How I chose between an iPad and an Android tablet as a music reader: Part 2

Posted: July 20, 2012 in Android, iPad, sheet music, tablet

(This is Part 2 in a three-part series – read Part 1 and Part 3)

After my adventures with the TouchDroid, I spent more time musing over the pros and cons of Android and iPad, for music and for general productivity.  Below is a chart of some of the criteria I compared – I’ve also included new information that I learned after my original tablet evaluation.  (To be continued – stay tuned for Part 3.)

iPad vs. Android Tablet: For Music Reading and More

Tablet price
iPad Android
Pricy!  Buying used won’t save you much either – I learned while shopping around that iPads tend to hold their value (which is nice once you own one!).  If you’re looking to get started with an iPad, but need a modest price break, buying refurbished, WiFi-only, and/or iPad 2 would be good options. Many more price points available than the iPad, including some decent options for less than an iPad costs, and some high-end ones too.
App price
iPad Android
Paid apps for iPad seem, on average, more expensive than paid apps for Android.  Many free apps, though. See previous comment.  Android also has many free apps.
App selection
iPad Android
Last time I checked, the selection of useful iPad apps leaves Android in the dust.  Note, though, that you only have one app store, and there are certain types of system tools/apps that are available for Android but not on iPad. Smaller app selection.  How much this affects you depends on how you use the tablet.  I get a lot done on my Android tablet with just a web browser and some decent productivity apps.  However, if you need specialized apps for, say, reading music, or for a specific industry or line or work, lack of apps is a significant liability.  You do have access to other app stores (e.g. Amazon app store) and to some powerful system tools.
Music reader apps
iPad Android
Many excellent options.  For music in PDF format, there is forScoreunrealBookDeep Dish GigBook, and The Gig Easy.  There are apps for other file formats too, e.g. Finale SongBook. As of this writing, Android still lags way behind in this department.  Check out MobileSheets for reading PDF music scores (incredibly, it still does not support annotation, although that will hopefully come this year).  [UPDATE 10/23/12: MobileSheets supports annotation as of version 3.5.]  ezPDF Reader is a general-purpose PDF reader that supports freehand annotation and highlighting and can be used for music scores.
App store refunds
iPad Android
As far as I know, if you purchase an app and it doesn’t do what you expected, you’re out of luck – no refunds.  It’s helpful to look for reviews, screenshots, and YouTube videos of the app, so you can see it in action before you buy.  Nevertheless, I continue to get burned occasionally. When you buy an app from Google’s app store, you get a 15-minute trial period during which you can request a refund.  I like this policy and have used it on occasion.
iPad Android
Retina display is beautiful and I’m happy with how a printed sheet music page looks on it.  Retina display quality does take a hit from my anti-glare film, sadly, but I need it because of stage lighting. The iPad display’s aspect ratio is 4:3 which is a good fit for sheet music with a layout based on standard letter-sized paper.  Not sure about octavo or A4. I haven’t tried out an Android tablet with a high-end display, so I can’t say.  Aspect ratio for many Android tablets is 16:10 widescreen (with a few 4:3 exceptions).  Seems a bit skinny for letter-sized paper, but I wonder if it would be superior for octavo or A4.  Android tablet screens come in different sizes, but I wouldn’t go below a 10″ display for reading music.
Thickness, weight, and form factor
iPad Android
iPad 3 is quite slim.  As for weight, the iPad has a touch of heft to it.  With a case, it weighs about the same as a Messiah vocal score in my big black deluxe choir folder.  (See iPad vs. sheet music.) Thickness and weight are all over the map, depending on the model.  There are models that are lighter and/or slimmer than the iPad.  The Toshiba Excite 10 LE and ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10.1″ come to mind, with their very nice form factor and weight for singers, and the  Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1″ is a close runner-up.  Some non-iPad tablets have a sharp edge; avoid these (or get an appropriate case) if you’ll be holding your tablet for long periods in a concert or rehearsal.
Memory and ports
iPad Android
All you get is the audio jack and Apple’s 30-pin dock connector port.  No microSD card slot for adding memory.  Some people like the simplicity of this setup, but to me, the lack of a slot is a downside.  I’m also not a fan of Apple’s 30-pin connector – it seems more proprietary and less durable. Many more options available, including microSD slots, HDMI ports, and USB ports, the last of which I find more practical and easier to handle than the Apple connector.
iPad Android
The popularity of the iPad has given rise to a whole ecosystem of third-party accessories, many of which are tailored to musicians.  These include styluses, external microphones, music stands, Bluetooth page-turn pedals, ergonomic/singer-friendly cases, and anti-glare films, all made to the iPad’s specs.  (See Outfitting my iPad for rehearsals and performance.) Nowhere near as many accessories as the iPad.  Popular models like the Galaxy Tab have more selection.  Also, some tablet accessories are universal (follow this link for examples – see products like Padlette, Hand-e-Holder, HeloStrap).
User interface and customization
iPad Android
