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Listen to this post, narrated by me!
Okay, this is gonna sound funny. But at the middle of my tech stack is my tablet. This may not be how you want to use it, however for me its the center of the universe. My tablet needs to be able to do everything. Its the only device that bridges all my machines and is the link that connects them all.
In my mind, my setup is like this:
- Desktop - Main power rig, does all the heavy lifting and specific workflows that need a lot of hardware.
- Mobile - Ultra-focused and minimal. Has just enough to be a very efficient communication device. So just email, chat, and phone calls. Keep it very minimal and light.
- Tablet - All the apps, the main login for all services, and made to be the thing that I can use for anything. From browsing social media, email, or even writing docs and presenting at meetings.
The tablet is capable of doing all this, being both a great mobile device and super lightweight laptop. Its perfect size for grab-and-go or propped up on my stomach while eating popcorn and watching YouTube.
But, the only way this works is if every app I use is able to sync with every other device. Bookmarks, screenshots, browser history, photos, docs, PDF’s, downloads, all of it needs to be on every single device. If I take a screenshot on my tablet, I want it to show up on my desktop. If I download a file on my phone, I want access on my tablet.
I have an extremely elaborate system for doing this. It could be way simpler, yet at the cost of privacy. If privacy is not on the top of your list, still look at the apps that can sync all the things across all the devices.
- Pocketcasts for podcasts. Mobile and browser versions will sync subscriptions and playback place.
- Pocket. Save articles and blogs to read later. Will sync across all your devices and in the browser.
- Brave Browser. Open-source browser that uses the Blink engine (same as Chrome). Can sync history, bookmarks, autofill, etc. I ABSOLUTELY have to have a browser that has all the same tabs open across all devices. Me no worky without.
This is a truncated version of how I do it.
- Keyboard & mouse
Android supports both wired and wireless bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Depending on your tablet, you can get a case with both built-in. Or, get a bluetooth keyboard/touchpad mouse separately like this.
Cool if your tablet supports it, but definitely research. If your tablet has full USB-C support then you can get a dock for it that will give you HDMI out, hardwired ethernet, multiple USB 2.0 ports, SD card reader, and even charger passthrough. This is the one I have.
- Casting full screen
Built into new versions of Android, but have to do it through the “Google” app which is very annoying. Still a cool feature for sharing your whole screen on your TV. I do it all the time with Imgur while scrolling memes so the rest of the room can see them.
- Split screen
Android also supports split screen view. For example, can have YouTube on one half of the screen and IG on the other. I love doing this with video and chat apps.
There is a huge world of tablet mounts. Because I use mine as both an entertainment device and a laptop replacement, I have a few different mounts.
Flex arm - Perfect for in bed watching. Get that angle just right.
Desk stand - Pair with wireless keyboard and mouse.
Head rest mount - Kids and long car rides.
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Ultimate media machine
Obviously you can install the apps for movies and TV shows (like Netflix) and watch away. But there’s so much more you can do. The idea is to turn your tablet from a smaller version of your TV into the best media consumption device for all things entertainment.
This is an Android app not on the official Google Play store. Why? Cause it does so much more than the standard YouTube app. First, no ads. Second, it allows you to play videos in a small window that can stay persistent while using other apps. For example, have that video playing while scrolling Twitter. Third, It also allows for background play. Last, you can download for offline playback.
FOSS podcast player that supports speed changing, silence skipping, picture-in-picture for video podcasts, custom folder save, and gpodder.net sync. I do have to admit, the gpodder sync is not… Great. I’ve been using it for syncing between my two AntennaPod instances plus CPod on my desktop and the subscriptions are synced, but not listen status or progress.
This is the same popular desktop video player, just for Android. The main reason to have this on your tablet is it supports Cast. So if you have a local file (say a video you took of the kids) you can Cast it to any Chromecast device.
This is the best app I’ve used for local music playback. I do not use Spotify, instead syncing my own music like back in the Zune/iPod days. Every time I’ve used a music streaming service since Rdio I have been greatly disappointed.
Additionally, I’m extremely hard of hearing. So, music isn’t exactly the most enjoyable experience. I mostly listen to Synthwave and Retrowave mixes, which I’m happy to give those artists money on Bandcamp and then own the music forever.
For reading PDF’s, no-DRM eBooks, and comics. Nine times out of ten I’m using this to read ebooks I’ve bought from other creators.
The app for downloading and reading/listening to books/audiobooks from the library. You are doing yourself a huge disservice if you are not using your local library.
This is a FOSS word processor and spreadsheet editor that works with the open office format. Pairs PERFECTLY with self-hosting your own files. But for nerds.
