Struggling over the choice of an iPad Air or a Galaxy Note 3: preventing buyer's remorse

If it works for you, you didn't make a mistake. If you like it and it gets the job done, it's good. If it makes you crazy and you want to throw the thing at a wall, then it's time to rethink what you're using. Plus, vanilla is gross.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

One of my favorite aspects of writing for ZDNet is interacting with all of you TalkBackers and those of you who send me private email messages via the little Contact link at the end of every article. I've had the opportunity to meet some fascinating people, hear some amazing, incredible, and poignant stories, and learn a lot from some of the most experienced and savvy technical people on the planet.

Oh, sure, once in a while there's the random death threat, the occasional assumption that I have far more body-part flexibility than I actually do, and the fairly infrequent person who thinks he or she can read my mind, knows all my motivations and every aspect of my personal history, and knows that's obviously why I write what I write.

We're all human. We've all thought about whether Superman can take Batman (Superman, natch'), whether Star Wars or Star Trek (before Jar Jar, Chewbacca ruled, but now we have to give it to Kirk and Picard). We've also argued Mac vs. Windows, Linux vs. the world, GOP vs. Dems, GOP vs. Tea Party, Dems vs. Dems, Android vs. iOS, and even chocolate vs. vanilla.

Okay, hold up for a second. We need to discuss this. Why does vanilla even exist? Seriously. Once you've had chocolate, why would you even consider vanilla? Ever been to a restaurant that only serves vanilla ice cream? I know. It's a crime against humanity.

But you're not here to listen to me try to save the world from the terrible scourge that is vanilla. You're here because you have your own choices to make. In fact, after reading The Chromebook, Windows RT, and the Officebook that might have been, ZDNet reader Ray Sheehan sent me this note:

Have a Samsung Note 8 I just bought for $399, and a $40 keyboard on the way. I need signatures at times, and sometimes like to scribble. One job and the Church uses Google apps and Docs, thought it was a good idea. Beginning to wonder after reading your article if I'd made a mistake. iPad Air?

I thought about Ray's question, and here's what I told him (with some minor edits now that I'm publishing my answer).

Well, the iPad, the Note, and the Chromebook are all very different beasts. My phone is a Galaxy S4. I would have bought the Note 3, but I really was losing patience with my then-ancient iPhone and didn't know how long it would be before the Note came out.

Although I wrote a long article about why the S4 seemed more modern than my old 4S, the real difference in day-to-day use (I now use the 4S as my in-bed Kindle reader) is that Apple products don't have the Swype keyboard and I've discovered that improves keyboard usefulness tremendously. Ironically, I hadn't yet discovered Swype when I wrote my long-list-of-features article.

But the reason I would have bought a Note 3 instead of the S4 was both size and stylus. I like styli, being an old Palm guy and I can never get enough screen in my pocket.

Now, as for the Note 3 and the iPad Air. The Air is bigger. It's twice the length/width of my Nexus 7 (I have an iPad 1 and an iPad 3). I don't know how much the Note 3 weighs (I do now, it's 5.9 ounces), but the one pound iPad Air is about .4 pounds less than the Chromebook. Not a lot, though, once you add a keyboard to the Air. The iPad Air is substantially larger than the Note 3 and while both will serve for most things, they really are different beasts.

As for the Chromebook, my big thing about the Chromebook is it runs desktop Chrome, with extensions, and all the Android and iOS devices run mobile Chrome. Those extensions are what make Chrome doable for me given how I work. So, for productive work, the Chromebook is definitely a win. But is has no touch screen at all. It's all trackpad (or you can add a mouse — yay!).

If I were to break it down, not counting the very relevant fact that I get these things to stay up on them for work, I use the full-size iPad in the studio for the teleprompter, and my wife uses it on the treadmill. I use the Nexus 7 in the bathroom as my bathroom reader (yeah, true) and the iPad mini with GoodReader as my random, spare carry-around tablet (like for keeping tech manuals on when fixing the AC system). Until the Chromebook, I also used to take the iPad mini to coffee shops to write on.

My wife also has a growing collection of Kindles and Kindle Fires. In fact, she'd been keeping the original Kindle Fire and the Kindle Fire HD near each other when not in use, and this week, they seem to have somehow given birth to a Kindle Paperwhite (with a little midwifery provided by the local Staples).

I, on the other hand, use my old iPhone 4S to read Kindle books in bed. I use the Galaxy S4 Android phone for email access and Google Chat/Hangouts (key to workflow communication), as the base for certain security tools I use, and as a WiFi hotspot. I also sometimes read my Kindle books on it when I'm out at lunch.

I also now use the new Chromebook as my go-out and do non-project work machine.

Granted, I have a lot of these gadgets and use them for different purposes, but I technically have somewhere between three and five jobs (or at least that many bosses), so anything that gets me some extra productivity and helps me keep you up-to-date about mobile trends is a win.

As for your choice, if it works for you, you didn't make a mistake. If you like it and it gets the job done, it's good. If it makes you crazy and you want to throw the thing at a wall, then it's time to rethink what you're using. And if you can use it in concert with something else to multiply your productivity in innovative ways, that's good, too.

That's really the core thought about buying technology. We know technology changes constantly. I wrote a relatively facetious article about Apple's not-quite-on-cycle update of the iPad 3 to the iPad 4 (see I'm furious I bought an iPad 3. Are you?), but the point is, technology products change at an almost constant rate.

The key is finding what you need, for what you need. I'm about to replace my main desktop computer, which is only 16 months old. It's still just about top-of-line, but what I did most with it 16 months ago is not what I need to do now, and so I'll get more productivity out of a machine with a different mix of strengths and weaknesses.

But what I'd buy, for my very unique way of making a living, probably won't suit many of you folks. You need to really cue in on what it is you want and need to do with your gear, what it is you want to accomplish, and then find the machine (or machines, as in the case of my main computer and the Chromebook) that best fit your needs.

It's all about you, baby. It's all about you.

P.S. I know a lot of you have written me private emails recently and I haven't replied to many of you yet. I get a wildly insane amount of email. As an example, just this morning's incoming messages (after spam filtering) was 876 messages.

About once a month (or less, depending on how over-the-top busy I am), I try to go through and answer all of my private letters from you. I do my best to answer every one that's polite. You don't have to agree with me, but as long as you're not rude, mean, or someone I need to advise law enforcement about, I will answer you. Eventually. Please be patient. There's a lot of you out there and just one me (and no, I don't have minions doing my email for me — tried it once, not a good idea).

P.P.S. I used to have minions. They are a LOT more work than you'd think.

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