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The Lawyer’s Guide to Android Tablets

This post is longer (1700 words) than most of the other posts on this site. Beware.

Android TabletOver at iPhone J.D., Jeff wrote a great post on selecting an iPad. I’ve written several similar posts, like this one about tablets in the legal industry, or this post where I discuss the best Android tablets for lawyers. I half-heartily stabbed the answer in these two “You Ask” posts, here and here, about Android tablets. The problem with these posts, and the countless others, is that they don’t really tackle the heart of the issue of which one. Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of tablets, I simply can’t give a single recommendation. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a “what to look for” recommendation, or something similar. Thus, if you’re looking for an Android tablet, and you’re wavering between Android-based and iPad, here’s my pitch.

Dear You,

There are a number of different tablets to choose from, so you’re going to have to debate and decide between several different manufacturers. ASUS and Samsung are the “gold standard” manufacturers, with Acer and a few others tailing behind. ASUS has its brand of “Transformer Pad” tablets (among others), and makes Google’s Nexus 7 tablet. I own both an ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T and a Nexus 7.

You might ask, “why do you need two tablets?”, and I might be inclined to say, I don’t, except for testing and reviewing. Simply put, you’ll be (and your pocket book too) pleased with selecting one tablet, and adding a smartphone. I’m going to assume you’ll select a Samsung (Google’s Nexus 10 is Samsung-made) or ASUS made tablet for the rest of this advice. I’m also going to refer to the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, though you should compare other models available from ASUS or Samsung.

Size Matters, Sometimes

You know what they say about size: bigger screen . . . brighter room at 3 a.m. Android tablets generally come in two sizes, 10 inch screens or 7 inch screens. The Nexus 7 has a seven inch screen. Thus its “7″ moniker. Samsung also makes a seven inch tablet.

I prefer a larger screen, and will suggest that for your first Android tablet you choose a model with a 10 inch screen. That means you’re choosing between the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, the Nexus 10, or the TF700. However, if you choose a seven inch tablet, I’d sway you to the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 has the benefit of being Google’s own, which means you’re going to get the newest Android OS when it’s available for public consumption.

You’ll certainly also want to consider screen resolution. The Nexus 10 tops the list at 2560×1600 pixels per inch, while the other tablets fall in somewhere between 1280×800 and 1920×1200. Needless to say, the screen resolution on all of these devices is fantastic.

Finally, when it comes to sizing up the competition, be sure to compare each device’s storage capacity. While you can get away with less storage on an Android phone, maximum capacity is a must on an Android tablet. The Galaxy Tab 2 is on the low-end of this spectrum, shipping with an internal storage capacity of 16 GB. The other models come in either 16 or 32 GB formats, with the TF700T featuring a whopping upgrade capacity of 64 GB. The larger storage space is handy if you’re saving a lot of documents, videos, or other files directly to your device.

Note, you can skirt some storage space issues by using cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox or Bitcasa. In the end though, there’s no substitute for on-board access.

It’s the OS, Dummy

The Android OS is what truly makes or breaks these tablets. In its infancy, Android sucked. A clunky and unresponsive interface mired the overall user experience. Today though, Google vastly overhauled the system, creating a streamlined and fully responsive experience.

The most current incarnation of Android is called Jelly Bean KitKat. All Nexus devices, and some non-Nexus devices, run Android 4.4, a hybrid of Android 4.1, Jelly Bean.

Confused? Don’t be. The only thing the .1 and .2 signify is slight differences in the user interface, but most importantly, the ability to create user accounts. This feature is only found in Android 4.2, which means you’ll need a Nexus device to receive it.

User accounts are pretty cool, but my biggest complaint is the fact that purchases made under one Google account do not transfer over to another account, unless you link both accounts. My solution has been to associate the accounts, but not sync services.

This isn’t the most convenient method, and there’s certainly room for security breaches, but until Google finds a way to allow purchases to sync without everything else, this is the best method I know of.

This isn’t to say that Android isn’t worth using. In fact, once you get past this small annoyance, I’m sure you’ll love “Project Butter,” which adds smoothness to Android 4.1 and 4.2 systems.

Obviously then, you’ll want to look at the devices running Jelly Bean. Fortunately, that’s all of the ones on our list. One important reminder is to note the availability of future updates. Your high-end and Nexus devices will probably see more regular manufacturer updates than the lower-end models.

Connectivity, Cameras, and Cables

If you’re looking for anywhere-you-have-a-signal access, you’ll want a Galaxy Tab 2. The device comes in models equipped for Wi-Fi only and cellular connectivity. Equipped with a 4G LTE radio, you’ll be able to take your tablet anywhere you can fetch a cellular signal.

