11 tips for Dad that you might find useful too

By | August 1, 2014
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Some of you may know that the first notes I wrote about how to use a PC were notes I wrote for Mum and Dad to help them use their computer.

Well, now Dad’s thinking about getting a touchscreen tablet (Mum’s more or less staying out of it!)  So I took them round PC World and we had a look at the different models there, talked about them and I showed them the ones I have at the office, so they could see how they work.

But I was thinking – that’s useful to help them know what they want (they’re probably going for one of the Samsung Tabs – a type of Android tablet)… but what about once they’ve got it home.

I’ve already written books that cover how to use tablets (and given them a copy) but I wanted to tell them the first things to know – what to start with… so I started scribbling down a list… and then when I sat down to write this newsletter, I thought it might be useful to other people too!

So here you are: 11 top tips about using a touchscreen tablet for Dad (and anyone else who finds them useful), in no particular order:

  1. When you’re using a modern touchscreen, it works using the electrical capacitance between your finger and the screen – so it needs to be skin touching it.  You need to use the fleshy part of the finger, not your fingernail.

  2. You can also get a pen-like thing called a stylus that you can use on the screen.  It’s helpful if you need to touch exactly the right part of the screen as the point is much finer than your finger.  But generally tablets are designed so you don’t need to be too precise in what you touch.  (Don’t use a normal pen, by the way, even with the lid on – it won’t work)

  3. Some tablets come with a keyboard… and for most others you can buy one.  Sometimes it plugs in, sometimes it snaps on with a magnetic connector.  Sometimes it uses “Bluetooth” to connect to the tablet without having to plug in.  The bluetooth ones need their own battery, which needs to be kept charged up.  You might find you much prefer typing on a separate keyboard rather than on the screen, but my advice is normally to try the tablet without a separate keyboard first and see how you get on.  I personally quite like typing on the screen, though I didn’t expect to when I first tried it.  If you get on all right with it, fine.  If not, you can always get a keyboard later.  By the way, when you use the on-screen keyboard, you “use up” some of the screen with the keyboard… so while you’re typing, you can’t see as much of the rest of it.  If you’re typing an email or whatever, though, that doesn’t usually matter.  And once you’ve finished typing, the keyboard goes away again.

  4. Tips when looking at a photo (or lots of other things, including webpages): You can usually zoom in for a closer look by touching the screen with two fingers and pulling them apart – like you’re stretching the screen.  Then you can move around the photo by touching it with one finger and moving it around the screen.  In some cases you can rotate it by touching with two fingers and rotating them… but not always.  Oh, and you can zoom out to see the whole picture by touching with two fingers and moving them closer together again.

  5. What on earth is Android?  It’s a bit confusing… Android it’s what’s called an “operating system” – the program that makes the device work.  There are three popular ones for tablets: Android (which is made by Google), Windows (a bit like you’d use on a PC) and iOS (which is made by Apple and only used on their products, like the iPad).

  6. But what’s Jelly Bean? Google made things a bit confusing: they named different versions of Android after various sweets.  The latest version is KitKat and the one before is Jelly Bean – either is fine.  They do also give them numbers: KitKat is version 4.4.

  7. But it’s even more confusing that than… Sorry.  As well as there being different versions of Android, the makers of the actual tablets tend to customise it a bit… or a lot, depending on who they are. So if you buy an Android tablet from Samsung or Amazon, it’ll be especially tweaked. Samsung do (in my opinion) a fairly good job of this so I wouldn’t be put off one of theirs at all.  Amazon, though, deliberately try to stop you using any resources that they didn’t create.  For example they make it hard to use YouTube to watch videos.  So I wouldn’t buy a tablet made by them (the Kindle Fire) unless I was very sure I didn’t want to use anything “non-Amazon”.

  8. But isn’t the Kindle really popular?  Yes… and this is another case where the way they’ve named it makes it confusing.  The Kindle is an ebook reader – it’s really just for reading books on.  And it’s pretty good at it.  The Kindle Fire is a totally different device: a touchscreen tablet like the others, run by a very tweaked version of Android.  If you want an ebook reader, I’d probably recommend a Kindle (or Kindle paperwhite, which is similar with a better screen).  I wouldn’t generally recommend a Kindle Fire because it’s a tablet that won’t let you easily use non-Amazon stuff.

  9. OK – but you mentioned an ebook reader… what’s the difference between that and a tablet… can’t I read ebooks on a tablet?  Yes, you can.  I do, quite a bit!  The difference is that an ebook reader can only really do that. A tablet can do all sorts: email, search the web, read ebooks, watch online videos or TV, play games, write documents, even keep spreadsheets (and entertain small children on long car journeys from Cumbria to Plymouth once spot-the-yellow-car has got boring).

  10. So if a tablet can do more than an ebook reader, why would you buy just an ebook reader?  Well, some people prefer the way an ebook reader works.  First of all, they often tend to be lighter – ideal for holding in your hand to read.  Second, the battery often lasts longer between charging.  Most importantly the screen is different – it’s not lots of tiny lights like a normal screen, it actually changes the surface so it reflects light in white or black.  Some people find that easier on the eyes.  I find it slightly frustrating because it takes slightly longer for it to “turn” the page.  So personally I’m happy reading ebooks on a tablet.  But if you are mainly after something to read ebooks on, I’d try both a dedicated ebook reader and a tablet and see which you prefer.

  11. One last tip on reading ebooks on a tablet: I’d recommend trying changing the “paper” colour to sepia instead of white: I find it much more comfortable on the eyes.

There you go – hope you found it interesting and useful!