Blue Line

News
Take a tablet and call me in the morning.


January 2, 2014
By Tom Rataj

by Tom Rataj

I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the impact of the original Apple iPad tablet computer when it was launched in 2010.

While not the first touchscreen computing device, Apple completely rethought the existing concept of a keyboardless touchscreen computer, producing a slickly designed and manufactured product that completely changed the mobile computing market.

Before Apple redefined the concept, a variety of both niche-market and mainstream manufacturers offered numerous touchscreen “enabled” computers. Microsoft built touch capability into several generations of Windows; it failed because it was just a “capability,” not a core-function like a true tablet.

Advertisment

{Tablets in policing}

Tablets have not yet made a huge impact in the policing world, although they can be quite useful for certain speciality tasks and considerably more budget friendly than a laptop.

A case in point is the project with the Chatham-Kent Police Service and Mobile Innovations using the BlackBerry Playbook tablet, connected to a BlackBerry smartphone, as a great budget-friendly mobile data system. At about $2,000, it’s about 90 per cent cheaper than any competing solution, easily bringing it into the “we can afford that” realm for many smaller agencies.

With the growing trend towards electronic disclosure of cases, tablets would make a great platform for investigators. Instead of dragging boxes of notes, statements and other materials to court, the entire case could be stored on a tablet. It’s readily and quickly searchable, making it very efficient for in-court use.

{Consumption vs creation}

The ease of surfing the web, reading e-mail and watching movies or videos on a tablet (consuming content) is their primary strength. For many light computer users, a good tablet would be a suitable replacement for a desktop or laptop computer.

Their primary weaknesses are content creation (particularly text) and the ability to print that content. Many decent aftermarket Bluetooth keyboards are available for text input and some Office-like applications will do word-processing and other business tasks.

{Apple iPad}

Still the gold-standard in the tablet market and the product to beat, the latest generation iPad Air was launched in the fall of 2013. Apple managed the seemingly impossible task of making the iPad thinner and lighter while still increasing battery life.

The iPad OS has received many needed updates, giving the now somewhat dated user-interface (UI) some improved functionality.

Unfortunately, Apple’s continued use of expensive proprietary connectors, its controlling reliance on iTunes for device management and connection and steadfast never-discount pricing strategy makes the iPad an expensive choice.

The second generation iPad mini (only 7.9” compared to 9.7”) was launched in the fall of 2013. It also received the newer 64-bit A7 processor and the excellent, but no longer market leading, Retina display.

{Androids}

The Google Android based tablet market is huge, with products from almost every major electronics manufacturer. Samsung and Asus are market leaders, with several other major manufacturers capturing the majority of the remaining market share.

As with Android based smart-phones, security is a big concern. As much as 75 per cent of all Android apps suffer from security challenges, including sloppy handling of user information, and spyware and other malware that actively steals user data.

Low end Android tablets (and smartphones) are cheaply built, junky, low resolution products with poor feature-sets (such as only 8GB of user storage) and often 1 or 2 generation old versions of Android.

{BlackBerry}

The short-lived BlackBerry PlayBook was a well designed and engineered 7” tablet with the best multitasking tablet UI. It was probably launched prematurely, misunderstood, poorly marketed and unfairly bashed by the media. It’s not known whether BlackBerry will re-enter the tablet market, although both the consumer and business markets are something it probably can not and should not ignore.

{Windows}

Microsoft’s Windows RT Surface tablet operates a specially compiled version of Windows 8 which is designed to run only on non-Intel processors. While these tablets are certainly affordable, they are only capable of running Windows RT specific apps. They use the Windows 8 tiled UI, and include an RT version of Microsoft Office. Several other manufacturers also make RT tablets.

The Surface Pro 2 tablet runs the full version of Windows 8.1 on an Intel i5 processor, so it is capable of running all current Windows desktop apps, including Outlook and Office. It is available with several keyboard options, making it a hybrid tablet/laptop computer, although not without some limitations.

As a tablet, it’s 10.1” screen is decent, but as a laptop substitute it’s a little small. User storage is limited to 128GB on the top of the line model, but this is expandable because it accepts USB devices such as thumb drives or external hard drives. Battery life is not its strong point. Reviews have been mixed.

{Networking}

Most tablets are available only with wireless networking (WiFi) connectivity, although a growing number also include models with cellular data, which often require a separate data plan that can be expensive.

WiFi only tablets can be used in many public places (like coffee shops) and can also be tethered via Bluetooth to a cell phone or use a phone’s WiFi hotspot feature when WiFi is not available.

