I'm done with tablets

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by on 2023-01-13 | License Permalink

I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with tablets for a little while now. I got my first tablet in 2012 which was an Asus Transformer Pad TF300T. I used it during the summer for watching Netflix, with the rationale that it had less power consumption that my laptop, and then used it for about half a semester at university to take notes on. After that my laptop supplanted it again for most tasks, although it saw some use for watching movies during bus rides and it was perfect for reading comics via an app.

Eventually, the battery life got pretty shocking even with the keyboard dock (which I wasn’t using) and the final nail in its coffin was that it was set upon by a plague of ghost touches on the screen, which wrecked even the comic-reading use-case I was keeping it around for. I can’t remember when I actually threw it out, but it was somewhere around the 2016 or 2017 mark.

In 2019 I eventually bought a new tablet, the Google Pixel C. Unlike my first tablet it was second-hand off of eBay although it came in great condition. I also opted not to get the keyboard for it, and I installed LineageOS because I had a very clear use-case in mind for it – comics and the newspaper. At the time I’d just taken out a subscription to the digital edition of The Morning Star — which is just about the only paper I find it worth reading in the UK atm — and didn’t want to load up a laptop to read it in the morning before work. The tablet did the beautifully and the ability to read comics again was a nice treat as well.

That tablet saw good use for about 6 months before I reverted back to my laptop for reading the paper in the morning (fetching the paper on a tablet was pretty rough due to editing bits of URLs via the onscreen keyboard), although I still brought it out for comics fairly regularly. Although since about halfway through 2020, it’s basically just sat on my desk or in a drawer.

In December 2022, my trusty smartphone which I’d had since 2018 died a death and began a saga of replacements which has resulted in me being fairly disenchanted with mobile devices in general. The tablet has since decided to play its part in cementing that. In January 2023 I was fiddling with installing LineageOS on my replacement devices and had to boot up the tablet for acting as a backup OTP device so that if my phone ever decided not to work again, I could just fire up the tablet. Everything worked fine, but as I was using it I realised something. I hadn’t bothered to use the tablet for at least a year. There was no remaining use-case I had that isn’t better served by either my phone or my laptop. Since migrating to a tiling window manager and minimalist, keyboard-driven, utilities I now tend to read the paper or comics on my laptop (via zathura).

I decided that since it was laying forgotten in a drawer it would be better served being someone else’s tablet. The battery life was still great and it was functional so I could pass it on via eBay; I would even give people the option of a reset LineageOS install or flashing the stock Google ROM for an extra few quid to account for the labour. I first asked friends and family, and my brother-in-law offered to take it off my hands if I flashed the stock ROM. We agreed a price (actually a charity donation to The Patchwork Project, go donate to them) and I navigated the hellscape that was Google’s stock ROM collection page and downloaded the appropriate images to flash.

It was at that point that the Pixel C decided it had had enough of life, and promptly refused to register any touches on the touchscreen at all. That’s not a good look for a device which is reliant on touch interactions to function. I tried rebooting the device umpteen times, but to no avail. There is also no real reason why the screen would decide it isn’t working now of all times. I’ve never dropped it and it’s literally been laid flat in a drawer for months.

I’ve given it the ol' college try in attempting to source replacement parts for the device so that my brother-in-law can still get a tablet I promised him. But unfortunately I’ve been incredibly unsuccessful. Everywhere I look there are no replacement screens available, or even listed, for the device. It’s all the Pixel phones. This means I cannot attempt a repair (something I’m not totally confident about anyway despite the presence of a good quality iFixit tutorial).

So I’ve decided I’m done with tablets. Ideally I’d be done with mobile devices in their entirety but I have a feeling my smartphone isn’t going anywhere. I’m definitely not going to be getting a replacement since I don’t enjoy flashing ROMs very much and mobile devices are broadly hostile to repairs and upgrades (with notable exceptions). Further to this, pretty much every use-case I have for the tablet is better served by my laptop and window manager with some input from my smartphone:

  • Browsing the web; I can drive Firefox via the keyboard and I’m a lot less clumsy with the mouse when I do need it than I am poking the tablet
  • Reading; my e-reader is designed for that in the case of books. In the case of blogs, I subscribe to them using my RSS reader and it’s in the terminal so I can control the typography and navigate via the keyboard
  • Watching movies and TV; my laptop is much better at this. I can connect a nice set of headphones and browse my library from the external hard drive via nnn and have things play in mpv which I can control via the keyboard
  • Watching other video on the web; I have mpv wired into my RSS reader so I can watch video from YouTube as well as a variety of other sources such as Reddit or TikTok without any daft apps
  • Comics and documents; As noted, zathura handles most of what I throw at it. Whether it’s PDFs for scientific things or comics for enjoyment. It sometimes struggles with a few comics files, but I have a spare CBR reader installed for those cases
  • Messaging; I can do most of my messaging via my laptop, although I despise the Signal desktop client. This is something the phone excels in, but not the tablet
  • 2FA; again this is one area where the smartphone reigns at the moment although I am investigating getting 2FA wired into pass via pass-otp to reduce reliance on swapping between devices. Occasionally someone still sends me a stupid SMS to authenticate, however

Further to this there is the simple fact that mobile devices and mobile operating systems are very simply not geared towards production. I actually occasionally enjoy doing some creative writing via my phone with Markor as an editor, but that’s awkward on the tablet. The affordances of the device and the way the operating system works is inherently designed for consumption, with the occasional affordance for administration tasks (e.g. moving money around bank accounts). I’m fine with this (I don’t want to write code on my Kindle, for example) but it falls down on a tablet which has a layout designed for smaller devices and makes even trivial text input relatively difficult.

So I’m done. No more tablets for me and also a promise to try and wean myself off of mobile devices in general. The fact that I can’t repair the device easily and that both devices I’ve owned have broken in similar ways despite largely living in drawers is enough to put me off another tablet device. That my tablets have spent most of their lives in drawers at all is an indicator that they don’t really serve a purpose in my life. Goodbye tablets.