Back to School ’13 Mobile Guide: Smartphones & Tablets

Back to School ’13 Mobile Guide: Smartphones & Tablets

Smartphones & Tablets Cover

Tablets

Tablets are the ultimate extension of one’s workspace – they can go further than most notebooks, weigh the same as a paperback, and are incredibly powerful.   While a laptop is best suited for producing media the tablet is the epitome of a media consumption tool – it’s the best form factor for reading, for casual gaming, for general browsing, and for watching films and videos on the go.

They’re still excellent media producers though.  Productivity apps make use of every single feature available, then go on to invent a few more just to make working with your files that much easier.

This, fellow readers, is the Post-PC era. And boy, business is a-boomin’ **!  Also, read on past the break for our smartphones section!

 Android

Nexus 7 (2013)“The Pocket Battleship” – Google Nexus 7 (2013)

I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not mad for recommending a 7″ tablet to students who undoubtedly will want to be productive at some point.  However, I currently own the 2012 model and have spent hours during Accounts class working on spreadsheets using nothing but my fingers and that “tiny” 7″ screen.  Is it the most comfortable thing in the world?  No, but then again using spreadsheets on a tablet never is.

The 7″ screen is perfect for reading novels, comics, even textbooks and class notes.  It has the single most high resolution screen on any tablet out there at the moment with fantastic viewing angles and colour reproduction.

Top-notch specs on the inside mean it will never skip a beat, too.  If anyone tells you apps are a problem, stop listening.  Sure tablet apps are a bit harder to come by compared to a regular phone app but they’re there if you look for them – and you don’t have to look too hard.  There are now 2 fully fledged free office suites on Android now, Kingston Office and Quickoffice, and a ton of games, social apps, productivity apps, and almost anything else you can imagine.

Best Price: €176.01* / €259.99* | www.amazon.com / www.expansys.com.mt

iOS

 iPad 4“The People’s Choice” –    Apple iPad with Retina 

The original mainstream tablet is also one of the best school tools you can buy, period.  The build quality and specs and relatively affordable price make it excellent value for money for anyone really.  The apps are fantastic and Apple’s services are slowly becoming strong competitors to Google’s own.  However, if you do prefer to use Google’s services their apps are amongst the best on iOS, sometimes besting Apple’s offerings too.

The single greatest strength of the iPad isn’t really the device itself but all the accessories available for it.  Companies make everything from simple rubber cases to sophisticated aluminium keyboard cases that turn your iPad into a little Apple netbook to pressure sensitive styluses to make your boring-lecture doodles truly awesome.  If you can think of something then someone’s probably made it for the iPad.

Smartphones

At one point in your life you’ll be working with someone else on a group project.  You might have a tight deadline, you might have lots of work to do, and you might have another project you have to work on at the same time.  The one thing that keeps reasonable, the one thing that separates group work from absolute chaos is communication – and how can you communicate if everyone else is using services you don’t have access to?

You might argue that a laptop is a better communication device than a phone but to you I say “Have you ever worked on a University assignment with friends?”  Things are discussed on a Facebook Group, via sms, via Facebook chat, via Whatsapp, via Google Talk….you get the point.  And much of that communication happens on the go while you’re on your way home (on the bus – don’t text and drive for God’s sake), while you’re eating your lunch in a study garden or, brace yourself, while you’re on the loo.  Admit it, it’s happened.

You’re only as good as your tool – and these are the best you can get at any price range.

 

 High End ( > €500)

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04“The Killer Body”- HTC One

The One doesn’t have the niche features of the others in this guide, but it does what it says on the tin – and it does it very well.

The camera is great, especially in low light, and the camera app is definitely one of the best out there. The display is simply the best you can get on any smartphone out there right now. It’s big, but not too big, very bright, and extremely crisp. Sense 5 might not be to everyone’s tastes but it’s definitely better than past versions and works well enough to not be a pain in the arse.

And on top of all that it looks gorgeous. The body’s milled out of a solid block of aluminium whose curve matches that of your hand so you’re not really holding it – it feels like part of your hand.

And behind the scenes of all this are the hearts of a true beast. No matter what you throw at it it won’t skip a beat.

Best Price: €586.46* www.expansys.com.mt

Samsung Note 3“The Big Screen” – Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Less a smartphone and more of an old school PDA, the Note 3 puts productivity front and centre.

The real highlight here isn’t the hardware though, even though it’s definitely not lacking. It’s packing a FullHD 5.7″ AMOLED display, 3GB of RAM, a quad core 2.3GHz CPU, and a 13MP camera – all in a chassis that’s smaller and lighter than it’s 5.3″ predecessor.

No, the highlights of this phone and the reasons for my recommendation are the productivity features Samsung’s built into the device and the S Pen. Need to annotate the textbook you’re reading? Go ahead. Want to watch a CSS tutorial on YouTube while checking your mail? Yeah, that’s what Multi Window does.

Best Price: €734.99* www.expansys.com.mt

Lumia 1020“The Photographer’s choice” – Nokia Lumia 1020

If you want the Lumia 1020 chances are you’re the kind of person that cherishes form over function. You don’t care that it can’t really do as much as its Android and iOS counterparts, or don’t mind waiting for the features that are just around the corner.

Your number one priority is the phone’s camera – which is the 1020’s greatest strength. The 41MP bests most consumer level DSLRs in terms of resolution, and it simply has the best picture quality you can get on a mobile device by far.

Word of warning: Google’s own services don’t work really well. If you dug into Gmail, YouTube, Drive, and more, be ready to be a victim of Google’s and Microsoft’s squabbles. There’s no YouTube app, Gmail support is temperamental and Contact Sync is out of the question for the time being.

