Tablets are all the rage these days. These popular devices power up in a split second and are perfect for reading, keeping up with social media and surfing the Internet. Yet bringing a tablet along with a laptop adds noticeably to your travelling burden and negates the sheer portability of the tablet in the first place.
Assuming you don't do computer-aided design or other intensive media-processing work, why not just leave the laptop at home and use a tablet? Below are some considerations if you're looking to deploy an Android tablet for more productive work.
Why an Android Tablet? Let Us Count the Ways
Why should companies considering tablets look at Android, given the popularity of Apples iPad? According to ABI Research, the number of Android tablets sold surpassed that of the iPad in the second quarter of 2013. Indeed, the substantial (and growing) market share of Android tablets is the reason developers today target both the iOS and Android platforms. This demolishes the barrier of using an Android tablet - plus it benefit consumers, as they are less likely to be "penalized" by finding apps unavailable for Android.
A closer look at the Samsung Note 8 and Google Nexus 7 tablets.
Shipment volume aside, Android tablets have many other things going for them:
- There are countless device configurations and price points - all of them less expensive than an iPad with comparable storage and radio.
- While the iPad once held the throne in terms of display quality, thanks to its Retina displays, many Android tablets today offer Retina-like or even higher resolution.
- Unlike iOS, the Android file system mirrors a traditional computing environment. As such, computer-literate users will have no problems managing on-board files either with an Android file manager or from a connected PC.
- Finally, many Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, come with integrated micro SD card readers for cheap storage expansion. Meanwhile, support for USB On-the-Go lets users plug USB flash drives directly into an Android device. Some new tablets, such as Google Nexus 7, do come with micro-USB ports, but vendors such as ADATA are starting to sell USB Flash drive that plugs into micro-USB ports.
Then Again ... Tablet Storage: Do You Really Need an Expansion Slot?
Set Up Your Android Tablet for Work
The first step to setting up your tablet for work it to get your email, calendar and contacts properly synchronized. Fortunately, you need to do this only once, and it's a relatively straightforward process. This typically entails setting up accounts in the form of a Gmail account, LDAP or Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), as well as more traditional email systems such as POP and IMAP servers.
The situation for productivity documents is slightly more complex, mainly because there are so many options available. You can manually load work documents over a USB connection or, if the tablet is equipped with an SD card slot, copy them onto a SD memory card. Cloud storage services such as Dropbox or SugarSync can keep work documents synchronized as well.
Allocate time to configure individual apps properly. For example, many cloud-centric apps such as Evernote and Simplenote will need to be individually configured. Others, such as OneNote for Android, can function in standalone mode but offer greater convenience when paired to a SharePoint or SkyDrive storage location. Finally, Web browsers (Chrome or Firefox) should be set to sync with their desktop cousins.
Finally, there's one important security matter that most overlook when repurposing BYOD gadgets for work: Setting up a password lock should be non-negotiable, given the sheer amount of personal and work information stored on a typical tablet. It may also be a good idea to encrypt the contents of both the Android tablet and its external SD card.
Related: 8 Essential Android Security Apps
Ultimately, it's necessary to embrace cloud services in order to realize the full benefit of using a tablet. As such, using a tablet for work may not be suitable for users with strong concerns about data privacy or those restricted by compliance rules.
Using an Android Tablet for Work Means Developing New Habits
Once your tablet is configured, it's time to get to work. And make no mistake about it: Using an Android tablet in the office requires changes in how you work. Part of the reason is the absence of intuitive multitasking capabilities, as well as the smaller display. Significantly, the Android user interface assumes the use of one app at a time.
For its part, Samsung hasattempted to emulate the PC experience by engineering the capability for apps to run side by side on selected smartphones and tablets. The Dual Screen View feature is generally of limited utility, though, as the UI elements occupy a large portion of the screen's real estate.
Dual Screen View mode on the Samsung Note 8 can be quite useful.
Not all changes are necessarily negative. For one, be prepared for the joy of using a computing device that powers up instantaneously and launches most apps in a split-second. Just like you have your favorite apps on the desktop, you'll soon find - and easily launch - your favorite Android tablet apps.
As it is, though, don't expect to hit the ground running the day after making the switch to an Android tablet. Getting used to the interface will take some time.
Accessorize Your Android Tablet With Keyboards, Cases, Chargers
Like it or not, serious content creation requires a physical keyboard. Peripheral makers realize it, too - which explains why there are no shortage of tablet-optimized portable keyboards. While any keyboard with Bluetooth should work fine, one inadvertent disadvantage of the variety of Android tablets out there is that there are fewer keyboards (and accessories) designed specifically for a particular tablet.
Still, some vendors have made custom cases, such as the ZAGGkeys Folio keyboard designed for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. To cater to users who may own multiple gadgets, the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 offers shortcut keys to toggle between three paired devices within seconds.
The Android platform offers good support for external keyboards, as keyboard navigation such as Alt-Tab works. Regular mouse usage with Android works, too, and should go a long way toward eliminating Gorilla arm syndrome caused by constantly lifting your arms to navigate the touchscreen. (In that vein, check out Ergotron's tablet arm, which accommodates a large variety of tablets for comfortably working at a desk.
Many accessories designed for iPad works just as well for Android tablets. This includes the Griffin PowerDock 5.
With Android Tablets, You Can Leave the Office Behind
The versatility of the tablet means that its usefulness doesn't end when you leave the desktop. Its sheer portability and built-in capacitance touch display also give it capabilities that traditional laptops lack.
Apps such as SignEasy and DocuSign, for example, make it possible to annotate or sign digital documents while riding the subway or waiting in line. Obviously, it will be easier if your Android tablet of choice comes with a built-in digitizer and stylus, though there's no reason why a generic stylus designed for tablets, or your finger, shouldn't work.
Like your smartphone, your tablet can function as a GPS navigation device when on the road. The TomTom Navigation app for Android on the Samsung Note 8 effectively transforms the tablet into a large-screen GPS capable of offline navigation, which is quite useful when travelling out of town. Many rely on the navigation feature in Google Maps, too, though an Internet connection is required. (Offline access is possible with Google Maps, but be prepared to download the relevant maps ahead of time).
Finally, tablets' built-in cameras lend themselves for use to capture snapshots of important documents for immediate filing. Apps such as Google Drive offer the feature built in, while others such as CamCard are designed to quickly capture the information on business cards for automatic data entry.
Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. He has worked in various capacities within the IT industry and enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.
Read more about android in CIO's Android Drilldown.