Saturday, May 14, 2011

Writing on the Motorola Xoom

My latest toy is my Motorola Xoom WiFi and I absolutely love it! The Xoom is a tablet pc running the Android Honeycomb operating system. In fact, just last night it got an update so we're now sitting at version 3.1 of Google's tablet OS. I'm not quite sure what improvements were made, I just accepted the update and it rebooted and loaded without a hitch. I figure I'll look it up later when I have a few more minutes to spare. So far so good though, no hitches that I'm aware of.
Now, when it really comes down to it, I was looking for something that I could use to study electronic documents and pdf's for school with without giving up a lot of lap real estate or sitting at my desktop. Especially since I spend my work days staring at computer screens. That's the hard part about working full time and going to school full time as well. With all but one of my projects existing in electronic format, I'm faced with even more screen time. This means that I have to make that time as comfortable as possible and I have to make it count. That's where the Xoom comes in, and it's far better than I first expected.

I haven't yet found a software program that seems like it can take full advantage of the Xoom's capabilities. This is actually a bit of good news for me. Honeycomb is a new contender in the market as an OS and it will take some time for developers to catch up. On its own, the Xoom appears to be able to handle all of the tasks I throw at it. My only complaint so far has been the functionality of the programs I've tried. Well, that's not exactly true, sometimes the backspace on the bluetooth keyboard I got to go with it seems to get stuck and I go into a panic trying to get it to stop. It could be some sort of sticky key function, so it might very well be a matter of training myself not to hold the key down for too long. Either way, I don't think it's the Xoom's fault.

I will freely admit that finding an app for a versitile writing experience is a matter that requires a lot more research on my part. I don't want to just jump into the Google Market and start paying for and installing apps if they aren't going to cut the mustard.  I checked out My Writing Spot but the app is currently hard-coded for phone resolutions. This means it pops up on my screen about the size of a playing card. I wrote an email to the developer and requested that they look into updating the app to include support for tablet resolutions. I got a quick reply back suggesting that they will be looking into it, so that might be a viable option in the future. As for now, I didn't even bother looking into the formatting options.  Google Docs is an option, but I dislike the lack of formating tools for text, also there doesn't seem to be a way to save locally to the app and then sync when you're connected to the internet. This would be a much better solution. If I'm temporarily away from a network, I can't access my documents. While I'm making a list of requests here, I'd like to see in-text spellcheck. The good news is that it's free and works in a pinch. There are other options out there, like Documents to Go and QuickOffice. I haven't tried them yet and haven't read any comparison reviews on the Android side of things.

I did look into Documents to Go a bit when I was setting up Tara's iPad2 and it seemed to be a bit more full-featured, but after some looking into it I bought Pages instead and she really seems to like it. It did take her a little more effort to find a blogging app that fit her needs and then there is a bit of hassle getting the pictures from her Sony camera to import. Of course there will be some growing pains on either side of the tablet equation, but I'm afraid to say that peripherals will constantly be a problem with Apple's minimalist agenda. Still, as long as you know what you're up against there will always be a way around the difficulties. As for my Xoom, I'm using the Blogger app. Again, in-text spell check would be nice, especially since the  keyboard I'm using misses key presses occasionally. I've got another bluetooth keyboard I use for my laptop that isn't the smaller tablet form factor, maybe I'll hook it up and see if I run into the same issues. I should probably interject that I love the onscreen keyboard, I just like being able to type on something external so I don't have to hold the tablet while drinking a cup of coffee or hot chai. Setting it in a tablet stand, or on its dock like it is now, provides a perfect viewing angle that doesn't strain my neck. So why limit yourself? For the times I want to use it, it's great, but I love that I'm not limited. Tara does all of her typing on the onscreen iPad2 keyboard and it seems just as nice. She could use a bluetooth keyboard as well but she's kind of out-of-the-box when it comes to these things, so whatever floats your boat.

All that said, I took the Xoom to Barnes and Noble last weekend and set it up with a small stand I got for Tara's iPad2 and then hooked up this keyboard. I thought  about taking my HD dock, but I wasn't worried about battery life and I wanted to get the feel for how the device would handle a charge. I usually take my beefy Core i7 laptop and have to fight for a power outlet, so this was a huge change. I got a netbook a couple years ago and I have a hard time with the smaller keyboards they build in. By the time you add an external one you might as well have a bigger laptop altogether. Not so with the Xoom. The footprint on the table was dwarfish in comparison. I must admit, I felt a bit like a rock star amongst writers that day. I wrote a bit on a possible new project just to test out the waters. To do that I pulled up Google Docs via app and gave it a spin. I decided to plug in my earbuds and listen to music via the Amazon Cloud Player, which allowed me to import a CD and then upload it to my account and then pull the album down to my Xoom's hard drive. It was a super painless process and I loved that I could listen to more than  just Pandora. Amazing if you have a specific playlist  you want to listen to in order to set the mood for a piece you're writing on. The end result was decent writing but in a condition which requires spell check and basic text formatting. You're not going to be sending this sort of stuff in raw form to an agent or a publisher, that's for sure. This was my first time using the app, but it didn't seem like setting your indentations, line spacing, and setting and centering your headings were very intuitive, if even optional. Again, I could be wrong. It will take more usage on my part to be sure. The cloud-only saving feature is pretty rough, though, and will be a major hurdle for me to overcome before I consider using the app exclusively.  I guess that's what I love about saving my documents to Dropbox. I can access them locally as well as when I'm connected. That way I only need to be sure to sync my Dropbox folder before I head out to be sure I'm working with the latest versions.

So, yeah, I need to look into it a little more, but so far I'm loving the capabilities of the device itself. Now  it's just a matter of getting the developers to catch up and start making the experience even more awesome. Or, you know, it could just be a matter of user education. :) Perhaps I'm just not fully utilizing the tools I have in front of me. But if there's something amazing available out there, I'd love to get my hands on it.  Have any suggestions? I'd love to hear them, please feel free to leave me a comment.

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