Note: I wrote this back in 2018, but hopefully it can help a budget-minded college student today.
I’m a college student who likes taking notes digitally. For one, my handwriting is terrible, so I have trouble reading what I write. I also have poor organization skills, so I can’t find what I also can’t decipher. Thus, digital is the way to go for me. I initially went about this with a laptop. I had an old Dell Latitude D630 lying around, upgraded the hard disc drive to a speedy solid-state drive, maxed out the RAM to 8 GB because why not, and boom: a note-taking computer. However, it’s not very light, and even with the larger battery, it only lasts a few hours. Then I thought, Chromebook! I went a purchased a $70 used Lenovo ThinkPad 11e, and found that although the battery could last 10 hours if I turned down the brightness, the machine was a little worn out. I presume it was used in a K-12 school where it wasn’t treated very nicely, as the display seemed to lose connection unless I jiggled the lid, and the WiFi would cut out. So, if I wanted to, I could replace the WiFi adapter, and figure out whatever is wrong with the display, but at the same time, it’s still not what I’m looking for. I could try to find another Chromebook, but I really won’t have a use for it when I’m done with college, so I tried one of my tablets lying around, and I think we have a winner.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 is a 1080p 10-inch tablet, with a quad core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, with the ability to store up to 256 GB through a Micro SD card. It’s no powerhouse, but for $150, it offers a lot. I’ve got all three of Amazon’s Fire tablets. The 2015 7-inch is currently being used as a clock on my desk because it’s not much larger than my phone, the sub-720p display is not pretty, and it’s too slow to do real work with. The 8-inch is bigger, and the 720p display is nicer, but it too is not fast enough. The 10-inch works much better. It’s no speed demon, but at $150, it’s fast enough.
The one huge problem is the lack of the Google Play Store, but that is remedied with a few sideloads that I’m sure both Google and Amazon don’t appreciate. Nonetheless, I’ve now got full access to my Google Drive, where I use Google Docs for notes, my Google Keep for quick notes, and Chrome for my bookmarks.
I then decided to grab a cheap Bluetooth keyboard I had lying around to see if it would work. It worked, but it had insane lag between key presses. Luckily that was just due to the $5 Bluetooth keyboard from Five Below being less than quality, because, you know, $5. I then purchased a $20 Logitech keyboard and $15 HP mouse, and the line is now blurred between laptop and tablet, which is a good thing. Sure, this thing can’t multitask very well as you can’t have two apps open at once, but I can alt-tab between apps, so it’s not too terrible. It’s fast enough to take notes, and browse a quick website, which is all I need from it.
The 10-inch screen size is nice for portability. The 13-inch Dell I was lugging around was simply too large, and the 11.6-inch Chromebook was better, but this 10-inch tablet takes up less space, which is better for a classroom desk. Not to mention with the right case, you can align the tablet such that you can hold it up in portrait mode, allowing you to see the full page of a document, or back to landscape where it stands out much less.
Battery life is great, around Chromebook levels where I feel I can comfortably reach 10 hours. One thing to note, at this price point, performance on a competing device will be difficult to match. Windows on slow hardware can be unbearable, and while you can find a cheap Chromebook, the portability of the tablet is greater, and after class, can be turned back to the entertainment device Jeff Bezos always intended it to be.
Sure, lugging around the mouse and keyboard, if you want both, isn’t as nice as an all-in-one laptop design. For the price, if you don’t mind tinkering with the tablet however, it’s hard to beat. Not to mention charging by Micro USB, and hopefully one day USB-C, is far more universal than a laptop charger, so if it needs a charge, they’re not hard to find. Also, the mouse isn’t very intuitive, as right-clicking simply isn’t available for most apps. It’s better for editing documents and other precise pointing tasks, so I don’t regret the purchase. Not to mention, when I’m using a physical keyboard, it’s more natural to then go for the mouse when I need to interact with something on-screen than it is to use the touchscreen.
At $150, for a 10-inch tablet, plus keyboard and mouse pricing, it certainly beats anything else. Chromebooks are a close second, which run the other Google operating system. When you compare it to the baseline iPad at $329 plus a keyboard and mouse, Surface Go at $399 plus $129 for the keyboard cover, Google Pixel Slate at $599 plus $199 for keyboard cover, and even Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 at $649 and $149 for keyboard cover, the competition gets expensive, as the optional keyboard cover is necessary. Of course, the competition is faster and requires less tinkering, but if you’re on a budget, you can get everything you need potentially for the price of the competition’s keyboard case.
I’m sure most people probably just have one laptop or tablet for everything, but if you’re like me and you want something separate for classwork without spending too much, this is a good choice. It’s just less than ideal for most people.