For my use, I’m fine with a Wi-Fi connection, since for a majority of the time I use my tablet where there’s Wi-Fi access. I also pay an additional $20 to Verizon to enable hotspot access on my Android phone.

I opted for the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity because of its numerous accessory ports and HDMI output. I can easily connect my tablet to my HDTV or projector, and stream movies or presentations in high-definition. The Nexus 7 only has a micro-USB port, which makes it less than ideal for presentations. USB connectivity is a must, so look for a device that has USB connectivity.

One other benefit to the larger tablets is the ability to add optional micro-SD cards. With a cheap microSD card from Amazon, I boosted the storage capacity on my ASUS Transformer from 32 GB to 64 GB.

All of the 10 inch tablets on our list have front and rear cameras. I’m not sure that a rear camera is necessary, unless you want to be that guy snapping a picture with your tablet. Of course, if you choose an Android tablet, you won’t be that guy. Admittedly, the rear camera is nice when you want to show off your kids to grandma and grandpa during a video chat. Needless to say, you’ll find any of the standard on board camera sufficient.

Customize and Accessorize

I think you’re going to love an Android tablet, as opposed to an iPad simply because of the customization of the Android system. That’s a really generic way of saying, “you can make the Android tablet respond, look, and feel, any way you desire.”

One of the key ways to customize your tablet is by rooting the tablet and installing a custom ROM. Rooting gives you access to the core processes and operating system, which also allows you to tweak certain aspects. Rooting is somewhat technical, and has its downsides, so if you’re a little queasy, don’t worry, there’s still hope.

Custom launchers are an easy way to change the look, feel, and behavior of your Android tablet with little more than a couple clicks. My favorite launcher is Nova Launcher.

Depending on your desires, you may want to add some accessories. I think there are certain standard, needed accessories, followed by some wanted ones. First, protect your device with a case. Amazon has a great selection of cases for Nexus 7, Nexus 10,  ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity, and Samsung tablets.

You’ll want to get a stylus. My favorite is the JotPro by Adonit, though I also like the Bamboo by Wacom. A stylus makes handwriting, drawing, and sometimes typing much easier and more precise. Samsung’s tablets feature their own stylus, which is built into the tablet. Although in my opinion, the stylus is too small for prolonged use, the stylus works well and has amazing accuracy.

The next must have accessory (though some may disagree) is a keyboard. ASUS Transformer tablets have an accessory keyboard, while you’ll find Bluetooth keyboards work well with almost all tablets. Keyboards help improve the overall functionality of the tablet, and enable you to actually work on your tablet, if you want.

Android has the Apps

Many iOS fanboys like to brag that the iOS experience is so much better than Android’s. That’s a matter of preference plus experience. I summarily attacked the iPad is better argument, noting that, while “lawyer apps” are cool, the everyday apps are the ones that get the jobs done. I also created this post for someone on the fence, debating whether to succumb to the spawn of Satan, or stick with Android. Ultimately, with over 700,000 (as of November 2012) apps in Google Play, your ability to find an enticing Android app isn’t too far away.

For a run down of a growing list of lawyer-specific Android apps, check out this page. Don’t forget to add your lawyer-specific app while you’re there. After that, I suggest you scroll through the annual list of the best Android apps for lawyers. For starters though, you might check out this post, which gives you (almost) everything you’ll need to know about Android apps for lawyers. On the tablet productivity side, take a look at these suggestions.

Aside from those posts, I think your core set of must-have apps are:

  1. ezPDF Reader - editing/viewing/commenting on PDF documents
  2. OfficeSuite Pro 7 - editing/viewing/creating MS Office documents
  3. Chrome Browser - web browsing
  4. ASTRO File Manager - opening/editing/manipulating tablet files
  5. SwiftKey - keyboard with swipe
  6. Dropbox or Bitcasa

You Can Do It

One thing I hear a lot of is the “it can’t be done on a tablet” charge. That assertion simply isn’t true. Some functions might be a little more difficult, but not impossible. I’ve created a number of “how to” posts, and some videos, which put the functions into Android OS.

Now that you have your new tablet, it’s time to remember that tablets aren’t just about web browsing and email anymore.

2 Responses to The Lawyer’s Guide to Android Tablets

  1. Charlene says:

    I, unfortunately, got a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 from my daughter for that stupid holiday in December, and I consider it the most useless piece of garbage that she’s ever sent into my house? How do I fill out California court forms with it?

  2. I actually like the Samsung line of tablets, almost as much as Nexus tablets.

    If you’ll send me an example form (link is fine) you’re wanting to fill in, I’ll make a how to video just for you.

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