Writing Tech: Samsung Tab Pro and Apple iPad Mini

IPadminiBlackI'm more or less always on the lookout for cool new bits of tech to use in my writing. I have a pebble watch that I can use to control the music player on my phone, which in turn can be connected to either a bluetooth earbud or a portable Jawbone speaker. I also like writing on the go. So I've pretty much always had something handy to write when I am not sitting at my desk. In fact, I get a good chunk of my work done when NOT sitting at the big PC on my desk. I find I am often too distracted there.

I've used a Chromebook before. I've written on a laptop. I extensively used my old iPad2 for writing, for a long time. But that one is aging now, and I was looking for something different.

I was cruising Best Buy for my next writing gadget when I ran across the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro. It's an Android tablet, with a 12.2" screen. Best yet, the keyboard was fairly good. I did write on the iPad 2 soft keyboard sometimes, so having a tablet with a good, responsive touchscreen keyboard was a plus. Awesome processor, 3GB of RAM, great pixel density - all sounded great.

tab pro

I gave it a two week trial, then returned it.

It wasn't a BAD device. It was just a 98% solution in too many areas. I tried several software keyboards, none of which were quite right. Most of the apps could not read RTF files, which made sync with Scrivener painful. The one I found that DID read and save RTF and played well with Dropbox was constantly changing my font to Courier 12 pt. Not the end of the world - but yet one more annoyance.

Too many annoyances eventually led to the device being returned before the return period expired.

I had been pretty sure I was going to return it for about two days before I actually got around to it, so I started looking at alternatives. The obvious thing to do would be to go back to the iPad. Apple makes a good tablet. It plays nicely with Scrivener (and will eventually, someday, hopefully have Scrivener for iOS). My old iPad2 wasn't bad; I just felt it was time for an upgrade. So the smart bet seemed to be to grab an iPad Air.

Instead, I scoured the internet for articles about using the iPad Mini for content creation. There are not a LOT of references available, but I looked pretty hard and dug up what I could.

It seemed like a bad idea. Most folks seemed to be of the opinion that the iPad was for content creation - and the mini more for reading, listening to podcasts, watching movies. Content consumption. But then I saw these few people who were bucking that, and proving it wrong.

I sort of have a thing for doing the thing "everyone" says can't be done. ;)

I spent about an hour in Best Buy, looking at both devices, thinking about it. Finally, I decided to give the Mini a two-week shot. If the device simply doesn't work for me, I'll return it and get an Air. If it works, I'll keep it.


So far, so good, Let me run down a few bits:

1. Writing

Writing is working well. I don't actually type on the screen. I have an Apple bluetooth keyboard which I rather like, which works brilliantly with the Mini. Textilus did its seamless magic - I was seeing the live Dropbox updates on my PC as I was writing on the Mini next to it. Long term, I think I would like to get the Incase Origami Workstation. It's a case for the Apple Keyboard, which encloses the keyboard, and opens up into a stand for the iPad or Mini. That ought to make running about with the keyboard easier, and setting up to write a snap.

It's working well right now, though, This blog post is being written on the mini, in fact!

2. Reading

I have a Kindle, but my daughter stole it has been using it for a while now. Far be it from me to discourage a child from reading, and besides, I have my S5 phone to read on. Except that the S5 screen is just a tad too small to really be comfortable reading. Not so the Mini - it's darn near perfect. I can hold it forever, I don't have to squint or look under my glasses to read the print, and I get more text per page. In a lot of ways, it feels like reading a print book: the Mini is about the same size as the paperback editions of my books.

Writers are readers. We HAVE to be. It's vital we go "back to the well", and while we can do some of that with TV and movies, I haven't been reading near enough lately. I've read more in the last 48 hours than in the two weeks before then, and I can see myself rebuilding my reading habit in the days to come. I'm happy with that.

3. Desktop replacement?

Is it? No. But then, I don't really want it to be. I don't need to make my ebooks on my travel device. I don't need to do my cover art there. I've got a great PC for that stuff. I know some folks are looking at the Surface as a full computer replacement machine, and that's certainly one way to go. But the new Surface is also 12 inches, and that's a big device to haul around everywhere with you. The Mini has one huge advantage: I can stick it in a pocket, or carry it by hand, and bring it pretty much anywhere I might go. If I don't have a keyboard and get a little writing time, I can still peck out some words on the onscreen keyboard.

So far, I'm pleased with the device. Time will tell if it does what it does well enough to make up for the drawbacks of the smaller screen. It's not going to be as easy to type on the Mini's screen as it would be on an iPad Air. But the Mini is more portable, so I'm more likely to have it with me.

I'll be watching carefully to see how the new device fits into my writing process, and whether it will be something I want to hang onto for the long run, or whether I would be better off with something else.

I'll keep you updated as I go. If you've got any questions about using a Mini for content creation, or have comments on your experiences you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you!