Last month, disaster stuck as my margarita-drenched Macbook Pro decided to finally give up the fight.

I then nearly joined it after spending a week dealing with Apple’s horrible customer service from a tiny town in Mexico.

However, before I had decided to replace my laptop, I spent three weeks attempting to convince myself that it didn’t actually need to be replaced.

After all, I’d recently purchased a Nexus 7 with my boyfriend and promptly ignored it for the next three months because I had no idea what to use it for.

Maybe now was its time?

Maybe this was all it would take to get me to switch from Apple to Android, from laptop to tablet, from having no control to a device full of viruses because I truly believe that Apple is the best for not trusting me to download whatever I want.

You know, I break thingsAll the time. I need to be limited.

Here’s how successful my foray into all things Android and tablet-based was.
 

Making the Switch from Apple to Android

Switching from Apple to Android took a lot of getting used to, though not as long as I expected. After four days I had painfully transitioned to my new operating system and was, even more painfully, admitting that I actually quite liked it.

With endless opportunities to customise my tablet, I spent the first day downloading animated wallpapers, placing enormous clock widgets on my home screen and installing new keyboards and themes.

Lauren on tablet
I tried a free trial of SwiftKey for my experiment and found it to be the best keyboard choice — yes, even better than using a Bluetooth keyboard. The split keyboard option made typing much faster — and the fact that SwiftKey prowls your social media and email and learns your writing style in order to predict what you’re going to type next was both creepy and clever.

However, I immediately discovered several huge downsides to my Nexus 7 that had me convinced I wouldn’t be able to ever switch over permanently.

I found the responsiveness of the screen to be absolutely horrendous — at times it wouldn’t register my touch, and at other times it would register my finger as being somewhere else entirely. There were nearly always inaccuracies when trying to highlight text, and occasionally phantom touches would register with random apps opening when I hadn’t even touched the screen. I’m not the only person with this problem and it seems to be a common complaint from Nexus 7 owners.

In addition to touchscreen issues, I found typing on the keyboard to be much slower than on my Apple devices. I’d often type a sentence on the tablet and look up to find that it was only halfway through relaying it on the screen. This was only made worse when I used a Bluetooth keyboard and had a much faster typing speed — I’d often stop typing, look up and see that the tablet was paragraphs behind me.

Other than the screen responsiveness and slow typing, I found my transition to be quick and easy, and I was convinced I could make this work for me.


So, how was working solely on a tablet?

I work online as a travel blogger, freelance writer and editor. My work involves composing blog posts and articles for websites and print magazines. I edit articles for my role as managing editor for a UK print magazine and spend hours answering hundreds of emails.

Lauren on tablet
Here’s how I found using a tablet for each of these tasks.
 

Writing articles

Composing articles on the Nexus 7 had a steep learning curve.

After researching word processing options for Android, I opted for Google-owned QuickOffice because it syncs with Google Drive. I could therefore edit my saved Google documents and have my tablet-created documents automatically saved to the cloud as I wrote them.

The first problem I came across was related to the responsiveness I mentioned above. The speed at which I could write was noticeably slower, when using either the tablet keyboard or a Bluetooth-connected keyboard that I borrowed from a friend. For much of the time I felt like I had to keep pausing to wait for the tablet to catch up with me.

Speaking of the Bluetooth keyboard, that was a particularly disappointing experience. After pairing the two devices, I would have to keep tapping buttons on the keyboard at regular intervals to prevent them from disconnecting.

Yes, if I didn’t press a button for more than 20 seconds, the keyboard would disconnect and the only way to get the devices re-paired was to restart the tablet or go to the Bluetooth settings, instruct it to forget the keyboard, search for it again and re-pair the devices.

While this ridiculous situation arguably helped with my productivity and encouraged me to write epic stream-of-consciousness-type articles because I COULD NOT STOP TYPING, it wasn’t particularly great for editing or, you know, thinking. I felt that I spent the majority of my time pressing arrow keys every few seconds while I thought about what to type next. Like the responsiveness issues, I’m not the only one with this problem, with it first being reported over a year ago, and still showing no sign of being solved.

