FrugalityPNG3692149756_ca17fc8325_z_thumbThe new Amazon tablets fascinate me.

I paid a little more for my new Android device, but if those $50 tablets were available in Canada, I would have bought one in a heartbeat.

That might seem like an odd declaration. My iPad is much more powerful than Amazon’s tablet. Every time they release a new model, the camera is slightly better, the number of pixels per inch slightly higher, the weight a tiny bit less.

But these days, a lot of people like me might—sacrilege of sacrileges—not really need things to keep improving all that much. I have several fans who rhapsodize about the iPad’s retina screen. I don’t see it. Until about two weeks ago, when I replaced my first-generation Mini with a cheaper Android model, I had both a retina and a non-retina device. The difference was too subtle for me. I simply didn’t see a difference. I reached a point, at last, where I had to ask myself an important question: I loved my iPad—but did I love it $200 more than I would love an Android tablet?

In some ways, Apple might come to be responsible for their own decline. If they keep on upping the ante like this, their previous-generation components will become all the cheaper. And the non-power-users will be able to pick up a perfectly serviceable device for peanuts.

When I was rhapsodizing to the Beloved about the genius of Amazon selling their cheapie tablet in a multipack, where you can get a set of matching ones for the whole house for about what a sole iPad costs, he took it one step further: who needs an iPad—or even an Android tablet—for a kid when 90% of what they seem to do with them is watch YouTube videos? Why not go even cheaper than Amazon did and make a bare-bones screen which does only that? A YouTube tablet for $20? I bet it would sell.

Times are changing, and I think most people simply don’t need that kind of power at home. I remember the Beloved swearing to me that he could never give up having a desktop computer at home. When his desktop died and he had to put his money where his mouth was, he was quite happy to use my old laptop to play podcasts and browse eBay. I used to say too that I needed a full computer. I needed to sync my phone with iTunes; but I don’t really anymore; I needed Office, but now I use Evernote and Google Docs. I do need a computer to run Calibre for converting my eBooks and for editing ePub files. But I don’t necessarily need a top-of-the-line machine for those tasks. And now that my MacBook has had a little accident and is facing a costly repair, I am seriously weighing my options.

Those ‘lower-end’ devices have their uses, and one of them is their disposability. If I can get a new device for cheaper than it would be to upgrade a higher-end device, where is the better value proposition? More and more, that is a debatable question.


  1. The greater sharpness of a retina display has one advantage. I find that text typos hide themselves very well, particularly when I’ve spent months writing a book and think I know what everything says.

    So when it is almost done, I proof it in media other than InDesign. I look at the print PDF on that sharp retina display. The distinctions between a comma and a period matter little when you’re reading. They matter a lot in proofing, so I need a sharp screen. I also proof the epub version in iBooks. The line breaks and page are different, so that makes other typos surface. I used to print a proof version out, but for a 200-or-so page book that can get pricey.


    Keep in mind that cost comparisons need to be by done dividing the total cost of ownership by the life span. That’s where Apple products tend to pull ahead, particularly when passing it on to others (or reselling) is taken into account.

    More uses also matter. As soon as Scrivener for iOS finally comes out, my iPad 3 will become my primary laptop and writing tool. I doubt I could do that with an Android tablet bought at the same time—that is if there were even an Android version of Scrivener. That means that iPad has saved me the cost of a laptop costing even more than it does.

    I find that too many gadgets means most aren’t used. I no more need a six-tablet packet than I need six cars. A few years back, I alternated buying a desktop for book layout with buying a laptop for on-the-go writing. My theory was that if my desktop died, I could quickly take up my work on an almost as powerful laptop. I abandoned that idea when I realized that, if my desktop utterly died, I could overnight a replacement and lose almost no work time. Keeping two computers up to date had meant I was doubling my cost of obsolescence.


    Eventually, I’d probably work down to only three devices I use regularly:

    1. Desktop. You can’t do book layout without two large displays, lots of RAM, and daily backups.

    2. Tablet in lieu of a laptop. Tablets do all I need for writing and browsing on the go at less cost and weight. Getting a better one means I can use it for content creation as well as consumption.

    3. Smartphone. Gotta have a cell phone. It might as well be a smart one.

    Fewer gadgets means I can afford to buy better gadgets that have to be replaced less often. Replacing them less often then means my total cost of ownership may be less than buying cheaply and often.

    Of course, I also buy frugally. When I need a new Apple desktop, I wait for it to be out long enough to buy refurb. I also buy a practical model, which is a Mac mini. iMacs make no business sense. If anything goes, your entire investment is lost. It’s like owning a car with no replaceable parts. Making their stuff almost impossible to fix is perhaps my #1 gripe with Apple.


    Audiobook fans might want to visit Classic Tales, where six professionally done books are currently available for free.

    If you’ve not read or listened before, The Moonstone is a particularly gripping blend of mystery and romance.


  2. I really don’t notice a difference with retina. I accept that is just me, but I don’t.

    As to your other point, I would have agreed with you when I was buying just for me. But I have a family now, and we can’t afford top-of-the-line products times all of us. So we have to prioritize. I get the nice computer because I work from home for some things, but he gets the hand-me-down, and we both use the cheap tablets for just goofing around.

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