Best Price: €714.99* www.expansys.com.mt

 

Mid-range

Sony Xperia M“Style On A Budget” –    Sony Xperia M

You think spending more than €300 on a smartphone is madness, but you don’t want to go for bargain basement phones though.  You do appreciate a nice screen and good performance, but for not too great a price.

The Xperia M looks good in person, has a bright, crisp, display, a decent camera and a dual core CPU to keep things humming along smoothly.  Runs 4.1 out of the box too.

Best Price: €234.99* www.expansys.com.mt

Nokia-Lumia-820-Glance-screen-jpg“The Classic Nokia” – Nokia Lumia 820

What’s Nokia synonymous with?  Good looking phones that can’t be killed. Ever. With anything.  The smartphone equivalent of the cockroach.

It’s definitely an attractive device, if a little on the big side.  The qHD screen is gorgeous and Windows Phone 8 really pops on its AMOLED display.  It’s blazing fast too, thanks to Windows Phone’s optimization and strict spec requirements.  For the price? It can’t be beat, but all I said about Windows Phone in the Lumia 1020 entry still apply here.

Best Price: €259.99* | www.expansys.com.mt

Galaxy S3 Mini“The Little Brother” – Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini

If you’ve always wanted an S3 but thought that it was too big or too expensive then this is the ideal Galaxy phone for you.

It doesn’t have the S3’s high end specs, but it runs a similarly skinned version of Android (TouchWiz) and shares its bigger brother’s design language.  The camera’s decent, performance is quite snappy and the feature list is pretty good.   Just keep in mind that it isn’t really a shrunken down S3.  Think of it as a phone that stands on its own and you’ll be more than happy with it.

Best Price: €213.25* | www.expansys.com.mt

 

Entry-Level

nokia-lumia-520-2“Affordable, Not Cheap” – Nokia Lumia 520

This is my only entry in the Entry-Level category for the very simple reason that it is the best phone you can have for less than €200.

At this price range most smartphones tend to have antiquated chipsets, crappy screens, and horrible software.  Not so with the 520.  It’s running a low power version of last year’s flagship Qualcomm Krait CPU (the phone itself was released last year, so that was pretty cutting edge), a small crisp screen and Windows Phone 8.  There are very few app limitations in place and you can run almost every single app on the Marketplace.

If you’re looking for an affordable smartphone that can walk the walk, take a beating, and look good at the same time look no further.  The Lumia 520 is right where it’s at!

Best Price: €168.99* | www.expansys.com.mt

 

Apps and Services

Productivity

 SimplenoteSimplenote

This app does one thing and one thing only: saving your notes.  You don’t have Evernote’s Notebooks – organisation is done purely through #tags.  Notes are all in plaintext so no text formatting either.

You’re probably wondering why I’m recommending such a barebones service over Evernote or Springpad and the reason is that all this simplicity makes it much easier to concentrate.  We waste lots of time choosing the right font, the right size, the right colour, whether to underline… that’s all time we could have spent writing what had popped into our heads in the first place.  Then we complain that we can’t write anything down.

You may also be wondering why I recommended this and not Google Keep.  You can install Simplenote and use it on your phone or tablet without making a Simplenote account.  Want an app that looks good and works well and saves your notes locally?  Look not further.

www.simplenote.com

QuickofficeQuickoffice and…

I personally don’t believe in using a service like Evernote to store all your class notes and stuff.  It’s a closed system, sharing individual notes is a pain and formatting isn’t as rich as that offered by a proper office suite.

Quickoffice used to be one of the premiere paid apps on Android and widely considered one of the best mobile office suites out there before Google bought them.  Now, after a few months in limbo, Quickoffice has been reborn as an excellent free office suite for all to use.  The UI is easy to use, it’s fast, and it’s an overall very decent application.

There are a couple of caveats, however.  The app still supports cloud syncing – but only with Google Drive.  Offline access is still there, of course, but you have to sign in with your Google account if you want to use it.

If you don’t want to sign in to anything I recommend Office Suite Pro (paid) or Kingsoft Office.

Quickoffice: AndroidiOS

DropboxDropbox

This is an app that needs little to no introduction, but here goes!

This is the epitome of cloud syncing.  After installing the app on your PC (or Mac) you will have access to a local Dropbox folder.  Everything in that folder gets synced across all your computers that have Dropbox installed, and from your mobile device (smartphone or tablet) you can access everything synced online and download, upload, and edit.

Earlier I said I don’t believe in using a service like Evernote to store and organised your notes and documents.   Using Dropbox is the solution.  Create a folder within Dropbox called School (or Office, or Documents, or whatever), then create a folder inside of that for every “notebook” you would otherwise create.  Notes are then saved as text files, Excel sheets, Word documents, or whatever tickles your fancy.  It’s cleaner, easier to share, and gives you much more control over your files.  And if you do decide to stop using Dropbox and move to Box.com or Google Drive just copy all the stuff in your Dropbox folder to your Box.com or Drive folder. Simples.

Sharing is also fantastically done.  You can share a folder with any amount of people and you will have access to anything they put in that shared folder and vice versa.  It’s incredibly useful when working on group projects or assignments!

However..

If you want something that merges my solution of Quickoffice and Dropbox into one service then check out Google Drive.  You can use it just like Dropbox and saved files to it but you can also write up documents using the online office suite.  It’s just as fully featured as any desktop office application.

The plus, though?  Besides instant cloud sync you people can work on the same document at the same time and see what the other person’s doing. IN REAL TIME.  That’s mind blowing future stuff right there.

 

 

* Price does not include Postage and Packaging and Import Fees.  Expansys.com.mt does not charge import fees, however, and delivery is always by DHL (very quick, couple of days at the most) and costs around €11, but the price varies from device to device.

** Possibly NSFW – Inglorious Basterds clip.

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