In the end, I found typing on the tablet to be faster and easier than using a physical keyboard.
 

Editing articles

Editing articles was tough because of the tablet’s inability to know where I was tapping most of the time. I’d try and highlight a word and it would highlight the one above, I’d try to drag the cursor to a specific letter in a word and it wouldn’t even get close. Editing articles was slow and painful.

Lauren with tablet
I also needed to download a different app with a word count so that I could copy and paste each article across to see the number of words in each article. QuickOffice did not seem to have this feature.
 

Email Management

I use Apple Mail for my email management and so was not able to easily transition towards using an Android service. I opted for using the Gmail app because most of my email comes via Gmail.

Because I was fully intending to purchase a Macbook at some point in the future, I was not migrating entirely from Apple Mail to Gmail. Therefore, I did not invest any time in creating new folders and labels for incoming emails because I would have no use for these a few weeks/months down the line.

I didn’t want to delete any emails and, because I wasn’t categorising them, I was having to make a note of which emails I needed to reply to — otherwise I would have wasted hours scrolling through my inbox.

Had I completely migrated over to Gmail, the categorisation would have made managing future emails simple, but would not have been enjoyable when sorting through past emails. I dread to think what what have happened when it came time to do my taxes and I would have had to scroll through the tens of thousands of unsorted emails in my inbox to note my income and expenses.
 

Blogging

Keeping up with my travel blogging schedule was tough, mostly because of my struggles with photo editing and management.

I’ve used Photoshop to edit my photos for almost ten years and looking at the Android app equivalents made me sad. In the end, I decided to write posts focused on destinations I had previously written about, and had already uploaded photos for.

Long-term, my solution would be to buy an attachment that would allow me to plug an SD card into the tablet, transfer the photos across and use an app such as Snapseed to edit those photos.

Lauren with tablet
In terms of composing blog posts, I found this to be fine using the WordPress app, as was replying to comments. I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything super high-tech, such as editing code or making huge changes to my site, but I was able to keep it running smoothly.

All in all, I found that as long as I already had the photos I needed for an article in my WordPress Media Library, I was able to keep to my blogging commitments perfectly.
 

Is It Possible to Work on the Road Using Just a Tablet?

Yes.
 

Would I Recommend It?

No.

While it’s definitely possible to work online using just a tablet, the added time and effort wasn’t worth it for me. Given that I was borrowing a laptop for at least an hour a day for tasks that were too infuriating to do on the tablet, I definitely would have struggled using this as a solution long-term.

I lasted just under three weeks before I decided I was wasting hours each day trying to find workarounds and shortcuts and wasn’t being in any way productive.

I decided to replace my laptop.


Of course, whether you’ll be able to work on a tablet rather than a laptop depends entirely on your use case. It depends on what sort of work you do, as well as the tablet you’ll be using.

Many of the issues I had with working on a tablet were probably device-specific (I haven’t used any other brand of tablet to compare) so I can’t make a blanket statement about how they’re terrible for working online.

For me, though, the Nexus 7 killed my productivity and had me wrestling for 12 hours to finish an article that would have taken three on my laptop. It was slow, frustrating and had me longing to steal my boyfriend’s laptop every day.
 
Have you ever tried to work from the road with just a tablet? Do you think you could?

12 Responses

  1. SnarkyNomad

    I’ve always told people that a tablet will take care of certain things, especially just written communication or similar tasks, but the photo editing is a hassle. It depends what you need to do, but I think it tends to work better when you can go back and forth between things, instead of getting stuck in one window at a time. But on the other hand, I would imagine writing could potentially be even easier (with a keyboard that wasn’t awful), since there’s no tabbed browsing to distract you. There are some dedicated apps to do this, which block out the entire screen except for text, and I’ve heard people say they write more productively because there’s nothing to distract them, and switching to another app requires tapping the screen, which is enough of a hassle to make people not do it. Of course…you have to use a keyboard that doesn’t suck.

