Perhaps These Are the 'Droids I'm Looking For

Some of you may remember back when I had an Android phone, an HTC Thunderbolt. You may remember how horrid I thought the device was. It was horrid. It still is. However, purchasing the new Behringer XR18 digital mixer has had me looking at Android devices, because the better mobile apps for the mixer are on Android.

Digiland DL718M 7" Android tablet running Behringer X Air Edit app with a customized screen layout.

What I've found is pleasantly surprising.

The first surprise is that I can get halfway decent, small (7") Android tablets, running the current version operating system, for under $40. "Halfway decent" means quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB Flash storage, USB 2.0/charge port, a micro-SD slot, a capacitive IPS touch screen with fairly decent resolution, and almost no bloatware. The tablet is good enough, in fact, that I could probably run the full version of the mixer control app on the 7" tablet with a reasonable degree of comfort.

The current Android is version 5.1 "Lollipop" (6.0 "Marshmallow" is just starting to ship), and it is a vast improvement over "Ice Cream Sandwich". It doesn't crash. It loads apps quickly. Networking works. Through an OTG USB connection, I can connect a keyboard and mouse (!). Of course, I didn't get the little tablets to use as my actual tablet. I [should] stick with my iPad for that. These are to be used as monitor mix tablets that I can hand to musicians during gigs. This allows them to control their own monitor mixes. At under $40, if something happens and the tablet gets damaged, I won't be out an expensive device.

I do have a larger, 10.1" Android tablet on order which should arrive tomorrow afternoon/evening. It cost all of $80, and features an 8-core processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB Flash storage, a capacitive IPS touch screen with 1280x800 resolution, micro-USB and full-size USB ports, HDMI output, Bluetooth 4.0, and a separate charging port. It also runs Android 5.1, and the reviews indicate that this one will also be relatively free of unnecessary software.

Obviously, these are not even close to being the best Android devices available. But so far, these seem to be performing adequately. For my particular application, I really don't want to spend very much money, as I'm taking these into a hostile environment. I need low-cost devices that won't break the bank if I need to replace them suddenly. That's been a constant fear when using the Mackie mixer that relies solely on iOS devices -- there's just no such thing as an $80 iPad that works.

Mobile Word on the 7" tablet

Back to improvements in the Android experience, at least briefly. Of course Google's apps all run smoothly, and the range of "office" apps has improved to cover pretty much any business need. For those who just must have Word and Excel, the mobile versions for Android look, feel, and act like their Windows counterparts, albeit with a reduced feature set.

Android has come a long, long way, even since version 4. In some ways, I like the newer version more than iOS. If you're facing a phone upgrade and have an older iPhone, you might want to at least check out the current Android offerings.