Each year tablets become more useful to students, both college and high school (and lower grades, as well). Amazingly portable with fantastic battery life, there are a lot of advantages to using them in your pursuit of education.
In this post, I’m going to go through some of accessories and apps students may find valuable for their Android and iOS tablets. The focus on this article isn’t on replacing your laptop or desktop; instead, it’s about how to lighten your load and work in the classroom and library.
Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize
Of all the accessories you can get for your tablet, I think an external keyboard is the most valuable one. While some people can type amazingly fast on their tablet’s on-screen keyboard, for us mortals a physical keyboard is still quicker.
I also recommend a decent length of USB extension cable to go with your charger cable. Since power outlets can sometimes be hard to find, with an extension cable you can be quite a ways away from one and still get power.
The leading online courseware is Blackboard. But unless it’s gotten significantly better in the last couple of years, you’re likely to get extremely frustrated using it. The web version is somewhat of a dog, and the tablet apps (iOS and Android) aren’t much better. One nice feature they’ve added recently is he ability to upload files from Dropbox, and the iOS version also allows you to also upload from Google Drive. One thing I’m not sure of is with iOS 8, if the different app extensions will let you upload from OneDrive.
One thing that’s guaranteed in school: you will be taking a lot of notes. Good note taking is very important and arguably the most vital skill you will learn in college. Regardless of your major, you will still end up taking notes of some sort in your job.
Before I get into the apps themselves, I want to talk about one overlooked note taking device on your tablet: the camera. Oftentimes, the instructor will put a complicated diagram on the board and the easiest way to capture it quickly is to just take a picture.
There are two good apps for note taking: OneNote (iOS and Android) and Evernote (iOS and Android)
Both lock you into their systems. OneNote uses OneDrive, while Evernote uses its own HTML wrapper and database. Of the two, I prefer OneNote because I like the interface better. Both apps let you have separate notebooks, which is useful in breaking down your notes by class. OneNote, however, lets me easily create separate pages within a notebook. These pages are in a sidebar on the right and make it easy to navigate between subjects. OneNote also handles bullets and indenting a little better than Evernote.
Other than notes, you’re pretty much guaranteed to write a lot of term papers. On iOS, I fell you have better options for writing your paper. Apple has provided Pages for free with new iOS devices. For writing term papers, it’s a perfectly valid option. Another option is Microsoft Word for iPad. The downside to Word is that it requires an Office365 subscription to edit files. The advantage to Word is it makes round-tripping with other Word users very easy.
On Android, your best choice is probably DataVis’s Docs to Go. The problem you can run into formatting issues with third-party programs that support Microsoft Word. However, I usually run into this problem with very complicated documents. Your average term paper is pretty simple to format, so you shouldn’t run into too many problems.
Citation management on a tablet is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it’s easy to enter in a citation while you are reading a book in a library. It’s a curse because I’ve found that exporting the citations into a bibliography on the iPad is a bit of a challenge.
On the iPad, you have a choice of Endnote, Sente, and Mendeley as the leading options. All of them sync back to their desktop versions, where it’s probably easier to build the bibliographies. With iOS 8 extensions, it would be nice to see Endnote desktops Cite While You Write feature come to the iPad.
On Android, unfortunately I haven’t really found any I like. If there are any that I have missed, feel free to chime in with a comment.
It’s pretty obvious I’m bullish on tablets. However, while I think tablets are a good addition to a student’s toolbox, we are still about two to three years away from tablets being the sole devices students use – and that’s not even taking into account majors that require specialized apps, or a significant amount of coursework just can’t be done on a tablet. I didn’t mention the Surface Pro 3 in my discussion because I feel its starting price point of $799 is too expensive. However, if you need to have one, ultraportable device, the Surface Pro 3 is an valid option.
Most tablets – even Apple’s – have a generally low initial price point. You can get a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 for around $300 (and it has an SD slot). An iPad mini starts at $399 and an iPad Air starts at $499, each for the 16gb model (no SD card supported).
My general recommendation for a larger tablet is the iPad Air. The app library is better and I feel you can get through most of your college career without upgrading. I’m still using a 2-year old iPad and it’s still going strong.