Beyond Angry Birds (Part 1)

8/2/2013 5:53:03 PM

Experts talks about using a tablet for more than casual gaming and the practicalities of deploying it for office or study use

Tablets are for fun and surfing, and the humble PC is for work, surely? There's logic to that statement, but in the same way that the PC is a great gaming platform, the humble Android tablet or Apple iPad can be used in a more productive way.

Used properly, a tablet is merely a touch-driven computer. Admittedly, they don't tend to use an Intel CPU, but with their increasingly powerful architecture, there's little to stop you using them for many classic office tasks.

If you're considering taking this path, here are some tips you need to follow and some tools you might want to seek out. First, what do you need to make your tablet more office friendly?

A Double Edged Sword

The portability and battery life of tablets make them an obvious choice for those who like to travel light, but can they be real work tools? I've written before in Micro Mart about transforming a tablet into a work computer, but with more powerful devices being launched every day, this is starting to become the norm for some users.

If you're interested in ditching your laptop, how easy or difficult is it to take over the tasks that you use it for on an Apple iPad or Android tablet computer? The answer to that is that in general it's surprisingly easy, with a few snags that you can either address by other means or circumvent.

To achieve this objective there are two aspects that you need to consider; the first is those hardware accessories you might need and the other is the software tools. If you can address both of those requirements, then it's possible to use your tablet in a much more exciting way, which is much closer to a PC than anyone thought possible until a few years ago.

For those that have a tablet and you want to use it more like a computer, where do you start? If you don't have one already, I'd begin with a stand, because ideally you'll want to look at the tablet without actually holding it. The number of stands that are available for some designs is amazing, as are the numbers that aren't very good.

BelIkin sells the YourType Android Keyboard + Stand for $90, and It’s designed for either the Galaxy Tab 1or Nexus 7, but It will probably work with many more Android tablets

A good stand should be able to present the tablet at a good viewing angle for use, possibly in both landscape and portrait modes, and allow it to be charged while in this position. The better ones also provide a good level of protection to the device, and they also turn the screen on and off when the cover is opened and closed respectively

For people with money to burn, you can also find tablet holders that are more like flexible monitor stands, allowing you to position it above a desk or even below kitchen cabinets. A few of the covers also come with a built-in keyboard, avoiding the necessity to carry one of these along; if yours doesn't, then that's the next item on your list of needs.

All tablets allow for touch input, and it's easy to put small amounts of data into one using just your fingers or a stylus. However, typing any large amount of text using touch isn't a great plan, as the lack of any give in the surface will soon make your knuckle joints complain.

The best solution is to use a Bluetooth keyboard, although on many Android tablets it's also possible to connect one using the USB port (in OTG mode). The keyboard doesn't need to be especially big or have any special keys; more important is the abilities to type comfortably and at your best speed. Depending how much keying you generally do, this might be worth some extra investment in a good-quality one, and some of the better ones also include a trackpad that you can use as a mouse.

Adding a mouse - Bluetooth being the preferred connection technology - is entirely up to you, but it does make highlighting spreadsheet cells much easier. And if you intend to use a remote desktop solution (which I'll mention later), then they're an absolute necessity Most Android tablets and phones generate a pointer when a mouse is connected, but not all, so experiment with a USB one connected by an OTG cable before spending on a Bluetooth mouse.

Office Applications

It has being strongly rumored that Microsoft will swallow some pride and actually release a version of its Office 365 cloud application suite on Android at some point, and it will be then that the argument that you need a PC or a Mac for office tasks will ultimately crumble.

In the meantime, there are plenty of office tools for tablets that do the job without Microsoft's approval. Here are some for iOS and Android, and a few that are on both.

Kingsoft Office for Android 5.5 (free)

Love or hate it, Microsoft Office is a de facto standard in business, so anyone wanting to work with their documents needs it. Kingsoft Office is an alternative that can create and edit all documents from Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. On the tablet is can also access cloud storage facilities like Google Drive, Dropbox and to allow you to easily access them elsewhere.

Kingsoft Office for Android

More than 12 million Android users have Kingsoft Office, making it the most popular office tool for that platform. If you like Kingsoft Office and wonder why you pay Microsoft so much money for PC licenses, it's worth noting that it makes a free version for the PC and even its professional PC release only costs $80.

Documents To Go 3.0 for Android (free)

If you don't need to create or change office files away from the PC, but you do need to see them, Documents To Go is the tool for you. With it you can view standard office file formats, either directly on the device, on a cloud service or as attachments to emails.

Documents To Go 3.0

Documents To Go 3.0

There is a 'Pro' version that costs $15, which allows you to edit documents and adds support for PDF files and password protected Word & Excel 97 - 2008 files, but the free version does most of what people need, so only pay if you need one of these special features.

Apple Pages for iOS ($10)

Apple makes three apps that it puts under a single banner of iWorks, although you can't buy them collectively for a reduced fee; they're all $10. The first of those is Page, which is its attempt to make you forget Microsoft Word is missing from iOS.

iWork Pages

A tablet-based work processor that saves all your content to the iCloud for safe keeping, the latest version is compatible with Microsoft Word – partially biggest complaint I've seen about this tool is that it doesn't handle fonts that aren't installed on the iPad, instead substituting them for others it has. Not great, but not expensive either.

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