    Reply
  2. Bruce

    I’ll buy a tablet someday when my Kindle and iPod fail to function. I’m a 20+ year Quicken user and keeping my finances up to date when I travel saves a ton of time when I get home. I know I can use Mint, but it doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles as does Quicken. I also like to watch video on a larger screen and typing on a tablet would be a nightmare which would force me to lug around a keyboard for lengthy emails or blog posts. For now, I carry around a 15″ laptop; sometimes it’s a bit unwieldy, but when I’m settled into a hotel room, I’m always happy I’m not trying to use a hand held device.

    Reply
  3. Stuart McD

    I dont think it is overly surprising that any tablet is crap for stuff like image manipulation, but surprised, well perhaps not, to hear how awful it is for other more rudimentary tasks like, umm, typing.

    Would be good to see a followup piece comparing the above to an iPad as while i prefer to work on a laptop, i do find the iPad adequate for anything typing related, including coding or commenting on this post.

    Reply
  4. @TravelEater

    I’m on a six-month trip now with just an iPad, blogging and writing articles for others.
    Mostly this has been more than fine. I use my iPhone as a second screen if I need to refer to something while writing, because I find it annoying to flip between windows too much.
    Trouble spots:
    – adding photos to wordpress posts : I haven’t tried with the latest update yet, but it is almost impossible to post them anywhere except at the bottom of an article.
    – cropped photos don’t seem to save to Google Drive, only the original does.
    – limited use (eg no formatting) of Google Drive spreadsheets.
    – filling in forms (eg to get paid by a newspaper for an article) is impossible.
    – limited photo editing from the photos app, but, with a bit more effort, I can use Snapseed or something else well enough.
    – somewhat limited storage space for photos (but I can always reload anything I need from a card)

    I find the iPad heavy (iPad 2) and can’t imagine hauling around a laptop!
    Johanna

    Reply
  5. Susan

    I had to use my iPad mini to blog for about a month while I was in the Balkans. Basically, I would type either in Notes and then paste into WP which looked horrible especially in terms of formatting. The second I had access to a computer in a hotel lobby or hostel I would edit the formatting at add pictures at that time. I also don’t recommend it.

    Reply
  6. Ross

    Very informative. I was toying with the idea of using a tablet for my writing but after reading that it sounds like my hestitancy was well founded. Thanks

    Reply
  7. Sofie

    I bought a Nexus 7 a while ago with the intention of using that during my travels.
    I must say I don’t like it at all. I don’t feel it offers me anything more than my smartphone doesn’t, except maybe a larger screen.
    I’ve been thinking of getting a keyboard to go with the nexus, but I see that bluetooth isn’t a good option and as the Nexus doesn’t have a usb entrance…:/

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Sofie — you can actually use a USB keyboard with the Nexus, but you need a little adapter to do it (basically converting microUSB to USB). That said, it’s not something that I’ve done, and there’s not a great deal of specific advice that says ‘this adapter plus this keyboard works on a Nexus 7 running XX version of Android’, so if you decide to go down that path, make sure you buy from a place with a good return policy (or a physical shop where you can test it all before walking out the door).

      Reply
  8. Lois

    Thanks for this timely advice! I’ve been carrying around a notebook for a few years now as a travel blogger and was thinking of switching to a much lighter ipad. But I think I will still need a laptop based on the info you’ve given.

    Reply
  9. Jassen Bowman

    I’ve been lugging a 6 lb, 15″ laptop around the world for over two years. But as a business/finance writer, I thought that I tablet might work for me as a mobile office. Since I don’t do anything with photos, don’t do Google Hangouts, and other things that digital nomads tend to do, I thought a tablet would actually work for me.

    After several weeks with an iPad Mini and a Zagg Folio case/keyboard for it, I gave up. While the size and weight were awesome, the cramped keyboard killed it for me. I often write several thousand words in a day, and I just couldn’t keep up that pace with the tiny Zagg keyboard, let alone trying to do it on the on-screen keyboard. In addition, I realized I do a lot more things in Excel than I thought I did, which created a problem for one particular weekly task I have to do.

    In the end, I sold the iPad, and purchased one of the new generation ultralight 11 inch laptops. I don’t like Windows 8, but it has a full keyboard and is a significant step up from a netbook, but at about the same size/weight.

    Reply

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