{Screen sizes, aspect ratios and resolution}

The original iPad featured a 4:3 aspect ratio screen (like old CRT TVs) measuring 9.7” diagonally, a fairly low 1024×768 resolution and a grainy (by current standards) 132 pixels-per-inch (ppi) display.

The latest generation iPad Air has the same aspect ratio and screen sizes but the resolution and pixel density have been bumped up to a much better 2048×1536 and 264ppi respectively. The latest iPad mini has a smaller 7.9” display with the same resolution as the Air, but an even better 326ppi pixel density.

Competing tablets by other manufacturers come in a variety of sizes (7”, 8”, 10” and others), often with a better movie-watching 16:9 aspect ratio (the same as HD televisions), higher 2560×1600 resolution and excellent 300ppi or better pixel density.

Screen resolution and pixel density (higher numbers are better) are important because they result in a better viewing experience – more pixels, closer together.

Smaller 7” and 8” tablets are better for portability.

{Audio}

As media consumption devices, tablets are almost the perfect solution, but some tablets have only one monaural speaker or speakers that face the sides or back of the tablet, resulting in audio being projected away from the user.

All tablets have a standard stereo mini-earphone jack for private-listening, and other than a few budget brands, Bluetooth wireless for connecting wireless headphones.

Most units have at least one built-in microphone for using video-calling.

{Video}

Interestingly, despite the splash the first generation iPad made, it had no cameras and oddly had (and still has) a 4:3 aspect ratio screen. Since most video content is shot in 1080p at a 16:9 aspect ratio it makes more sense for a tablet to be capable of this resolution and feature this ratio.

For recording videos and video-calling, all tablets now have front and rear facing cameras, most capable of 1080p on the rear facing, and 720p on the front facing.

Some units also have a rear facing LED lamp for video illumination or flash photography.

{Processors}

Most tablets now feature dual or quad-core processors running at 1.5GHz or faster. Apple manufacturers its own while most Android tablets use an NVIDIA Tegra. Windows RT tablets use an ARM processor while the Surface Pro uses a mobile Intel i5.

Generally tablets with faster processors and more cores will run faster, although this negatively impacts battery life.

Most tablets also have separate Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) processors to handle video.

{Power}

Many mainstream tablets advertise battery life up to around 10 hours of mixed use. The least energy efficient are generally the Windows based tablets, although the latest generation are significantly better.

Some tablets have optional keyboards which include a second battery for additional run time.

{Output}

While content viewed on a tablet can be great in many circumstances, the small screen sizes limits shareability. Outputting the content to a larger display like a desktop monitor, television or projector may be required.

Most tablets on the market now use industry-standard micro-HDMI jacks, which allow output to monitors, TVs and projectors without having to purchase expensive proprietary adapters such as is required with the iPad. A decent quality aftermarket micro-HDMI cable is readily available for about $10, while an Apple iPad Lightning to HDMI adapter is a staggering $55.

Some tables also feature standard USB or micro-USB connectors for connecting to computers and other peripherals. Many also include an SD or micro-SD card slot for adding onboard storage.

{Security}

Although not often discussed, security on tablets is important. In most cases a lot of personal information eventually gets stored so users should always activate and use password protection. Considering the number of tablets being stolen every day, this is very important.

Apple’s iOS tablets and devices generally do not suffer from viruses or security leaks, and Windows tablets can be readily protected with security software. Android tablets, on the other hand, are quite vulnerable to spyware, malware, and other “leaky” apps.

Many tablets, including the iPad, have very smooth slippery bodies so a good protective case should be used to keep them from slipping out of hand and protect them if they are dropped.

{Apps}

Apple iOS has the largest and widest ranging app store, although duplicates and apps with similar functionality mask the true scope. (How many flashlight apps do you need?)

The Android market place is also quite extensive but is a bit of a wild-west because of quality and security control issues.

The Windows Marketplace is the smallest, but growing rapidly because of the overall market lead Microsoft has in the desktop/laptop market.

{Keyboards}

There are plenty of aftermarket tablet keyboards; most connect using Bluetooth wireless.

The Microsoft Surface and Asus Transformer (among others) have proprietary keyboards that physically connect to their tablets.

{Conclusions}

The tablet market has grown at a staggering pace because they are simple to use, versatile devices that can be taken along and used almost anywhere.

Because most tablets are normally left in standby mode they are effectively instant-on, so using one to check something on the Internet is just seconds away.

For the law enforcement market, they can provide excellent portability and, for certain uses, cheap efficiency boosts – and yes, rugged tablets are available.