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John P. Reid | February 16th, 2014

A tablet computer can browse Web sites of auction houses such as Christie’s. Details and pictures are available at a touch.

Computer Column #303

John P. Reid,

Tablet computers have received favorable comments in this column in the past year. They can do many of the things antiquers do on desktop computers. Smartphones do these things too, but the tiny screens and keyboards are tiring.

Choosing a Tablet

The operating system is the first choice to be made when buying a tablet, and it is a matter of personal taste. Talk to friends, and do some reading and shopping. A longtime favorite tablet is the Apple iPad, which uses the iOS operating system. However, tablets using the Android operating system are made by dozens of manufacturers, and the total number of units sold now exceeds that of iPads. Android and iOS tablets make up about 95% of the market.

There are others. For example, the Blackberry PlayBook was released two years ago. Micro-soft is entering the field with tablets based on Windows 8. The Nook and Kindle e-book readers are tablets too, with fewer capabilities. We will restrict discussion to the two dominant systems.

The second choice to be made is screen size, either 7" or 10" measured on the diagonal. A few larger tablets have been offered, and smartphones with large screens are being touted as substitutes. When you compose mail, the keyboard on a 7" tablet fills half the screen. On the other hand, a 10" tablet cannot be slipped into a purse or suit coat pocket.

Most tablets access the Internet through a Wi-Fi hotspot, available on most home and office networks, at airports, in many restaurants and other businesses, and at public libraries. If you wish to also send and receive mail or data using a cell phone account, the choice of tablets is limited, and the prices will be substantially higher. Your cell phone provider may also charge for an extra device.

Many tablets come with only a front-facing camera that views the user and takes “selfies” or provides video for Internet phones. For taking pictures of antiques at an auction, people, or landscapes, choose a tablet that also has a rear-facing camera.

A few tablets are now coming with GPS sensors for satellite navigation. This is not needed if your vehicle has a built-in or aftermarket navigation system.

After those choices, start considering features, company reputation, and price.

Tablet Setup

Setting up a new tablet can be frustrating. In my experience, two things will reduce but not eliminate the frustration.

First, use a desktop computer to sign up ahead of time for the necessary accounts if you do not have them. Fumbling to make up a password and submit credit card data in the midst of getting a new tablet working is distracting. The credit card information will be needed for downloading apps, even the free ones.

An Apple account is needed for an Apple iPad. The easiest way is to sign up for iTunes ( where apps will be downloaded. A Google account is needed for Android tablets in most cases. The easiest way to sign up is to go directly to Google Play ( Apps will be downloaded later from Play.

The exception to needing a Google account for Android is an inexpensive Android tablet that was not submitted by its manufacturer for Google approval. Try to check this by Internet search or asking the salesperson before buying. Unapproved devices cannot download apps from Google Play. The best alternative is Amazon Apps for Android (

The second step in reducing setup frustration is lining up user instructions ahead of time. In fact, this is a good first step before making the final choice of a tablet. Most tablets come with little information. It is assumed we were all born at a keyboard and need no further guidance. After all, an automobile user’s manual does not tell how to turn the steering wheel or when to hit the brakes.

My wife and I each bought highly recommended but moderately priced Android 7" tablets a few months ago. They came with no instructions beyond how to plug in the battery charger. There was no list of features. Nothing explained how to use the tablets. Engineering students years ago were jokingly told, “If all else fails, read the manual.” OK, all else failed; where is the manual?

There are several sources. The manufacturer may have a Web site with an on-line user manual. There is often an on-line support forum where specific problems or questions are handled. Search Google Play, iTunes, or Amazon for books on your tablet model. Many popular tablets have third-party guidebooks that can be purchased as paperbacks or downloaded as e-books. We were fortunate to find a For Dummies book on ours. Finally, a specific problem or annoyance can be researched using a carefully worded query on a search engine.

Take Advantage

Once the basic functions of a new tablet have been set up using these resources, do not forget where the help came from. Go back and take a leisurely trip through the material to find unexpected features.

For example, many smartphone cameras have a visible tool to zoom in or out on the subject. Many tablet cameras have no visible means to zoom. The camera appears to be nothing but a viewfinder and a shutter button. In on-line manuals and downloaded books, we learned that zooming is done on ours by finger “pinch” and “unpinch” gestures on the on-screen viewfinder image before taking the picture. There also are hidden ways to bring up menus to adjust for dark or bright scenes and color balance.

Ways to move files from or to a desktop computer can be mysterious. There are actually several ways to move a picture or piece of music between devices. The file can be attached to an e-mail message, and the attachment stored at the receiving device. It can be stored and retrieved on a cloud account such as Google Drive or iCloud. However, most tablets can be connected to a computer by a cable—usually the same cable used for charging. Then files can be moved back and forth with the computer mouse. Look for instructions in your reference material.

There seems to be no end to unadvertised features. Hidden away in many tablets’ built-in “settings” app are ways to specify foreign character layouts for the screen and on-screen keyboard. Android tablets, for example, have a choice of more than 50 such as Arabic, Russian, Greek, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Read the manual so you will know how to switch back. This may not be of everyday use to antiquers, but now I can e-mail holiday greetings to a Ukrainian friend.

Copying the e-mail address book of your desktop computer to a tablet is not easy. Google Gmail users can transfer addresses to an Android tablet. Apple computer users will find ways to synchronize addresses with an iPad. I found no way of moving addresses from my Mozilla Thunderbird mail program on Windows to an Android tablet. It was easier to just type them in. But prove me wrong: do not give up searching for answers to tablet questions.

Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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