Friday, 6 January 2012

Christmas and a new toy

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)

A few weeks ago I had a bit of a pop at the Apple iPad, because I frankly couldn’t see what it did that was in any way useful, or why so many people had apparently decided that it was the ultimate ‘must have’ accessory. I’ve been looking at the device a bit more closely since then, but frankly I’m none the wiser, though arguably I am better informed.
            Various people have pointed out how light it is and easy to carry around, how it starts instantly, and what clever technology it is – none of which I can argue with. But the bottom line that I’ve gleaned from people who own one of these devices is that the cameras aren’t very good, it’s pretty useless at browsing the web because it can’t display Flash, printing from it is difficult, assuming of course that you can do any useful work on it, which is unlikely because of the virtual keyboard, and integrating it with home wireless networks can be difficult or in some cases impossible.
            Nevertheless, the tablet computer still has a kind of appeal, and so I have actually splashed out and bought one. Not an iPad, for reasons which I hope will be obvious, but a Dell Inspiron Duo, a kind of multipurpose machine which is really clever. You can use it as a perfectly conventional small laptop/netbook, with a proper keyboard and all the usual bits and pieces including USB slots and so on. But the screen flips over so that, when the unit is closed, it turns into a classic tablet computer.
            The specification is light years ahead of the iPad, with a 320 GB hard disk, 2 GB of RAM and a dual core processor running at 1.5 GHz, and the ability to flip between a regular keyboard and the tablet is really useful. And, of course, because it’s running Windows it will handle Office, display Flash websites and so on, and has a camera, microphone and speakers all built in. There’s also a nifty little stand available into which you can slot the machine when it’s not being used, and which will charge the battery as well as allowing the unit to function as an entertainment centre, playing music, showing videos or still photographs and so on. About the only area where it can be considered inferior to the iPad is battery life, because it will only run for about two to three hours due to the power demands of the hard disk and the other hardware. You can pick up one of these for around £400, but I was lucky enough to find an unbeatable special offer – on Amazon of all places – and paid only £220, which has to be a bargain: it would cost more than that to buy a netbook with a much lower specification.
            This now offers me a large choice of different computers on which to work, which is not necessarily a good thing. The temptation to play with the Inspiron has to be resisted because I have one deadline looming – that’s in the middle of February – and I have an entire book to edit as well, plus lots of other stuff to do relating to contracts, promotions and so on. And there are all the other day to day jobs and tasks which have to be attended to as well.
            Added to that, the festive season produced its own demands on our time, and especially the extended family lunch on Christmas Day.
This was fairly entertaining, not least because two family members, who labour under the entirely erroneous impression that they are excellent cooks, more or less took over. The result of this was that the meal began at about three in the afternoon with a smoked salmon platter but, thanks to the two master chefs, the turkey and fillet steak didn’t put in an appearance until about two hours later, and the meal then arrived in stages, a tray of unidentifiable burnt offerings first, and the bread sauce finally materialized when almost everybody had finished eating. The Christmas pudding – eight minutes in the microwave – was offered about an hour after that, but the heat and serve custard took another twenty minutes to arrive on the table, by which time the Christmas pudding was of course cold.
            But despite all that, it was a thoroughly good day.

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