables and adapters. Being able to plug a tablet conveniently into any HDMI-equipped display would be handy; it's more computer than most of us had at all just a few years ago.

Decent in-built stereo recorder: Many tablets (and practically all smartphones as well as many feature phones) include a voice memo feature; that's handy, but it's a shame to waste the capabilities of the rest of the device on just that. Surprisingly good stereo recorders — included ones marketed as "business recorders," but severely overqualified — start at less than $100, and typical tablets have far more horsepower, not to mention a more flexible control surface for apps to control audio recording. In the iWorld, there are dozens of stereo input devices, as well as DI boxes for electric instruments, but not even Apple's devices come with a Just-Hit-Record stereo recording mic, which is too bad. Can you recommend any Android tablets with good built-in stereo mics, or third-party add-ons?

Bright LED light built in: This one, at least, is now the rule to which there are exceptions, rather than the other way 'round. It shows that sometimes the features-list game goes the right direction.

Alternative OS support. This isn't something I expect tablet makers to trumpet; they generally want you to run their choice of OS (whether the underlying tablet is from Apple, Microsoft, or the vast Google/Android conspiracy). But they don't have to; they just have to not make it impossible for others to do the work for them. In the last few months alone we've seen Linux (both Ubuntu for ARM and KDE Plasma Active) ported to the Nexus 7, and the Cyanogenmod developers have for years been making many handset and tablet makers' upgrade abilities look just plain silly. It's not just for novelty, either: right now, I'd like to be able to offload footage from my video camera to a tablet for uploading, which would mean I could stop carrying a laptop around quite so often. If I risk bricking my tablet by installing one of those Linux varieties, that might just be a practical option.

For now, don't think I'm ungrateful: I'm pleased and constantly amazed by how much has already been squeezed into a computer that takes less space than a trade paperback, and it's true that space trade-offs make it hard to squeeze in all the full-size ports I'd prefer. But most of these are features that exist in some form, and don't require anything to spring from the forehead of the Media Lab. I hope that by this time next year it'll be a smaller list of features I'm still looking for.
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A Wish List For Tablets In 2013

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:45PM (#42436283)

    Seriously. It sounds like you're after the swiss army knife of tablets and no one tablet is *ever* going to meet all those features, because the combination you've chosen won't appeal to the mainstream. Tablet manufacturers are going to design their hardware to sell the most units - not to fulfill your fantasy feature wishlist.

    Maybe you should drop Bunnie Huang a note - get him to tweak one of his hacker laptop builds. Or get a beagleboard, a plastic case, a touchscreen of your choice and go to town with all the accessories you want.

  • Perfect List (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:50PM (#42436313)

    ...for building a tablet that nobody will buy.

  • One change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:54PM (#42436347)

    Drop those full size USB ports, and add a (micro) SD card slot.

    It is totally ridiculous that all NEXUS devices are missing that one, even the new Nexus 10.I want to watch movies in a plane, or review my pictures away from my PC (where a 2560x1600 screen really would help). So fuck the cloud and fuck the tiered pricing system that askes for $100 more for adding $20 worth of flash - while STILL limiting the total capacity to amounts that are ridiculously low for a device of that cost.

    Full sized USB I can understand for missing : Those plugs are huge. They would literally be the thickest thing in the tablet.

  • Few years?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:55PM (#42436351) Homepage
    For the last few years, I've been using Android tablets ... I started out with a Motorola Xoom

    How can you have been using something "for the last few years" when it's been out less than 2 [wikipedia.org]?
  • Bizarro World (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:05PM (#42436429)

    Seriously. This post is like a snapshot of an alternate universe where the iPad never happened.

  • Meh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:21PM (#42436587) Homepage

    I'm not too thrilled with most of these ideas. Full-sized USB? That would require it to be awfully thick. I could see some kind of micro-usb port, and if you want you can use and adapter, but I don't mind going over wifi if I need to tranfer data. HDMI? I don't really care. If I want something on my TV, I'm fine with having a set-top box. Stereo recording? I mean... I have a microphone on my tablet. I'm not sure the value in recording in stereo when the two mics are right next to each other, but maybe I'm just ignorant there.

    Mostly, I'd like to see more open platforms for phones and tablets. The fact that I can't just install whatever software I want grates on me a little. I'd like to be able to buy a piece of hardware based on its value, and then install the OS and apps based on their value, instead of buying into a unified platform and being stuck. Though, I can also see the value in having a unified platform. Apple provides great products across the board largely because they're able to control the whole stack. But it'd be nice if I could easily install the latest stock Android on my iPad to check it out, and continue using it if I prefer it.

  • Re:One change (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:23PM (#42436613) Journal
    I too am completely PISSED at the ongoing effort by manufacturers to steer us into the cloud by eliminating convenient local storage. Its ridiculously obvious.
  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:26PM (#42436637)

    Just guessing from the audience; the last thing any of us here need is another thing with a keyboard to join the five or so surrounding us. Tablets are for uses like a) in confined spaces like a plane seat and b) when you don't want to pick up something heavy c) when consuming media in bed / on the couch etc. e) when walking around. In none of those situations is a laptop a solution and adding a keyboard to a tablet would just show the designer had no idea what his product was for.

