iPad, Kindle, Android or Windows Tablet?

I’m a bit of a gadget freak, owning a number of current models, and my day job allows me access to all kinds of additional gadgets.  The three gadgets I currently use are an iPad 2, Kindle DX and a Toshiba Thrive (an Android Honeycomb tablet).  Work has recently give me access to a Windows 8 Slate handed out at the Build conference.  Here are my feelings on the different options, your opinions may vary.


Kindles are meant for reading, period.  There are some games, but the screen is graphically challenged and greyscale only on all but one of the models.  Kindles come in several sizes, the main difference being a touchscreen or keyboard, or the much larger DX.

I have a Kindle DX, which I bought when the iPad was still a rumor.  Even though I have an iPad 2, I still use the kindle for reading long technical books.  The larger screen size was important to me for displaying tables, code and diagrams better.  It is inifinitely easier to read for a long time on a Kindle than the other devices. The eInk display uses reflected light, more like paper, and is the only tablet you can read in bright light. Plus, the button controls work fine through a Ziploc bag, so you can read at the beach without worry of messing up the device.

Battery life is excellent on a Kindle, measuring in the weeks, and they can be charged with the same cable your cell phone probably uses, which cuts down on things you have to carry on vacation.  There are Kindle apps for Android, Windows Phone 7, desktop and iOS devices, all of which sync with one another, so once you buy a book, you can literally read it everywhere.  The Kindle app is excellent, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to read a book on a smartphone with it.

Because of the limitations of the Kindle, they are not good PDF readers.  I have a couple trade magazines delivered as PDF, and they are miserable on the Kindle, but glorious on an iPad 2.  Also, if you buy an ebook from a third party, they must be loaded manually everywhere and don’t sync across devices.

The Kindle Fire is a small tablet, about the size of the regular Kindle, running a custom version of Android. The screen is color, and you’ll be able to install apps from the Amazon App Store.  There are no cameras and no keyboard, and since it’s not yet released, the full capabilities are not completely known.  The color screen, in my opinion, takes away the significant advantage of the eInk display.  However, you will be able to stream movies and TV shows from Amazon’s video store.

Toshiba Thrive

The Thrive is one of the more recent Android tablets, and runs Android Honeycomb (3.0).  The Thrive is slightly longer and narrower than the iPad 2, and much thicker.  Despite being slightly larger, the Thrive is slightly lighter than the iPad 2.  The dimensions of the Thrive are meant for HD viewing,  and Flash is supported on Honeycomb.

The display on the Thrive is beautiful, but the touch response feels a little more sluggish than the iPad 2, but positions the cursor more accurately than my iPad 2.  Input is mainly via a soft keyboard, just like the iPad 2.  There are a few apps designed specifically for the Android tablets, and many of the Android phone apps will run on the tablets.  However, there is a great number of phone apps which cannot be loaded onto a tablet; this is likely to change over time, but currently there is a gap.  Besides the official Android Market, you can also purchase apps from the Amazon Appstore and AppBrain.

Some of the thickness of the Thrive is because it has connections not found on an iPad.  The Thrive has a built in SD card, HDMI and two USB connections (one in,one out).  There are also front and rear cameras, WiFi and Bluetooth.  You can hook a Thrive directly up to a TV via HDMI and play media on the TV.  The beloved Facetime app found on the iPad 2 and iPhones is not available on Android devices, but applications such as Tango and Skype can probably fill in.

Something missing from the Android platform is a very good email application.  I have several email accounts, and I end up needing three email programs—one for my job’s Exchange, one for GMail, and a third for my personal email account.

The Android market is lacking in TV shows and movies, and neither Netflix nor Blockbuster is available for the tablet (both are available on Android phones).  Music can be purchased from the Amazon MP3 store, and the Google Music Store is on its way.  Books are available in both the Kindle application or the Android Market Bookstore.

If you rely heavily on Google Docs and GMail, this is your best choice for a device.  There are native apps for Google services, including Docs, Reader, Google+ and Maps.  A Google ID is required to activate the tablet.