The obvious Google apps for using Google Drive. I’m hesitant to put this here because I talk so much about privacy and being de-Googled. Yet, so much of my work life is dependent on Google Apps. Time and place I guess.
My self-hosted cloud. I can go on and on and on about why its been such a life changer to host my own cloud. Not just for privacy, but the whole ecosystem of apps that make it so I can move files around all my machines without them leaving my house. Talk to me if you are interested to learn more.
My email client of choice. I have several Google and non-Google email accounts. Rather than having 10 accounts signed into my tablet, I have just the one primary, then I use this email client to read and reply to all my other email accounts. Supports IMAP so just create an app password and sync email.
- Screenshots to Photos/Drive (or Nextcloud)
Serious life changer having all my screenshots synced to a single folder that is then auto-downloaded onto all my devices. Change your file save location for screenshots to a Google Drive or Photos sync and have all your screenshots everywhere. For me this goes to my Nextcloud instance, which is another reason its a game changer.
On my tablet I have the screenshots folder synced with the Nextcloud client to a “Screenshots” folder. Then, on both my Pop_OS desktop and my Armbian Pinebook Pro I have Flameshot set to put screenshots into the same folder. Then, whenever I take a screenshot anywhere, its now available on all my devices.
A good file manager that acts like a desktop file manager.
My calendar of choice. Just like K-9, I don’t use the account feature in Android to sync 10 calendar accounts. Instead I use iCal/ICS sync with the calendars I want and have them appear in Etar.
A Windows-like bottom bar for the tablet to mimic a Windows desktop. Has a start menu, app icons, etc. Works great with a mouse.
This one is pretty specific and only usable on select Samsung tablets. However, it is probably my favorite feature. I frequently dock my tablet using a USB-C adapter that has…
- Hardwired ethernet
- HDMI out
- Wired keyboard and mouse
- Charging passthrough
Then using Dex mode I can use Android like its a full x86 operating system. Pairing this with the apps I mention throughout this piece, I could easily make my Samsung S5e my primary desktop.
Once upon a time there was Linux on Dex as a beta and that would mean an entire virtual Linux desktop on my tablet. This was the dream! Unfortunately Samsung has discontinued the beta. But Dex lives on.
Terminal emulator for command line stuff. Use it to access my servers. This took me a little bit to learn, for whatever reason. Something about it I couldn’t
Right after install, run an update:
Then install a package:
pkg install openssh
Also need to give it file permissions/storage access:
This will set up a full user directory and access to the onboard storage. Will need to to this in order to import ssh keys or SCP files around.
Linux apps and whole distros on in an Android sandbox.
Find wifi access points being broadcast, signal strength, channels, and more.
I essentially run all my devices using the same shared storage. This way all files are “local”. I found this way is better than routing everything through Nextcloud. For example, my Pinebook Pro laptop and my Honor 5x phone do not have enough storage to have the files locally. Instead, I map the samba shares and access a single directory.
My absolute favorite game. Perfect on the tablet.
- Door Kickers
- Death Road to Canada
- Steam/Nvidia/Xbox in-home streaming
I’ll be honest, this is a lot and it has taken me a long time to get to this point. Plus it continues to evolve as I add new devices into my life. As a tech enthusiast I find all kinds of reasons to buy new hardware for seemingly no reason. Then, struggle to force it into my life.
But I always come back to the tablet. I’m seriously considering upgrading from the Tab S5e to the S7 just for the S-Pen so I can integrate more handwriting, digital whiteboards, and drawings into my setup. The only thing I’m missing is a laptop-like case, a la iPad Pro hinge case. I wish there was a good case for the S5e that had a hinge and can be used in my lap when writing this on the couch.
Links and sources summary
- Pocketcasts Android app
- Pocket Android app
- Brave browser website
- Rii K18 Plus wireless keyboard with touchpad
- Utech USB-C docking station
- Flexible arm tablet and phone mount
- Adjustable swivel tablet stand
- Car headrest tablet holder
- NewPipe Android app
- AntennaPod Android app
- VLC Android app
- Pulsar music player Android app
- Moon+ Reader Android app
- OverDrive Android app
- Collabora Android app
- K-9 mail Android App
- Samsung Dex
- Taskbar Android app
- Etar Android app
- Amaze file manager Android app
- Termux Android app
- UserLAnd Android app
- WiFiAnalyzer Android app
- Android Samba client Android app
- Mim Metro Android game
Would love to hear from you on this topic!
These blogs are just the tip of the iceberg. To go deeper and hear more stories around the tech and life around these journals, check out the DC Tech Talks Podcast.
Need even more?
Check out my sister podcast Go With The Heat. We just relaunched the show after going through all of the 80's goodness that was Miami Vice. The updated show is now going deeper into the greatest era of action movies, 1975 - 1995.
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