Thursday, 16 October 2014

You can throw a keyboard on a tablet, but it won’t be a Surface

Along with Google Nexus 9 came the announcement that it would also have a magnetically attached keyboard as an accessory, presumably to make it easier to be productive. This is a change in philosophy in the general tablet market and I believe Microsoft is largely responsible for this trend. The introduction of the Surface tablet has signaled a change in the industry that even competitors are starting to notice.
Now with the Nexus 9 having an OEM-made type keyboard, it means that finally, FINALLY someone is trying to keep up with Microsoft in the mobile space instead of it being the other way around. But here’s the thing – just because you slap a keyboard on a tablet doesn’t mean it’s going to complete with the Surface.

Not built for it

Android isn’t really a mouse-and-keyboard interface. The keyboard in this case is only going to be useful in typing. I’m not sure the extra bulk and weight is worth the trouble, to be honest. We’ll discuss this further in a later part of this article, but I have been using a Dell Venue 8 Pro with a bluetooth keyboard and my results have been a bit mixed. But for now, the only thing a keyboard does is add weight and bulk to a device that is not meant to be heavy nor bulky.
In the case of the Surface, this device was billed as a laptop replacement. It has never tried to be anything less. It is unwavering in that assertion. So of course it will have a keyboard, and the best kickstand to grace anything that doesn’t say “Harley Davidson” on it. But the Nexus 9 is not that. Android is not designed to replace a laptop. If anything, that’s what Chrome OS is for. So throwing a keyboard onto this thing is not and should not make it more attractive to those looking for a laptop/tablet combo.

Close but no cigar

The same is true for my Dell Venue 8 Pro. When word came that is was time to give up with Surface Pro 3, I sought to try and soften the blow by picking up a Bluetooth keyboard/case for the Venue 8. The Fintie Blade X1 slim cover with Bluetooth keyboard was my device of choice. It serves a nice purpose by providing a keyboard for writing editorials, but the lack of mouse is noticeable. Sure it’s a touch screen, and that’s great, but Windows 8 is still a little flakey on the whole touch interface thing.
Plus, the keyboard itself is cramped – yeah, I know “Boo-hoo, what’d you expect?!” but still it’s something that needs to be said. It is also missing the “lapability” of the Surface Pro 3 that its kickstand provides. It simply cannot be comfortably be used on a train (or on the back of a plastic cow). Which brings me back to the Nexus 9.

Half measure is no measure

The Nexus 9 is probably a nice tablet with a great screen. I probably won’t hate my life if I have to write an article on it using the built in keyboard, but compared to what the Surface is trying to accomplish, it’s a half measure. It won’t be usable on the average lap, and it won’t provide the quality mouse experience missing from laptops, and the keyboard will likely be a bit on the cramped side. Granted, I only have renders to go by at this point, so I’ll reserve final judgment until I get hands on time.
The added bulk to the tablet simply is not worth the compromise if it can’t truly replace your laptop, as the Surface Pro 3 can. I recently swapped my newly-purchased keyboard case back to its original case simply because the added bulk is just not worth it. If I’m going to be somewhere where I need to write a lot, and where I’ll have sufficient space to use that keyboard/tablet, then I’ll simply just bring my Macbook along and not have to compromise nearly as much.

Agree to disagree

Taylor Martin might disagree with me. He has written a few editorials on how the iPad Mini with Zagg keyboard makes him even more productive. Maybe this Nexus 9 is just right for him. We’re allowed to disagree, and that’s ok.
All that being said, it is nice to see other OEMs trying to catch up to Microsoft in the mobile space. It’s such a nice change of pace. I’m not going to condemn the Nexus 9, nor its keyboard. I’m sure it’ll be useful to some, but not me. Actually the whole slew of Nexus announcements today were, in my opinion, a big bag of fail. But that’s a whole other editorial for another time.
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