Improve Your Tablet

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Tablet Stylus

A month ago, we got a new tablet (Asus Vivotab Smart, but the exact model has nothing to do with this post).  It offered full Windows 8.1, which meant we could do far more on it than with the old tablet.  But could we?

We soon discovered one problem with many programs — the menus/buttons on them were tiny and we’d often hit the wrong thing when trying to tap.  I tried zooming and enlarging the font, but this didn’t do much for the menus and buttons; while they got slightly larger, they never got large enough to be useful.

My husband Dave, with larger hands, was even more frustrated.  We like the tablet concept but just couldn’t do much of what we wanted to!  For example, I use WordPress to write The Boat Galley.  But I found it frustrating to try to hit the correct buttons and links.  If I was somewhere that I could use my Bluetooth mouse, I could do it.  But a mouse just wasn’t always practical to use.  We were starting to think we’d made a big mistake in our purchase.

Is this sounding familiar?  If so, I found a GREAT solution that’s not at all expensive!

A stylus.

Using-Stylus

Now, I’d always assumed that if a device were stylus-friendly, a stylus would come with it.  Not so.  You can buy one separately and almost all touch screens can be used with a stylus — you just have to get the correct type for your device.

There are basically two types of touchscreens — capacitive and resistive — and the stylus has to be matched with the screen type.  Most tablets are capacitive and that’s what I have.  A couple of quick tests: If your tablet only works with a touch from the pad of your finger and not with your fingernail tip alone, it’s capacitive.  If you can use a two-finger “pinch to zoom” gesture, it’s capacitive.  Apple devices — iPhones, iPads — are capacitive, as is the Kindle Fire.  If you’re uncertain, the easiest way to find out which type you have is to Google the name of your device and “screen type.”

I find that I use the stylus for about 90% of what I do — it’s just so much more accurate.  About the only time I use fingers is to do a 2-finger zoom or flip pages in the Kindle or USA Today app.  We have always referred to the tablet as the “Gizmo” and now the stylus has become the “gizmo for the Gizmo”!

Even though I bought my stylus less than three weeks ago on Amazon, it’s currently unavailable. But one that I like even better is now available, so that’s what I’m recommending (and just bought myself to have as a spare since I’d be lost without one). 

StylusThere are five things that I like about these. The slim point, the long (15″) tether and the fact that the tip is replaceable (and it comes with spares) are all features not found on many others.

  • After having a slim point stylus, I have to say it’s essential.  Fatter points are closer to using your finger — and the whole point of getting a stylus is that fingers were too large for some menus and buttons.
  • The tether goes to the headphone jack and is indespensible for keeping the stylus with the tablet — or at it is for us!  Ours has a short tether, and so we’re always pulling it out and putting it back in the jack, which is both a pain and I wonder about the wear both on the plastic plug and on the jack itself.  A long tether where you can leave it attached while using the stylus just seems like a better idea.  You can buy a package of 12 extra lanyards — in addition to the 2 it comes with — but I somehow doubt they’ll be necessary.
  • The nature of a capacitive touchscreen means that tip has to be soft, and that means that it will wear and/or break off over time.  So instead of having to replace the whole stylus, it makes sense to have one with replaceable tips.  This comes with 3 spares, and you can buy a package of 12 more.
  • This stylus is 5-1/2″ inches long — about the same size as a ballpoint pen.  Personal choice but I don’t like the short stubby ones or the longer ones.  Pen-size just somehow “feels right.”
  • You also get three styluses in the package so you have extras if one does get lost.  Even with the tether, I’m sure we’ll lose one periodically.

These are sold by “The Friendly Swede” on Amazon — I’ve purchased The Friendly Swede items before for my camera and always been very happy with the quality and attention to little things that make their products easy to use.  Here’s the link to Amazon:

NOTE: You can get slightly cheaper capacitive styluses — the one I originally got was a couple dollars less for just one — but having used one for a bit now, I think that this one with replaceable tips will be cost less in the long run.  It’s also a slightly thinner point and the longer lanyards are also a plus.  And it has a couple of spares.

Not having any experience with resistive styluses, I’m not going to recommend one.  If you have one that you like, please leave a note in the comments for others!

PS – After I wrote this, a friend called and we got talking about tablets in general and making them more usable.  She thought the stylus was great, but wanted to know about the mouse and keyboard I could use with the tablet, and said I should include that info.  Here goes.

I find the keyboard and mouse critical for writing and editing TBG posts when away from the “big” computer (the big feature of the desktop computer is a huge hard drive for photos — I’m slowly transitioning to cloud storage and someday may do everything on a tablet).

Both my old and new tablet do have a single USB port and are Bluetooth enabled.  I want to keep the USB port free for downloading photos from my camera without plugging and unplugging anything, so I got a small Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse to use with the first one and they still work great with the new tablet.

Bluetooth devices can seem to have problems with keeping a connection.  If you have problems with them disconnecting when the tablet is idle, go to the device settings and see if the box to let the system turn off the connection to save power is checked.  If so, try unchecking it.  I had to do that on my old tablet but not on the new.

Here are the ones I got, which do not require anything to be plugged into the tablet.  Both require batteries; turn off when you’re not using them and use lithium batteries for the longest life; battery life will vary considerably depending on use but lithium batteries lasted well over 6 months in both for me.  Links are to Amazon:

Keyboard

This makes for a very tiny package and it all fits nicely in my electronics bag — much, much smaller than my old laptop bag!

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Comments

  1. I got a short stylus with tether for cell phone $3.99 at Walgreens.

  2. bill and i both use them on our ipods and iphone. much, much easier….

  3. once it a great while your wireless devices will have a problem working, 3 weeks of research and numerous calls later I found out that sometimes the USB hub gets out of sync (not the technical term for what happens just my version). Its a good idea to carry a wired mouse so that if this happens to you, you can plug in the wired mouse and use it for a bit and it resets the sync on the hub. Then you can go back to wireless. Simple and easy tip if this happens to you. You can buy an inexpensive wired mouse for under $10.

  4. Any tricks on how to see an Ipad or Iphone screen in direct sunlight? (And not the one about polarizing sunglasses!) Would love to be able to navigate, for example, on deck.

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