Something light and cheap that works like a laptop
March 9, 2013 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm sick of carrying around a heavy full-size laptop. I could replace it with a new shiny ultrabook or something, but I don't want to spend that much. Is a Nexus 7 + a bluetooth keyboard a bad solution?

I basically want to be able to carry around this device in a bag, occasionally write emails and average-length (like 4-5 pages) essays, and use it to view PDFs. The Nexus 7 with an Apple wireless keyboard seems like it would let me do this. It's much cheaper than getting a full laptop. A chromebook is comparably priced, but I like the idea of the Nexus 7, because I've wanted a 7" tablet for a while just for web-browsing, ebooking, and watching Netflix.

But I'm apprehensive. Has anyone used this setup, or something comparable (eg iPad mini)? I'm confident that a larger tablet would work fine, but I don't want to spend that much money.
posted by vogon_poet to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are cheaper keyboards dedicated to Android on the market that look and feel pretty similar to Apple's.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:49 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Word replacements for Android are generally poor in my experience, although if you just want to bash out text they're probably ok. You can always install Emacs if you like :)

You'll need something to prop the tablet up.
posted by pharm at 12:51 PM on March 9, 2013

I love my iPad mini and use it for just the kind of things you are talking about. However, if you are going to be reading a lot of pdfs, the larger ipad might be better. Have you considered a refurbished ipad 3 on apple's website? $379 so not too much more than the mini.

I haven't used any android tablets so I can't say much, but I've heard good things about the Nexus 7.
posted by meta87 at 12:53 PM on March 9, 2013

This is almost exactly what I use. (Logitech keyboard rather than Apple, but still a Nexus 7)

It works well for essay-writing, excellently for pdfs, very nicely for email, and is definitely very portable and easy to slip in and out of a bag.

It also works reasonably well for light IDE/development work, though that still needs more polish.

It's basically replaced my netbook for my day-to-day use and it does ~95% of what I need my netbook for (Full linux multipane terminal being the main thing, and that doesn't sound like what you're looking for anyways)
posted by CrystalDave at 1:05 PM on March 9, 2013

Have you considered a Chromebook? The Samsung model is nice and light and I've been pleased with its functionality.
posted by telegraph at 1:18 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've used a nexus with a cheap ass no name $10 keyboard off of amazon for doing a bit of light writing and emails and it's handled it with no worries.

I'd recommend a full size keyboard if you are doing a lot of typing, but you can get a lot cheaper keyboards than the apple one, unless you particularly like it or already have one, and the Nexus would be more suited to simply banging out a lot of text than fancy editing and formatting the like. You might have to try a few apps to find one you like and that suits your style as there is a wide range of variety and quality. I use Office Suite Pro.
posted by wwax at 1:21 PM on March 9, 2013

Some relevant information: I mostly use Google Docs for all my writing as it is, so that's probably what I'd use on the Nexus as well. These answers are making me much more optimistic, especially CrystalDave's. I hadn't even imagined I'd be able to code on it.

Sort of a followup question: it seems that the Apple keyboard isn't the best choice; what is the best among cheaper keyboards?
posted by vogon_poet at 2:02 PM on March 9, 2013

I bough a 13" Dell XPS over Christmas. The one I got should have been $1600, but I got it with Windows 7 instead of Windows 8, and a couple other things (low memory, etc) and it dropped down to around $700.

Size-wise, I love it. I went from an enormous, 17" HP to this little guy. I don't notice when it is in my backpack anymore and I can even fit it in some of my purses. It may be out of your price range, but it does completely replace your full laptop, instead of having to continue using the large laptop and use a tablet.
posted by obviousresistance at 2:05 PM on March 9, 2013

Since my hate-on for Apple started almost 2 years ago (I still have an iMac I haven't touched in a year and an Air I pull out occasionally), I have also been heading for this.

At present, I have a Samsung Galaxy Note II and an iGo portable keyboard I got for $40 off Craigslist.

Prior to the Note II, I used a Nexus 7. I love the 7, but was tired of carrying around it and my Nexus 4 so have traded in those two devices for the Note II.

I pretty much do exactly what you said you want: emails, writing, and reading PDFs. The N7 is the best device I've used for PDFs. I also have an iPad 1 which I only keep for two magazines that are iPad only. The N7 is considerably better form factor for reading than the iPad. The iPad is simply too heavy. I read 100 - 120 page documents, 8.5 x 11.

The way I do it is I put it in landscape and read the PDF in two halves. So I read the top half, swipe up, read bottom half, swipe to next page. You can do it in portrait but my eyes are bad and letters are too small.

For Android, I use and used the following: EZPDF, Repligo, Polaris Office, and OfficeSuite. The latter two apps can be used for writing Word Docs or Text Documents, the former for annotating PDFs.

I mostly use OfficeSuite for writing and Repligo PDFs.

The iGo keyboard worked right out of the box and I enjoy writing on it. The Apple keyboard is not portable so is a useless comparison. The only problem with iGo is that some less-used symbols and the numbers are not easily accessible as you have to hold a function key to get them, but for straight typing, it's great.
posted by dobbs at 2:50 PM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, also, my iGo is made for Windows so has buttons for Windows shortcuts. Obviously, they don't work with Android. Perhaps they can be reprogrammed but I've never had a need and don't have a manual as I bought it used. Just mentioning this because the video I linked talks about those shortcut keys.
posted by dobbs at 2:55 PM on March 9, 2013

Here's the keyboard I bought. Logitech Android Bluetooth Keyboard

The only problem I have with it (and I think this might be an Android thing) is that when writing on Google Docs (I've bumped out a couple hundred pages with GDocs through this, so it's definitely functional) if I leave the keyboard alone for too long and it goes into power-saving mode, when it re-connects it moves me back to the top of the document.

Memail me or something if you want recommendations on things to improve coding with it. There's a few gems out there that you really don't want to miss, but it really depends on what you want to do and what language you want to do it in.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:04 PM on March 9, 2013

I love my Chromebook.
posted by walla at 3:11 PM on March 9, 2013

You don't indicate if you've used a 7" tablet before. I own both an (older) 7" and a Nexus 10". The 7" is far, far too small for me to comfortably read PDFs, scan spec docs, etc., and I have normal vision. Anything more than vanilla formatting and you'll be zooming and panning all over the place just to read things. The Nexus 10 is big enough, though, and with a bluetooth keyboard it's pretty fantastic. If you can find Android apps to do what you need, it's a great little netbook-ish thing. (I only haul my laptop when I need to write embedded code, run virtual machines, etc.)
posted by introp at 4:42 PM on March 9, 2013

If price is an issue, consider a netbook. I have an Acer Aspire One that I got for $230 last fall (they're about $250 now). It only came with 1 GB of RAM, but a 2 GB replacement card was $12. It comes with Windows 7 Starter, which is pretty basic compared to real Windows 7 or XP, but it's still much more conducive to doing real work than a tablet operating system.

I've only played a little with the tablet + bluetooth keyboard option (it was an iPad), and for me it was frustrating to use unless I was sitting at a desk -- to much balancing and fumbling on a couch or a train.
posted by gum at 3:14 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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