Wins on ease-of-use.  Your grandma and your 14-month-old could pick up an iPad and figure out how to use it.  You can get going very quickly on an iPad with a minimum of frustration.  That said, once you learn the basic gestures, interface, and navigation, that’s it – there’s little you can do in the way of shortcuts, streamlining, or customizing/organizing the UI.  A task that takes 14 swipes to accomplish will always take 14 swipes, and that gets tedious. Wins on customization and flexibility.  The Android UI has a steeper learning curve and you might even have to read the manual 😉  Some tasks are not very intuitive.  However, once you figure out the basics, I love the power and flexibility that you can get with Android’s advanced user interface customizations.  These include: nested folders; custom icons; direct shortcuts to contacts, files, and even specific pages within an app; widgets (more on that later); and the ability to pack in a lot more icons per screen than on an iPad.  (You’ll need to install some special apps to take full advantage of these customizations.)  Because of this, in Android I can often accomplish in a couple of taps a task that seems to take a zillion swipes on an iPad, which significantly boosts my productivity.
File management and transfer/sync
iPad Android
I find iTunes decent enough for purchasing and managing music.  But as a tool for moving individual files back and forth between the laptop and the iPad, and also between different apps on the iPad?  Ugh.  At least Dropbox helps with this, in some cases.  I do like iTunes’ one-click sync/backup, though. It’s just generally easier to move files back and forth between my laptop and Android devices wirelessly or with a cable.  In addition to the Dropbox option, there are tools for transferring files directly over Bluetooth or my home wireless network.  (If similar tools exist for the iPad, please let me know!)  Also, I find it easier to find and access my files directly on an Android device and there are fewer system restrictions on how the files can be used.  (See here for an example of iOS’ convoluted restrictions on transferring music files – with Android I can just transfer the file and play it.)  But I haven’t yet come across a Android sync/backup solution as simple and convenient as iTunes’.
System tools and widgets
iPad Android
Widgets aren’t supported, and powerful low-level system tools of the sort that interest me are generally forbidden in the App Store.  Although maybe I should try jailbreaking the iPad for a more apples-to-apples (no pun intended) comparison with the system tools available for a rooted Android. Supports widgets!  Widgets aren’t just for pretty; they’re a great productivity tool for surfacing information that would otherwise take several taps/swipes to dig up, and for organizing that information visually.  I also use several Android “system tool”-type apps that do really powerful stuff but are unlikely to be allowed in Apple’s app store any time soon.  Examples: Orbot and LBE Privacy Guard (for privacy) and Settings Profiles (for setting up automated rules to changes settings and run tasks).
Battery life
iPad Android
Great.  Charge it to 100% and you’re set for the average concert or rehearsal.  If it were an all-day rehearsal and the screen was going to be on most of the time, I might bring the charger along. Depends on the model, but generally also fine for the average concert or rehearsal.  You can get apps like Juice Defender that provide extra power management settings and improve battery life.
iPad Android
Very good overall.  I’ve had individual apps crash on me, but never the whole tablet.  (I’ve seen forScore crash once or twice, though – scary.) Crashes are a more common occurrence with my Android devices.  My phone hangs or crashes & reboots 0-2 times per week, my tablet less frequently but still more often than the iPad.  I suppose it doesn’t help that I root my Android devices, overclock them, install apps that require root access, and flash custom ROMs.  I suggest not doing those things if you need your device to be dependable during a performance situation, or if you totally don’t know what any of them are.
iPad Android
Full multitasking is not supported.  Don’t expect to be able to finish up an email or surf your Twitter feed while some other app is downloading a big PDF, uploading your video to YouTube, or performing some other long-running task (you can switch apps, but the other app won’t make any progress when it’s not in the foreground.) Multitasking is supported, and it’s convenient to be able to do other things on the tablet while some other app is doing its processing in the background.
iPad Android
I feel more confident about Apple’s app store vetting process.  However, malware has slipped through, as well as apps that leak users’ private data. This is a lot more like the Wild West.  I’m more concerned about malware in the Android environment and more cautious about what apps I install.  I try to do a little due diligence and make sure the author isn’t completely dodgy.  There are other risk mitigation tools, like LBE Privacy Guard for tighter privacy restrictions on apps, and Lookout Security & Antivirus

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  9. susan says:

    Hi there. It’s been a long while since this article was written. I need a reader for choral performance that I can put in a choral type folder. I need to spend as little as possible but of course needs the highest functionality.

    as of 8/14 what do you think is my best option. I looked at kindle fire, android and iPad air. friends have the air and use four score on it and it works great. the price point is out of my range. So what do you suggest. I’m a pro classical singer so this will get a lot of use and needs to be really good at functionality, notating in rehearsals, finding pages etc…

    Also I am having problems finding a folder like the “b;lack folder with pockets, that stays open etc and hold an ereader …. they folder has to look traditional to blend with everyone else’s.

    Please help because quite frankly all this has my head spinning….

    1. which is the best most affordable ereader for music performance/rehearsal

    2. where can i find a traditional choral folder with the straps to hold it and hold it open and a pocket. etc only hold an ereader.


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