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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Survival Computer

Original Article

I started a series a posts a while ago about building a survival computer. Technology has progressed to the point now that you do not have to build your own — you can buy it in a big box store. The rise of the tablet computer in the last three years has been nothing short of meteoric. The tablets available today have enough processor power and RAM to replace most people’s everyday computer. Today’s post is going to go over the pros and cons of using a tablet for TEOTWAWKI.
iOS or Droid?
The first question in relation to tablets is “What OS to buy?” There are two choices iOS (Apple) and Droid (Google). Yes, there are Windows 7 (and soon Windows 8) tablets available, but all the ones I have tested are crap. Don’t waste your time or money. I recently bought a Droid Tablet, but quite a few of my friends have iPads. For me, Droid is the only option for one key reason: Apple locks down their hardware, and limits consumer choice as a corporate-wide mantra. There isn’t one iPad that has a built-in SD card reader, or USB port. Sure, there are add-on accessories you can buy, but I see the single – hardware platform as a significant flaw.
The major flaw with the Droid OS is Google tracks everything you do. I’m sure Apple does as well, but they are sneakier about it. I’m pretty careful of what sites I go to on the tablet, but who knows what Google’s algorithm knows about me already?
OK, Which Tablet?
The next question gets a bit tricky. Unlike apple with only one factory making them, Droid tablets are made by hundreds of different manufacturers, which leads to chaos in the tablet market. I spent weeks researching before I bought my tablet, and until I had it in my hands and played around with it I was unsure I made the right choice. I bought an Asus EEE Transformer Prime. the “Prime” is important, because that is the second generation of tablets – the second Gen tablets have a 201 model number. There are differences in the screen and size so a screen protector or case designed for the Asus Transformer does not fit the Asus Transformer Prime.
The next decision point was the size. The Droid marketplace has tablets that range in size from 7 to 10 inches. The main use of my tablet is as an information portal, where I can keep the hundreds of manuals and documents, whitepapers, etc. I need on a day-today basis for my job in one place. I went with the 10″ screen, and the screen on my tablet is just as good as the new iPad’s (for ~$100+ less).
The 7″ tablet format is getting very inexpensive. Google is releasing a 7″ tablet soon for about $200. Soon is relative, could be this summer or for the Christmas rush. If you are on a budget, this is the best place to shop. Asus is releasing a third generation transformer (301 series) soon, with a 7″ screen.
I could not possibly review even a small percentage of the available tablets out there in the marketplace, so I will share what I was looking for, and how the tablet I chose stacks up. The biggest flaw with the Droid marketplace is many of the tablets cannot be updated to the latest version of the Droid OS (4.1 “Ice Cream Sandwich”) Like with cell phones, those people making the Droid tablets want you to toss the tablet and buy a new one instead of porting the new version of the OS to their old hardware platform. Generally, this is not that big of a deal, as the old versions of the Droid OS work just fine with even new applications, but there are exceptions.
These are the qualities I wanted in a tablet:
  • Droid OS 3.2 or better yet, 4.1
  • High quality display, preferably with Gorilla Glass
  • Speedy and responsive
  • Built in USB port (preferred) or SD card
  • Wide array of accessories available
  • Thin and light
  • Multi-touch capable
Accessories:
The “killer app” for the Asus Transformer series is a clip-on keyboard that acts as a case. This docking station adds battery life, a full-size USB port, and a decent keyboard with touch pad. It’s an additional $150, and I have not bought it yet. I’m being frugal and trying to find a coupon online to save some cash. I don’t need the keyboard yet, so I’m not in a rush.
Regardless of which tablet you buy, you should buy a case and a screen protection film. Amazon.com’s reviews are an excellent source of information to help make your choice.
I’m going to buy a stylus at some point and see if I can take notes with it directly, rather than using the touch keyboard. Death to paper!
Applications:
I’m real new to Droid, so I don’t have any specific applications to recommend yet. In a future post I will go over what apps I have installed and which ones I liked the most. For now, I’ll list what I want to get out of the tablet. A lot of this software comes installed already, and a lot more of it is free.
  • Firefox – (the Droid browser is terrible)
  • PDF reader
  • Image viewer
  • Evernote
  • Movie viewer
  • Music Player
  • Backup Software
  • Read It Later
  • Task / Application killer
  • Pandora
  • Netflix
  • Sketch / Doodling / paint
  • Barcode reader
  • QR reader
  • RSS feed reader
  • Able to browse windows shares (SMB) over a network
  • VPN software
  • cryptogrophy software
  • “Office” application suite – word processor, spreadsheet applications
  • Games ( solitare, soduko puzzles, etc.)
  • Printing application (so I can print to a network printer directly from the tablet)
  • Banking application from my bank ( Go to the marketplace and search for your bank’s name. Much better than using
  • SSH client (to connect to network switches and *nix servers)
I have learned that in Droid you need to have an application that can kill other applications. Like windows, even when the application is closed, it isn’t always unloaded from RAM. I’ve recently learned that the built-in movie player cannot play H.264 encoded media files… which is a drag because I wanted to convert my media to that format. I’ll share what information I find.
Over time I will be adding additional functionality as I find it. Perhaps a gardening application to help me plot and track a small garden. I might switch workout tracking applications, and the tablet is a lot easier to work with than the tiny iPhone.
Conclusion:
Today’s tablets can do 99% of what your PC can do. They are light, extremely power-efficient, and relatively inexpensive. If I just needed a pc to check e-mail, browse the internet, watch netflix, and basic word processing and spreadsheets — then a tablet could do all of that.
I am a power-user of technology. I game with my PC, build virtual labs for testing and learning, and use Sketchup for designing woodworking and other projects. So a tablet cannot replace all of my needs, but it can do most of them. For example, I n0 longer print out documents for woodworking, I snap .jpg’s of them and load them onto the tablet for easy reference. Saves toner, and Sketchup is notoriously hard to print from. They currently do not have a model viewer to open my projects natively, but I hope they do have one soon.
Just like any computer system, you need to do regular backups. Every vendor is different, but there are a few vendor-agnostic applications out there to help you backup a perfect image of your tablet. Most applications share data with “the cloud” but it is always preferable to have a backup you can put your hands on.
When testing applications, I would suggest testing them without any WiFi or 3G networking available. This is to help ensure that if you are without Internet access for an extended period, oh let’s say TEOTWAWKI, that your applications continue to function. Most free applications require network access to download new advertisements, and disable themselves without network access. Even if you are not in a full-blown collapse of civilization, say your stuck in Buffalo, NY when an ice storm strands you at the airport and a snowplow takes out the internet link… 30+ hours of boredom awaits if you cannot fill at least some of the time with solitaire, Scrabble, etc.
Finally, I want to mention that the Droid platform can be hacked, or “Rooted” allowing you increased access and functionality for your tablet. This almost certainly voids your warranty, but I wanted to mention this out of completeness. When you root your tablet, you can load different versions of the Droid OS, perhaps allowing you to upgrade your tablet to the latest version, when your manufacturer doesn’t release that update for your tablet. I would recommend against it, unless you really know what you are doing.