These days, gadgets can be pretty sexy things. The quality of engineering in our consumer electronics would be the stuff of dreams until only a few years back, yet now with each new development, our expectations shift and we all get excited about the next big thing.
Modern gadgets are near art-level mixes of glass, high quality plastics and metals that stir up interest in everyone, not just the geeks.
In recent times, it's arguably Apple that trail-blazed the way toward making computer-based gadgets something that are not only cool, but something that we express ourselves through. A lot of people buy an iPhone because they believe it puts out a message of sophistication and style that tells the world, if the phone is that stylish, the person holding it must be too. Quite an achievement Apple, of course it can stir the opposite reaction too.
So whilst it's not just the geeks following the gadgets anymore, they are still there, noisily arguing over their chosen favourite brand or operating system, whilst attempting to verbally destroy the opposition. There can be no more busy debate at the moment than that between Android (Google's operating system, found on phones like the Samsung Galaxy SIII) and Apple's IOS that drives the iPhone and iPad.
The traditional geek's choice is Android. This appeals to the classic type who appreciates the engineering under the hood just as much as the gadget itself, possibly more so. Android devices typically excite with clever 'quad-core' processors with massively powerful graphics processors and a whole caboodle of memory onboard that in some cases make the iPhone look a little bit backward. They shun iPhones with their lack of memory expansion, expensive ports (for connecting to other devices) and the fact that you're locked out from what is going on behind the scenes. Apple fans come in two types. The first buys it for the 'cool' and 'status'. The second, because the design and operation make it a pleasure to live with and, why mess around with what's under the hood if all you want to do is check Facebook? The processor speed doesn't matter if everything appears fast and smooth.
I get both points of view and like to think I'm fairly brand agnostic. My last few phones have been Android, but my last two tablets have been iPads.
The market is showing a similar split. Android on phones is doing incredibly well, thanks largely to Samsung and HTC. However, Apple totally dominates with the iPad. Most people couldn't name five of its Android competitors and yet there are in excess of a hundred models on the market.
But if the Android phones are so good, are we all wrong to be blindly purchasing iPads when Android on a tablet might offer something worthwhile? Better even?
I decided to put down my iPad for a weekend and instead rely on the cream of the Android crop, the Asus Transformer Prime. Until recently Asus' top of the range flaship and said by many to be the best Android tablet money can buy.
So how did I get on?
Well, I can tell you right now that I liked the Prime a lot. Many people won't buy a tablet as they say a laptop makes much more sense if you want to be productive. Asus have listened here and the Prime is bundled (in the UK) with a detachable keyboard (with touch-pad) that turns it into a netbook style computer. As a blogger, I liked this idea a lot. Not only does the keyboard protect the screen when it's closed, it also has a battery onboard that extends the total time inbetween charges to a massive seventeen hours! This sense of work-anywhere portability is incredibly appealing and the screen offered one more trick that could give it the edge over the iPad, it works well outdoors. The iPad is pretty useless outdoors. In sunshine, it's not quite bright enough and the glass is very reflective. The Prime has a 'super-IPS' mode, which although not the catchist name, bumps up the brightness to a point where you really can sit in the middle of a field on a lovely summer's day, ignore the view and crack on with your article!
Suffice to say, the Prime makes a good first impression. The aluminum case has a similar wow-factor to an iPad and although the screen doesn't compete with Apple's retina display in terms of sharpness, it's still impressive and very comfortable to pass hours in front of.
For typical functionality, I think Android is now a match for IOS. Although it's still not quite as user friendly, anyone who has used a computer before should get along just fine. Everything is fast and responsive and email, calendar, web-browsing and so on are just as accessible and easy to use as they are on an iPad. Perhaps better given the keyboard's presence.
I also found I loved gaming on the Prime. Being able to simply plug in a controller from my Playstation 3 and use that to play certain games meant that titles like popular zombie shooter 'Dead Trigger' were far more at home on the Prime than they are on the iPad where you have no choice but to use relatively fiddly touchscreen controls.
It was at this point though where I hit the main limitation of Android and started to wonder where my iPad was (short answer, the wife had it). Once you start hunting round the App Store, known as 'Google Play' you realise that offerings for Android tablets fall far short of those available for the iPad and even where an Android title was available, excepting games, the app was, in many cases, significantly inferior.
Popular apps like Facebook and Twitter are in no way as slick as the iPad versions. Sadly I couldn't find any decent stylus-friendly note-taking apps to rival the likes of 'Penultimate' and nothing seems to touch Spotify running on IOS.
My friend who kindly lent me the Prime for the weekend borrowed an iPad for the same duration and came back with the same conclusion in reverse. His affections had grown for the iPad, because the App Store is rich in quality apps and he didn't have to continually search web-forums when he wanted to find a app providing a specific function. He also commented that the iPad was more stable, as he has experience problems on the Prime with apps crashing.
In conclusion, the Android tablet platform is mature now and well rounded. It's pretty stable, easy to use (if still a bit 'computery' compared to an iPad which hides all that) and, if you're that way inclined, won't stop you getting under the hood and tinkering and the Prime is definitely a fantastic piece of hardware that I missed immediately when I handed it back.
But would I change the iPad for it?
No, not yet. I'm still in love with the retina display which makes reading and writing text a pleasure and whilst the developers are still largely supporting IOS first (or only), that's the way it will likely stay. I do hope Google can drum up the interest from developers, because the competition has arrived in every other way and that can only be a good thing.