Battery life nowhere as near as good as the iPad, let alone the Kindle, but can be extended by adjusting the screen brightness.  The Thrive has its own charger, adding one more thing to carry on vacation.

[update 2011-10-23]

Honeycomb 3.1 includes a video player an access to the Android video store, so rentals are available, if you’re on the right version.  Movies can be streamed or downloaded.


iPad 2

The iPad is the tablet that all others are compared to.  iPads feature a beautiful screen, great battery life and an easy to carry form factor.  The touch interface is very responsive, and the entire system is very easy to use.  An iTunes account is required to activate the device.

One of my favorite features of the iPad is the email program.  One program can access my Exchange, GMail and personal IMAP email.  Each account is separated from the others, and there is a consolidated inbox if you want to use it.

The hardware and OS are not the only trendsetters.  iTunes has an excellent selection of applications, music, movies, TV and books.  Many of the books for children are very interactive, featuring puzzles and games in addition to the book.  There are hundreds of learning apps for children of all levels, and the device is so simple to use kids can occupy themselves for hours if you let them.

One of the downsides to an iPad is the one connector.  There is not an SD card reader nor a camera connection, although you can buy dongles for that.  You can’t directly connect to a TV, you need a wireless Apple TV receiver.  iPads also have a unique charger, which adds something additional to carry on vacation.

Windows Tablets

Windows tablets come in a number of shapes and sizes, with differing hardware features.  The most significant difference between Windows tablets and other tablets is that the full version of Windows 7 is the OS.  This means all the software you’re used to, especially Office, can be installed and run on these tables.  Currently there is no application store, although one is forthcoming.

Unlike other tablets, Windows tablets allow for multiple user accounts, and you don’t need a specific account to activate one (the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will need either a Windows Live ID, or a corporate domain account).  Windows 7 is very touch responsive, but the UI is still built for a mouse/keyboard or a stylus.  Windows 8 has a greatly improved UI for touch, but we’re about a year away from that being released.

Windows tablets typically have more hardware features, such as SD card slots and USB connections.  Battery life is not as good as an iPad, and they have their own chargers.

Because the full Windows runs on these tablets, a Kindle app is available, as is iTunes, so you have access to all the best those have to offer.  Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu and many other media players are available as well.  Flash, Silverlight and enterprise LOB applications are also supported.

If you need a full computer experience in a small footprint, a Windows tablet may be the best choice for you.  External keyboards and mice can usually be connected.


If you need a reading only device, get a Kindle.  The iPad is the gold standard of tablets, and you can’t go wrong getting one of those.  However, Android tablets are as capable, if not more, but lacking in applications at this time.  If you need a very portable PC, a Windows tablet is probably what you need, but you’ll find the UI to be a little less polished than the other tablets.

Book Review: The Official Joomla! Book

It’s been a year since I met Jennifer Marriott at the Tulsa Tech-Fest, and I feel bad it’s taken me this long to finish reading The Official Joomla Book.  Last year we talked a little about the strong improvement in PHP/MySQL, and a greater acceptance of these technologies in the .NET world, and that discussion is what put her book in my hands.  One of the shining stars of the PHP world is the Joomla! CMS.  It’s full featured and very customizable, but is very easy to set up and administer.  Joomla! is perfect for many websites of all kinds—business, non-profit, civic, etc.  My friend Tom at Frames and Pixels makes part of his living implementing Joomla! sites for his clients, and his sites are but a few of the millions powered by Joomla!.  It’s been six years since the initial release of Joomla!, and the community shows no signs of slowing down.

Before we get into discussing the book, I should point out that this book is meant for the folks who install, configure and maintain Joomla! websites.  The basics of designing templates and using extensions are covered, but if you’re interested in a source-code level book to help you write extensions, this isn’t it.  In the past, I’ve used other CMSs to build client sites, and always wished there was a manual I could hand over with the site so the client would have a reference.  That this book has several chapters “for the client” is one of its strengths.  Also, if you are about to start your first Joomla! site, don’t expect to go chapter-by-chapter.  Read this book first, because there are things you need to think about before you install all through the book.

