Smartphones and tablets… What’s the point?

Last Updated on November 19, 2018 by Dave Farquhar

A longtime reader who asked to be anonymous got his first tablet and smartphone a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed, to say the least. “What’s the point?” he asked me privately.

To be honest, I understand. I got my first tablet a couple of years ago–a Nook Color that I loaded Cyanogenmod on. And, to be honest, once the thrill of hacking an e-reader into a full-blown tablet with no restrictions on it wore off, I didn’t do a lot with it. When I thought of it, I would check the weather on it when I was getting ready in the morning, and maybe glance at my e-mail with it, but mostly it sat on my end table. I probably used it 15 minutes a week.

At some point, I realized I was trying to use these devices for things they weren’t good at. Browsing the web with them, they felt like exactly what they were: a 1 GHz, 512KB computer with a small screen. Not too different from the desktop computer I was using a decade ago. A high-end phone or tablet is more like the desktop computers of five years ago.

So they’re not a replacement for a desktop PC, and if you use one like a desktop PC, you’ll probably be disappointed. I think that’s why Windows XP tablets and Windows 8 tablets failed–they were just desktop PCs with desktop apps running on low-end hardware in a form factor that didn’t suit them well.

But a phone or a tablet can replace every gadget we’ve ever carried. Or pretty much every gadget we ever wanted to carry. It can stand in for a digital camera, an MP3 player, a personal data assistant, a GPS, an old-school Blackberry, a video camera, an e-reader, and more.

And there are apps that do a lot of the things these devices don’t do well via a web browser. The Google News app is a lot nicer than Google News on a tiny screen in a web browser. And both CNN and the BBC have very nice news apps.

And when I pair a phone or tablet with a Google Chromecast, it revolutionizes television. I can pull up video on the device, zap it over to the TV, and watch TV. I don’t watch much TV–I once went several years without watching any TV at all aside from the World Series–but now I can watch the two or three shows I like, on demand.

So I don’t think of them like a regular computer as much as I think of them as the ultimate Palm Pilot. I groused years ago about being ordered to carry a Palm Pilot, along with what seemed like a briefcase full of other devices. Now a phone or tablet can replace all of those, and if the phone and tablet are similar enough, they can sync up together, so you can use whichever is more convenient at the time to stay on top of what’s going on.

And I guess there’s one other factor. Android is something new. It’s a little bit different from the other stuff I’ve grown used to working with, so it’s something new and exciting to learn, tinker with, break, and fix. I’ve always been fascinated with technology, and since I did most of my growing up in the 1980s, that’s colored my point of view. The mobile space moves about as quickly today as computers did in those grand old days.

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9 thoughts on “Smartphones and tablets… What’s the point?

  • October 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks Dave. A friend pointed out that the “Evernote” app completely changed his view of tablets. Have yet to try it because I’m completely underwhelmed with the tablet “User Experience” so far. I think rooting the thing and editing the HOSTS file will change my perception. SO far, I’m happier just using a laptop.

    Smartphones — now that’s another ball of wax. I think I’ll come to like them!

    Remember the REX6000?

    I never took to the Palm Pilot craze, (or even owned one) but man that little thing was useful!

    • October 14, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      I missed the REX6000. At that time, I worked in a shop where the upper management had a religious devotion to Palm Pilots, so that was all I knew.

      I never found a killer app for the Palm Pilot, so mine sat in a drawer for about three years. Now that I’m long gone, it may very well be in that same drawer even today.

  • October 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I keep being frustrated that Android features don’t make it back to the PC world. I want SwiftKey available on my desktop so it fixes my spelling mistakes – not just recognizing the errors, but making them right.

    I can dream . . .

    • October 14, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      I’d say give it time, because Microsoft was never shy about lifting features from competitors, but patenting mundane things may make that more difficult now.

  • October 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Gonna’ go all wild card on you, but you know I’m a hardware freak; and for $99 I just received a 9″ Komosaki(not a real brand) tablet running 4.2.something that is likely going to end up inside my front door as one of the controllers for the home automation/security/watering/whatever systems. …’cause it’s got a freakin’ browser that’ll talk to my RasPi that’s running whatever I want it to lately with built in WiFi and all sorts of stuff I don’t need in control panel but it’s $99!

    Oh, and the Fargo outliner that Dave Winer (hawk-spit) just gpl’d may just make a handy “who’s where” ap in the same window.

    Sorry: brain explosion equal to the day I was able pass an English assignment because the VIC20 got a word processing cartridge and the prof could actually read my work.

    Yeah, yeah, power and security. Piece o’ cake compared to hardwiring a $300 panel in for less functionality.

    Dreamers gotta’ dream…

    • October 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      I’d love to hear more about that tablet, Dan. I imagine at that price point, it’s probably an 800×480 screen without much in the way of CPU or RAM?

      Then again, my Nook Color has a nice screen and not-nice-at-all RAM and CPU resources, but we use it almost every night to stream old TV shows, and it does a nice job of it. And I can use it to check the weather (and baseball scores) (not necessarily in that order) first thing in the morning, which is nice.

      • October 14, 2013 at 11:56 pm


        Screen: 9″ High resolution Capacitive multi-touch screen, 1024 x 600 pixels
        CPU: Allwinner A20 Dual-Core, Up to 1.2GHZ
        Memory:Built-in 8GB Nand Flash (Up to 32GB)
        RAM DDR III 1GB
        3G External 3G USB Dongle
        OS Android 4.2
        Network Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/ g/ n
        Camera Front Facing 0.3MP and Rear Facing 2.0MP
        Battery Li-ion Battery 4000mAh@3.7V, Runtime 5 hours
        Language Support multiple language
        I/O Interface TF card slot, USB OTG, DC Jack, Earphone Jack, Mini HDMI
        Unit Weight 485g
        Unit Demension 10.2″ x 6.8″ x 2.3″
        Audio Format MP3, WMA, OGG, APE, FLAC, AAC, WAV etc.
        Video Format MKV, AVI, RM, RMVB, MP4, MOV, VOB, DAT, FLV, 3GP, VP8, WMV, H.263, H.264 etc.
        Software Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Email, Video, Voice Search, Maps, Skype, Movie Studio, Music, Sound Recorder, Apk manager etc.

        Just starting to play, but the functionality between the company issued Note II and this piece of plastic just spun me around a time or two. USB charging or the 2.1A walwart that came with it. WiFi office, home, motel this weekend. Kindle built in.

        • October 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

          Thanks, Dan. That’s an exceptional value for $99.

          • October 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm

            Kinda’ what I thought: parts if nothing else. Thing is: putting together the basics for browsing and such? Some of these knockoffs are so ‘last month’ that the state of the market allows for some darned interesting spot purchasing.

            Someone puts together a ‘killer machine’ but ends up behind the “gotta’ have” curve just enough to make it worth selling the lot off rather than marketing it. This unit is from a Chinese source via the UK sold and backed (with whatever is current) from Ithica, NY.

            Then again, I use AliExpress on a regular basis enjoyed mostly success.

            YMMV, “objects in the mirror”…

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