I'm not entirely sure what inspired me to buy an Android tablet. When it comes to tech, I tend to be pretty conservative in what I buy. I want the best tool for the job, and I want it to last as long as humanly possible.
You wouldn't apply that description to an Android tablet, which occupies a functional no-man's-land between smartphones and laptops. An Android tablet does essentially the same thing as those two devices, but it does them much worse.
And yet, I picked up my Android tablet early on during the recent holiday break — and I haven't put it down since.
Two reasons to get an Android tablet
While I've never written about them much, I've owned Android tablets for more than a decade. I started with the Google Nexus 10 back in 2012, and ran the battery completely into the ground. When it was time to upgrade, I bought a cheap Samsung Galaxy Tab A (SM-T510) in a Cyber Monday sale. Both times, I knew that I would use the device for precisely two things:
1) Watching videos
2) Reading comics
The first use is purely a luxury, as smartphones are perfectly good video players, too. But tablet cases almost always have a built-in stand to prop up the device. As such, I watch videos on my tablet all the time, especially while doing chores. It's especially helpful for cooking tutorials — and on airplanes, where a tray table essentially gives you a small personal theater. But this is a pretty trivial reason to spend $200 or more on a single device.
However, the second application is worth discussing. I stopped reading physical comics in the early 2010s, when my local shop sadly closed up for good. A 10-inch Android tablet (or bigger) turned out to be an excellent substitute, as it's about the same size as a comic book page. This was also right around the time that Comixology was getting big, which let me continue reading all of my favorites from month to month.
But ever since Amazon acquired Comixology, the company seems to be doing its damndest to torpedo the whole experience. Without going into grisly details, it's now basically impossible to read, organize or buy comics in the app, and no other company has stepped up to fill the niche in the market. (Marvel Unlimited is quite good, but only if you're in the mood for back issues of Marvel comics.)
I assumed I was done with electronic comics until the Comixology app improved or something else arrived to take its place. But then I found a title that I couldn't put down.
How a tablet fit into my holiday plans
Like many of you, I had a short break for the December holidays, and I traveled around to visit family during that time. When you're on the go, your options for watching movies, binging TV and playing games are limited. Those activities require significant time investments, and aren't easy to suspend when you're in the middle of something. Plus, you might have to share a TV with a whole bunch of relatives — or sequester yourself in another room and miss the point of going to see them entirely.
While I was on break, however, a friend of mine recommended The Boys, a Garth Ennis comics series that deconstructs beloved superhero tropes, often in the most gory and over-the-top ways imaginable. (There's an Amazon Prime series, too, if that's more your speed.) While Comixology is mostly a wasteland these days, it does at least tie in with Amazon Prime fairly easily, and the first volume of the series is free for subscribers. I downloaded it, and blew through the whole thing in a single morning. I picked up the second volume, and the third, and the fourth — and I'm still going, even now that the break is done.
While Android tablets are a niche device, at best, my Galaxy Tab A turned out to be exactly the right tool for the job. I was traveling around, so paper graphic novels would have been a pain to carry compared to a tablet. And the iPad, while dominating our best tablet rankings, is an unbelievably expensive tool, if all you want to do is read comic books. A smartphone is too small; a laptop is too big.
Android tablet outlook
Over the years, I've gone back and forth on whether I needed a tablet at all. While it wasn't that expensive, I also don't get that much use out of it. But when it comes to comic books and graphic novels, it's probably one of the best investments you can make. As such, I think my fellow comic-readers should give Android tablets a second look — and, by the same token, I think that everyone else should probably steer clear.
Part of reviewing tech is recommending a product to the right audience. But an equally important part is making sure that the wrong audience doesn't waste its money. After 10 years of owning Android tablets, I can't think of anything that they do exceptionally well, apart from "reading comics" and "watching videos when you're not near another big screen."
It's a niche use-case, to be sure. But the beautiful thing about consumer tech is that sometimes, you can find the exact product you want — even if most people would never need one.