Chapter 1 is “All About Joomla”, and I can’t describe it better.  It’s all about the history and philosophy of Joomla! (including what the name means), gives a shout out to major contributors in the Joomlasphere, and suggests important conferences.

Chapter 2 covers decisions you need to make prior to installing Joomla!.  It’s really a guide for the client and business analyst to decide on the branding and audience.  It also covers how to choose a good host.

Chapter 3 covers the installation and configuration of Joomla!.  The authors show us “the long way”, which involves downloading the code and FTP’ing to our server.  Briefly discussed is the option of an automated install.  Check with your host to see if they have an automated installation option for Joomla! (of you don’t have a host yet, this may be a decision point for you).  Many hosts do, which simplifies the setup considerably.  Requirements for installation include PHP and MySQL.  Not discussed is installing in Windows machines.  On Windows machines, where PHP and MySQL aren’t usually found, Microsoft provides the Web Platform Installer, which will install all the components you need to run Joomla! and Joomla! itself.  Regardless of which way you install Joomla!, the configuration parts of the chapter should be the same.

Chapter 4 digs into creating and managing content, and is one of the chapters applicable for client and solution provider alike.  With menu items, categories, pages and articles, there are a number of ways to organize your content, all of which emphasize why Chapter 2 is worth including.  Once you have your content outlined, Chapter 4 shows you how to do it.

It would be a rare client indeed who didn’t want some customization to their site.  Out of the box, Joomla! is a very basic site with a great ability to be modified and extended.  Chapters 5 and 6 cover the basics of editing templates and installing/using extensions.  These are the chapters where a client’s site will really take shape.

Chapter 7 is about the care and feeding of a Joomla! site, including search engine optimization and hints for designing the site’s navigation.  This is another chapter for client and provider alike.

Chapters 8, 9 and 10 are more in-depth examinations of using Joomla! for a business, non-profit/NGO and a school site.  These are meant for both client and provider, and are logical follow-ups for Chapter 2.  Some of the best parts of these chapters are the suggested extensions for the three site types.  This is a HUGE time saver when it comes to adding functionality to the basic site.  Other topics include template designs, accessibility options, community building, e-commerce and multilingual sites.  These three chapters alone are probably worth the price of the book.

Chapter 11 is a look ahead to the future of Joomla!.  Since it’s taken me so long to complete this review, much of that future has arrived with the release of version 1.7 last month.

Chapter 12 is comprised of a number of interviews with leaders in the Joomla! community.  Each interviewee focuses on a particular aspect of Joomla!—the project itself, hosting, branding, extending and using Joomla! in a sector such as education or business.  Each interview contains a few pieces of advice that may prove invaluable in preventing common mistakes or creating a site that sets itself apart from others.

This book finishes with three appendices.  Appendix A has solutions to common problems, including the famous lost administrator password.  Appendix B is a huge list of resources to help you build your skills, design your site, get help or content.  Appendix C covers the new Access Control List functionality in version 1.6.  User permissions have become very granular, and we can set up groups of users with the same permissions.  As any network admin can attest, groups make managing large users bases much easier.

One place where I can see this book being very useful is in Give Camps, where teams of developers have a weekend long “lock in” and create sites for charities.  Using a CMS like Joomla! is critical to the success of Give Camp sites, and a book like this would be extremely useful to the advance planning of the charity’s site.  This book would be a great asset to both the development team and the charity’s “site owners”.

All in all, if you’re in the beginning stages of your Joomla! experience, or have inherited a Joomla! site, you owe it to yourself to get this book.  Very advanced Joomla! admins and developers will probably find this information to be too basic, but they are not who this book is for.  Thank you very much to Jennifer and Addison-Wesley for giving me the opportunity to review this book!