    These aren't the best thought out solutions, but that's not the complainant's job. He's giving us his idea of what is wrong with what he has already. I would hate the idea of the weight and space of full sized USB ports. On the other hand, direct mini/micro-USB to micro-USB cables to connect cameras to my tablet would be great and would eliminate a big pile of different adapters and mess. What is most needed is a real agreed standard for small connectors which both Apple and the Android vendors buy into together and get rid of large USB entirely. Alternately just make everything work wirelessly over some faster short range network.

  • Re:Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mobets ( 101759 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:28PM (#42436645) Journal

    With the physical switches and full sized USB and HDMI ports he is asking for, the case will need to be thicker. This should make plenty of room for a battery two or three times bigger. It doesn't sound like weight is an issue for him. The software requests seem reasonable.

  • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Monday December 31, 2012 @08:55PM (#42437745) Homepage Journal

    I'm pretty happy with my getup, even though it's quite ancient now in device years:

    Viewsonic G-Tablet running Vegan-Tab (2.3 Gingerbread-based). It has a micro-SD slot in addition to 16GB of internal memory. It has a full-size USB port. I use it with one of these cheap USB keyboard cases to get physical buttons:
    http://www.amazon.com/Synthetic-Leather-Keyboard-Stylus-Black/dp/B004JQN670/ref=sr_1_2 [amazon.com]
    I always win at SketchIt / Pictionary with this. Also, I can use it as an extended battery pack to charge my cell phone.

    Yes, the TFT screen is crap, but it doesn't really bother me anymore, the keyboard case really helps keep it propped up at the right angle.
    I tried the TeamDRH (DirtyResetHole) 4.1 ROM at some point, and while it was awesome, the G-Tablet didn't really have enough RAM (512MB) to multitask well with Android 4.1. But all the apps work fine and fast under Vegan-Tab.

    I think the front-facing camera has an LED that turns on when it's active. But there's always masking tape if you want a physical enable/disable button. For the other wireless functions, I'm happy enough with the PowerControl widget to enable / disable various wifi / phone radio features.

    Stereo mics are overrated. Professional studios use one mic per audio source, and mix sources into multiple channels later. Get dedicated recording devices (several tablets recording a single channel each to mix later, if you must). If you're filming VR gonzo porn or something, then you minus while spring for some device that can record in binocular 3D vision with stereo audio to give you the full immersion. For anything less, just deal with having one camera and one mic :P

    The ViewSonic G-Tablet has an HDMI-out converter dongle, but I haven't bought it. The 10" screen is big enough to enjoy Netflix while I'm sitting on the John.

    Finally, I use the LED "flashlight" on my phone (an HTC myTouch 4G Slide running CyanogenMOD 9.1 / Android 4.1-based). I don't really see the need to have one on my Tablet as well. I also have one of these cheap keychain LEDs which actually works pretty nicely and doesn't die like the plastic variety:
    http://www.amazon.com/Streamlight-73001-Miniature-Keychain-Flashlight/dp/B0011UIPIW/ref=sr_1_1 [amazon.com]

    I'm a bit pissed that both Vegan-Tab and CyanogenMOD 9.1 don't have the loopback module compiled in, so I could run the "Linux Installer" and chroot into a full Debian distro from Android. This would give me enough options to make me happy using a tablet for "real" work. It was great on my older myTouch 3G Slide running CyanogenMOD 7.1, which did have the loopback device in the kernel.

    Finally, for mapping, the Google Maps caching is good enough. We just came back from a drive through the Western US, and we simply mapped from town to town., and did the "Download to SD" thing for a few of the national parks that we knew we'd be spending a lot of time wandering around in. Not perfect (particularly since you can't really swap between map types while disconnected... hopefully Google will fix this sometime). But it was good enough. I remember driving across the country 10 years ago with a full US Garmin Street Maps on a laptop. It was cool, but not that cool compared to the awesome array of data that's available now. Back in the PalmOS days, I also would load tons of street vectors from the Mapopolis service, but that was a pain since you had to download county by county. I think at this point, the easiest thing to do would be to just pester Google to add a few more offline features and call it a day... or just spend 5 minutes preloading the details of your trip.

    So call me a luddite, maybe... but I'm pretty happy with my "old" tech ;)

  • Re:Art tablet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zero_DgZ ( 1047348 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @09:22PM (#42437961)

    This exists. Thinkpad X series tablets. End of discussion. Toshiba/Acer/Asus/Panasonic/Everybody/Their Dog also makes some version, or did in the past.

    Mine has a Wacom Stylus, pressure sensitive, multiple buttons, actual keyboard, close(r) to 4:3 aspect ratio, (it's actually 16:10; 16:12 = 4:3), asinine long battery life, covered in USB ports, available with massive hard drive/RAM amounts, comes with a docking station, runs regular old Windows. (Also runs later versions of Ubuntu pretty good.) Mine is new enough to have a finger-touchable screen as well as the Wacom stylus. Physically punching the OK button on error dialogs is an experience that cannot be beat.

    Used ones can be had with 4:3 screens, if you want to troll eBay for one. They're cheaper, too.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @10:28AM (#42441187) Journal

    then you minus while spring for some device that can record in binocular

    I will forever and henceforth use "minus while" instead of "might as well".

    I don't know if you did it on purpose or not, but it's brilliant either way.

    And you're absolutely right. Good enough tech is very often far superior to the latest, shiniest.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27