Most high-quality network audio systems are best controlled with an app. Sometimes the app runs on a Windows or Mac computer, but more commonly the app runs on Android or iOS – phone or tablet – and usually both. Your phone is convenient, but for my listening room I like to have a tablet dedicated to running the network gear. A bigger screen is easier to use, and I can leave it permanently plugged into the power.
So … which is better? An Android tablet or an iPad?
Is your gear deciding the matter for you?
Now, it could be that your hardware determines that question. If it only has apps for the iPad, for example, you have your answer.
But your app is agnostic on that front, then what? Well, do you have a tablet already that can be used? That might decide you, unless you need the tablet for other purposes. Or perhaps it’s old, and won’t support the current version of the hardware’s control app.
So let’s consider what you should purchase, if it comes to that.
One good guide could be the type of phone you use. If you use an iPhone, you’ll be ninety per cent of the way there in understanding how to effectively use an iPad. Familiarity can make the experience much more enjoyable, especially in the early days. The same applies if you have an Android phone. Get an Android tablet. And if you’re an Android-only person, you’ll soon be frustrated by the lack of a “Back” button on the iPad.
In addition, the version of the app you install on your phone will be broadly the same as that on your tablet if you’re running the same operating system on both.
I am primarily an Android person. I use an Android phone and of course most high-end portable digital audio players are based on Android.
So, why did I switch?
For years I’ve had an Android tablet at the left hand end of my desk, mounted in landscape orientation in a cover that doubles as a stand. Whenever I have some network device to test, I may or may not put the app on my Android phone, but I’d definitely put it on the tablet. When I moved to the couch for some critical listening, I’d just unplug the tablet and take it with me.
Sure, there was the occasional app that had clearly been developed for phones only, and so would only work in portrait mode. But easily nine out of ten apps behaved quite well on the tablet.
For most of those years the tablet was an 8-inch Samsung Tab A. Unfortunately it was inconvenient in that there was no setting to have the screen switched on all the time. In the Android settings, the maximum on-time was half an hour. But when I’m at my desk, I want it on so I can at a glance see what’s going on, not have to unlock the screen each time. Fortunately, there were plenty of apps to solve that problem. I chose one called “Stay Alive!” I set it to keep the screen on all the time when it was plugged into power. I’d just switch it off manually at the end of the day.
But as the years ground on, the tablet’s low speed and 16GB storage became more and more of a problem. It was also getting close to the time where some app updates wouldn’t work because the Android version was becoming obsolete. So about a year ago I upgraded to a 10-inch Samsung Tab A, with much more storage and much higher performance.
Big mistake. It runs Android 10. And “Stay Alive!” no longer worked. Neither did any of the half-dozen other apps I tried. Googling around suggested that Android 10 (and perhaps 9) had changes which stopped such apps from working. Apparently at some deep level of the operating system something had changed. I managed to find some suggestions that you could “root” the tablet – rewrite it at a deep level with some other version of the operating system – but that’s for experimenters, not for regular folk.
So I switched. An iPad took up the position at the left end of my desk. I sometimes find the iPad frustrating, but for all of Apple’s inclination to insisting that you do things its way, iPad settings include a “Never” option for screen time out.
The apps catch up
And now, after a year, I’ve found an Android app that will keep the screen on indefinitely. It’s called “Screen Alive”. And it does seem to work.
But for how long? Will another OS update kill it too?
Still, I’ve switched back to Android for the time being. They just work more in accord with the way my mind works than iOS devices do.
Still, the lesson has got to be: do what works. I’m an Android/Windows guy rather than an iOS/Mac guy. But if your preferred brand of Swiss Army Knife does not include the particular tool that you need, you have to switch.
So while I’m using the Samsung tablet, I’ll keep the iPad handy just in case an Android update breaks “Screen Alive”.