July 18, 2012

Keep taking the tablets

Follow-up to Another tablet from Snap!

I've been looking for the ideal tablet (for my needs) for some time and written previously about my experiences with two 10" tablets (the original iPad and the Acer W500 Windows tablet). These tend to be heavy and cannot be read for more than a few seconds holding them by a corner.

So I have also been looking at 7" tablets such as Kindles. I've had the Kindle Keyboard, then the Kindle Touch and finally a Kindle Fire. The slim grey plastic Kindles with eInk screens do what it says on the tin. They are light weight and excellent readers. They have an experimental web browser which is quite slow and clunky, so they should not be viewed as anything more than a very good reader.

The Kindle Fire is an Amazonised Android tablet with an excellent LCD screen, so more of an iPad competitor. As a Kindle it is fine, though with a backlit screen it has both advantages and disadvantages over the other Kindles. Its battery gets eaten up quickly and the screen is harder to read in strong ambient light. As an Android tablet, it is crippled at the moment by the lack of UK support. You can find ways to install Android apps, e.g. initially using a Dropbox account, so the Opera browser provides an alternative to the built in Android browser. Kindle is a pretty good PDF reader so for my purposes, once set up the Kindle Fire is an alternative to an iPad which is easier to carry around and use on the go.

Just under a week ago I received an early delivery of a 16GB Google Nexus 7 from eBuyer. It seems they jumped the gun, but I'm not complaining :)

It is slightly lighter than the Fire, similar form factor and a backlit LCD screen which looks to my eyes slightly less saturated than the Fire and paradoxically, since it has higher resoultion (1280x800 versus 1024x600), sometimes less sharp. I don't do video or games so the more powerful processor in the Nexus is not really noticeable, but the integration with Google Play makes kitting the Nexus out with apps more straight forward.

However, running Android 4.1, the Nexus is beyond Adobe's cutoff point for Flash, so there is no Android browser and currently no iPlayer. Instead there is the Chrome browser installed. Which is fine. Presumably websites which accommodate the other non-Flash tablet will also do so with the Nexus. Then I can watch the BBC News again.

The Android email client works well with my different accounts.

Android is as deficient as iOS in not having a TeX installation. I can use cloud TeX services just as on the iPad. But if I need offline access to a TeX installation then it has to be a laptop or the Acer W500 tablet which has TeXLive installed. This is, of course, also the heaviest of the lot.

Leaving aside compiling TeX on the go, then the three 7" tablets I currently use (Touch, Fire, Nexus) all have plusses and minusses. Probably the one which will get squeezed out is the Fire. The Touch is far and away the lightest and has great battery life. The limitations on what I can currently install on the Fire means the Nexus will have the edge in software. With UK support for the Fire the gap would be much less. The iPad trails in last.

- 9 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. John Dale

    I’m curious about the lack of TeX installations for iOS, John; a quick search on the app store throws up TeX Touch, TeX Equation and Mathbot, all of which seem to be in that kind of space. Are they not the kind of thing you have in mind?

    18 Jul 2012, 15:37

  2. John Rawnsley

    John, the short answer is `no’. None of these is a self-contained implementation of the (La)TeX document typesetting system on iOS.

    TeX Touch, which I own, is a cloud aware programmer’s editor for TeX which sends the source code off to a remote server for compilation and brings back the output PDF. No internet = no output, and sadly my experience of mobile internet is far below the level that TV adverts would have us believe is available.

    TeX Equation and Mathbot just typeset a single piece of math mode TeX which uses a small subset of the TeX system, and it appears a sufficiently small subset not to run foul of Apple’s `no compilers’ rule for iTunes apps.

    I have heard that it is possible, but difficult, to compile a substantial part of the full TeX for the iPad processor and install it on a jailbroken iPad.

    It needs a real operating system (OSX, Windows, Linux) on a limited range of processors to run a full TeX implementation such as TeXLive.

    18 Jul 2012, 15:57

  3. John Dale

    Ah, interesting. It hadn’t occurred to me that a complete TeX implementation would fall foul of the ‘no compilers’ rule, but now that you mention it, it seems obvious.

    18 Jul 2012, 16:49

  4. John Rawnsley



    looks interesting if Apple allows its release…

    19 Sep 2012, 14:34

  5. John Dale

    Seems to be in the app store now… http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/texpad-latex-editor/id550419159?mt=8

    19 Sep 2012, 21:45

  6. John Rawnsley

    I’ll dig out my iPad tomorrow and give it a try. There’s a blog explaining their and others approaches


    There are clearly limitations due to the iOS app need to have self-contained binaries which do not make external calls so it will be interesting to see how much they are able to get working of the TeX/LaTeX system. It could completely change my view on the limitations of the usefulness of the iPad for a travelling mathematician needing to produce displayable output containing formulae.

    19 Sep 2012, 23:06

  7. John Rawnsley


    Texpad for iOS has reached version 1.3 which brings AMSLaTeX including the fonts for BBBold, fraktur etc and local PDF generation. It is getting close to covering everything I use. At the moment there are some glitches with the local PDFs with missing characters but these should soon be fixed.

    27 Oct 2012, 09:29

  8. John Rawnsley

    Texpad is now at 1.4.2 and works on iPhones and iPod Touches as well as the iPad though I can’t imagine wanting to use it on the smaller screen form factors. The authors have been very responsive to requests for additional style files and fonts so I can now process many of my larger documents, and add my own extras to a local directory on the iPad using something like Dropbox to transfer the files.

    02 Jan 2013, 17:46

  9. John Dale

    Sounds good. I’ll perhaps add it to our list of recommended software for the iPad.

    03 Jan 2013, 10:56

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