2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 1

These are some of the hottest gifts available now, and some really good advice on which to get and why.

image2993Over the past few years, I’ve put together a Holiday Buyer’s Guide. I never got to do one last year due to commitments to the now defunct Byte. Thankfully, I’ve got a chance to do it this year; and while nearly everything you see here will have some kind of software available for it from Soft32, I’m going to cover the hot categories – tablets, smartphones, computers and accessories.

What you’re going to see are recommendations only. I don’t have everything that I’m going to list, so these aren’t necessarily reviews and shouldn’t be considered as such. However, I will try to cover recommendations from as many major camps within a given category as I can.   For example, I’ll likely recommend a computer from the Windows as well as the Mac camp, a tablet from the Windows, iOS and/or Android camp, etc.

This is going to take a few days to get through, so please come back often to Soft32 Blog for updates to the series. I’m going to do my best to get the series completed as quickly as possible.   Let’s get things started right now with tablets.

Tablets – Lean Back Devices with Lean Forward Capabilities
I’ve been spewing a lot of information and commentary lately about how Lean Back and Lean Forward devices don’t mix and match well in the same device.   I’ve talked to a great many people about this particular point and feel comfortable saying this about combining the two efforts into a single device:

1.    Do you have a desktop or laptop and are adding a tablet to the mix?
From my point of view, this is the most likely use case. Here, it’s likely that you’ve got set work habits that you’re looking to break away from your work machine. A lean back device or tablet is a GREAT way to do that.     You get all the multimedia and gaming goodness without having to mix apples and oranges between work and personal machines.
2.    Is your smartphone your main computing device?
If this is the case, then you’d probably benefit a great deal from moving up to a tablet as your main computing device. You’ll get much the same experience and be able to use the same apps or tools if you stick to the same ecosystem as your smartphone. The multimedia and gaming experience on a tablet will be much better and you’ll still be able to do everything you’ve been doing on your phone – email, social networking, IM and texting, and web surfing.
3.    Are you adding a tablet to your work or recreation gear?
I have found in most cases that when you do this, you’re adding hardware here to fulfill a specific need. In the office, you likely want something that can get you access to the office network so you can check email and access work specific resources during or between meetings.   In my case, I wanted to use a Windows tablet as a digital notepad so I wouldn’t have to lug different or more than one notebook between to and from meetings.   For down time, I wanted to use an iPad to watch movies, TV shows or other video on a commuter train. My needs and use cases were specific. I have found that most business and/or power users use tablets in a similar fashion.

In the end, how you use a tablet – either lean back or lean forward or a combination of both – is totally up to you and the way you work or want to work.   Just be aware of your needs and then make the choice and selection that best fits those needs.

Android
There are so many different types of Android tablets from a number of different vendors, in a number of different form factors, configurations and price points. Regardless of your budget, you’ll likely be able to find something that will satisfy your computing style and needs in the Android camp.

While this is Android’s biggest advantage, it’s also its biggest problem. There’s TOO MUCH choice here, and it can be overwhelming.   My recommendation – if you don’t know what you want, go with a no-name brand and save some money.   This way, you get the tablet experience and get to try it out without investing more than $100 or so.   You can find a number of Android tablets at No More Rack or Rakuten (formerly Buy.com)   in the $100 price range.

If you already have a high end smartphone and there’s a tablet available by the same manufacturer, AND you can afford a matching high end tablet, I’d marry the two.   The important point here is that if you have an Android smartphone, to go with an Android tablet and vice-versa.   The big benefit here is insuring you can use the same software across both devices.

To that end,   if you’re going to go with a high-end tablet, my recommendation would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.   The Galaxy Note line – over the Galaxy Tab line – specializes in hand written notes and OCR. While it works great with any Bluetooth keyboard (as does the Galaxy Tab line), the Galaxy Note 10.1 is specifically designed to take handwritten notes, which for a high school or college student is perfect.   You can still draw, sketch and create on the fly graphics, but you’ll also have the ability to take notes and then convert your handwriting to text later on.

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Like any Android tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1 will work very well with Google Apps, so you’ll have access to a full blown office suite of apps, provided you have the connectivity you need to get out to the internet. As I said, this tablet works well for students (both under grads and graduates) as well as business types (again, please keep your use habits in mind…) who might want to take this to meetings as a digital notepad.

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