Trying to Tame the Tablet
Like many folks, I received a shiny new Nexus 7 tablet for Christmas. This brought me great joy and excitement as I began to plot my future paperless life. For most of the evening and an hour or so the next day, I was sure the new Android tablet would change my life forever. Sadly, it wasn't that easy. This month, I want to dive head first into the tablet lifestyle, but I'm not sure if it's really the lifestyle for me. I'll try to keep everyone posted during the next few months (most likely in the Upfront section of LJ). And please, please don't hesitate to send me messages about the ways you find your Android tablet useful at work/home/play.
The main reason I decided on the Nexus 7 was because with the leather case I bought for it (Figure 1), it was small enough to carry to meetings easily, yet big enough to view full-size documents. I figured with a tablet computer, I might be able to do away with most of the paper in my life. I have cabinets full of filed papers that I never use. I do, however, search my e-mail on a regular basis for communications sent or received years ago. I want that same accessibility for items that exist only in paper form now.
Figure 1. My case doubles as a stand.
Paperless: Evernote or Dropbox
I've been trying to go paperless since long before I got a tablet computer. There seems to be two schools of thought in the paperless department. There are the Evernote people, and there are the "every-other-kind" of people. I have Evernote on every electronic device I own (which is a significant number), and I have to admit, for raw information, Evernote is amazing. The problem comes with documents. Granted, documents can be added to an Evernote note, but they are like e-mail attachments, and they can't be modified once attached. This means, at least for me, that the only documents I ever attach are "complete" documents that are printed as PDF files.
I don't have a good solution for how to handle Word/LibreOffice documents in Evernote. So, that means I have an inconvenient combination of Evernote for unformatted information and Dropbox for documents. Thankfully, both applications run very well on Android, so although I don't have a central repository for all my information, at least I can access all the information from my tablet.
Getting Data In
Evernote includes a really nice mechanism for using a device's camera for importing digital snapshots of documents, notes, whiteboards and so forth. Unfortunately, the Nexus 7 doesn't have a rear camera. Thankfully, my cell phone has a really nice camera, and it also has Evernote installed. Because I never intended my tablet to replace my cell phone, this isn't a big issue for me. I just whip out my phone if I need to import something optically into Evernote.
My biggest hope with the Nexus 7 was that I could avoid toting around legal pads and pens to meetings. I tend to take "doodle" notes, so a laptop really isn't ideal for me at a meeting. (Plus, I tend to become distracted with a laptop and multitask my way into trouble quite often.) I researched capacitive styli and found the New Trent IMP62B to be just about the best option (Figure 2). It's less than $10, and it's remarkably precise for a stylus with a rather bulbous tip.
Figure 2. This stylus is remarkably precise given the size of its tip.
After buying a stylus, coming up with a note-taking application proved to be difficult. I almost can get there with a couple apps, but nothing has been the ideal option for me. The closest I've come to perfection is Lecture Notes, which has some critical features:
- Importing PDF files from Dropbox for annotation during a meeting (for example, an agenda).
- Exporting directly to Evernote.
- Very fine lines when writing.
- Simple interface for changing pens, erasing and so on.
I'll admit, it's still not as quick as writing on paper, but for some quick doodles on a PDF agenda, Lecture Notes does a nice job (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Lecture Notes is a great application if you want to take notes with a stylus.
My wife actually likes to type on her tablet (an iPad Mini) with the onboard keyboard. If she's taking notes, she'll just open up Google Docs and type on the screen. For me, typing on any screen is awkward and slow. If I have to do any real typing on my tablet, I'll use a Bluetooth keyboard. At that point, however, I might as well just use a laptop. In a pinch, it's certainly possible to type a few notes with the on-screen keyboard, and if you don't have a laptop, a Bluetooth keyboard will help manage some serious typing. Still, I don't recommend it. Any Nexus-size keyboards are too small to type well with, and any full-size Bluetooth keyboards are cumbersome to carry around.