We have been testing the new crop of 2016 mobile devices and want to share some of our observations. Overall we are very happy with the performance, size format, and price ranges available this year. There are lots of choices suited to every budget, which is a great improvement over the last year.
My personal favorite is the Nvidia Shield tablet K1. It is an 8” tablet running Android 6.0, developed for gaming, which means it performs like a racehorse during map display and multimedia capture. One wonders whether the tablet will withstand high heat, given the high performance and plastic case. We have not run into issues, but it’s been only 20C here so far. The Shield takes a micro-SD card that provides up to 128Gb of expandable memory to its 16Gb internal storage. If you upgrade to Android 6.1, the internal and external storage are merged into one ‘extended’ storage space. This storage merge seems to work great, but we are using it cautiously. Archaeologists who like to have all their tools in one place will be pleased to find the inbuilt compass, accelerometer and gyro onboard. Finally the best news: the Shield is the only non-Samsung tablet that also takes a stylus! The stylus does not attach in any way, so buy many if you are a fan, as you will surely loose them. Get an anti-glare screen cover and a anti-slick case, while shopping. At USD199 the Nvidia Shield K1 is a steal and you can make your work more comfortable by splurging on accessories. Getting the Shield in Australia is still entailed, lets hope the distribution network reaches here soon.
The next tablet, the Remix Ultra tablet, provides an Android answer to MS Surface. At 11.6” it straddles the tablet/laptop divide, and provides a very comfortable display experience. Those who like large screens will be thrilled to hear that Remix OS 2.0 adaptation of Android 5.0 allows for windowing, so you can work in multiple documents or browsers at once. You will need a Bluetooth or USB mouse to right click each app in order to switch on the windowing mode from the default full-screen mode. Just like MS Surface, the Remix comes with a magnetic keyboard that supports multi-touch. Personally, I find the Surface keyboards better quality, but here again we are speaking about a tablet - laptop hybrid, which makes the keyboard ok. There is no stylus. Storage of 64 Gb will please avid photographers, as will the 128Gb expandable memory. The bells and whistles of accelerometer, gyro, compass, ambient light sensor and GPS are all on board. The Remix has performed very well with FAIMS during testing, we found little to complain about. Archaeologists working in hot environments will welcome the Remix aluminium case which dissipates heat much better than the plastic case of Nvidia Shield. Overall, the larger size, low weight, and keyboard make Remix into a choice for work in lab or at a trench. While it is a bit large for fully mobile fieldwork, it hybrid qualities, especially the windowing and solid performance, make it a tempting choice for combining fieldwork and other business in a flexible novel environment. At USD299 (with keyboard and stand) it is definitely worth a shot.
One last tablet to consider if you want a larger tablet is the Pixel C. This is another Android 6.0 version of a MS Surface. It sticks to tablet size with a 10.2 “ screen, but has otherwise excellent technical spec with a fast Nvidia Tegra processor and 32Gb/64Gb internal memory. Get larger memory if you can afford it - there is no expandable memory! Again, many sensors are onboard, but we note the absence of internal GPS, which can be remedied by connecting external Bluetooth one. This may in fact help if you are running apps that are not able to distinguish between internal and external GPS. The body is compact, if a tad heavy, and pure aluminium, so heat dissipation problem should not arise. The body is also magnetic, so you can stick it to the fridge or metal shelves in your archive and type on it suspended. It comes with a keyboard (at somewhat steep price of $199) and has no stylus. The pixel is probably the most beautiful device from the current batch ( my opinion) and is an excellent value for what it can do (especially compared to 2015 bunch). I am happy to have it in the office, and would like to use one on my lap at an excavation or sampling site, but would find it difficult for survey because of the weight (Pixel C). Also, if I were a project director, I may think twice if I can justify the cost of AUD699 - 829 (32 vs 64 Gb storage) against some of the more economical devices.
Let us know your experience, especially if you take the tablets in the field!