A Folio That Packs a Punch


Sometimes last year’s model is plenty good enough.

The Nook Color I usually read pretty much everything on has been on its last legs for the better part of a year and it was getting extremely unnerving to do something as simple as clicking on a link and waiting a long while for some pages to load, so I decided to treat myself to an iPad mini for my birthday.

A normal, non-retina, 16GB model.

It was a bit of a tough call, really.

For starters, the phrase “surplus cash” is tantamount to science fiction in this neck of the woods, so spending a fortune on a brand new revision of as-yet untested hardware for the privilege of being an early adopter is something I’m not at all keen on – and to make things worse, the value for money is a tad unclear.

After all, for about the same amount as a brand new mini I could get myself a whole new laptop to replace the one I sold, a Microsoft Surface1, or one of the new Bay Trail tablets now coming to market.

To get the point across to first-worlders, we’re talking about over a month’s worth of food. That’s sobering, right? Especially for a device that being more portable and handier to take along everywhere would necessarily be more prone to accidents – not to mention that my kids have already trashed an iPhone and dropped my Nook a couple of times.

So I started looking down market for a cheaper tablet and was pretty set on a new Nexus 7 – a calculated risk given that forums are full of complaints regarding build quality, and that all the pixels in that new, improved display would spend most of their time doing nothing much given that tablet applications on Android are still second-class citizens.

That would kind of work for daily use – Play Books and Kindle work fine, and the Gmail app (which I use to read RSS feeds every morning and evening) would be about the best thing on it, so it sort of made sense even though other staples like Instapaper and Evernote aren’t as polished as their iOS counterparts.

Getting anything else running Android would have been stupid (or, at the very least, woefully short on updates), so I was set until I chanced upon a sale where I could get a 16GB iPad mini for about the same as a Nexus (a single meal’s worth, to carry the food analogy a little further).

So instead of this year’s flagship Android device, I got last year’s iOS for around the same price. The clincher, as always, was the ecosystem: I can run everything I normally use on my “regular” iPad on it (including gems like Editorial, Prompt and Jump Desktop) with a better user experience than on any Android device and with infinitely less hassle.

And it makes for a better reader, too. Compared to the Nook and the Nexus, the wider aspect ratio makes it a lot easier to read academic papers typeset in the traditional two-column layout (seriously, will LaTeX ever die?), and I’ve yet to notice any drawbacks in text rendering – I know it’s not a retina display and notice sharper, subtler text rendering every time I go back to the iPad 3 for coding, but for reading, browsing the Web and even some drafting (a fair amount of this post was typed on the hitherto useless split keyboard I always despised), the screen resolution is perfectly acceptable.

So far the only drawback is the relative paucity of storage (I have only 5GB free), but I think that’s manageable given that my main uses are reading, browsing and note-taking. And, for that, I got another Logitech keyboard, also on sale – I’m starting to like this “behind the curve” thriftiness, really.

This time around, I chose the Logitech Ultrathin Folio instead of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover because I wanted something that would provide a little extra protection – not from scratches (I expect those to happen when it’s off the cover anyway) but from impact, which is rather more likely to happen on something this small.

The keyboard is not amazing (honestly, who would expect a keyboard this small to be perfect?) but it’s pretty good for its size and has a few neat tricks that I don’t recall its bigger, older cousin ever having supported:

  • Fn+Space pops up the task switcher.
  • Fn+Home acts as Esc (thank $DIVINITY!), which ironically makes it a tad more useful in vim.
  • Fn+Backspace acts as Del.

The much smaller form factor means that the Ctrl key was moved to the right side (which is annoying but tolerable) and a few keys do double duty: Fn+A as Caps Lock (which I never, ever use, thankfully), and Fn+Q as Tab (which is understandable but a bit daft).

So I can actually code in it – on something the size of a folio. Not that I intend to do it often, mind you (I’ll stick to my regular-sized iPad for that), but the point is that I don’t see the mini as “just” a consumption device – with the right apps, it’s an amazing productivity aid.


  1. Yes, I seriously believe the Surface is good enough, and I’ll probably be looking at it again when the time comes to replace my iPad 3. ↩︎