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A tablet is pretending to replace my computer for work

“A few days ago I made a decision: I bought a tablet, specifically, a Samsung Tab S7 FE. The idea was that it would replace my laptop when I go to work. How, and more importantly, why do I want to do such a thing? Here I explain.

The situation

I am a teacher. I work in two schools, a public high school and a private school. Every day I carry the same things in my backpack:

  • A planner: I’ve never worked well with digital planners and I have tried everything: from org-mode to calendars synced with Google and Nextcloud, but I feel it’s too much bureaucracy for something I can do in a couple of seconds with a pen.
  • A journal: a small notebook with 45 dotted pages. Small and thin, I use it to write down what happens during class. As with the planner, doing it on paper is much faster and more convenient than using digital alternatives.
  • A folder: for carrying occasional papers.
  • My laptop: my beloved Thinkpad T430, for all my computing needs.
  • The laptop charger: since the battery is almost dead I can’t be sure of more than 15 minutes of unplugged life.
  • 10 gradebooks: six are from public school, where it is a mandatory requirement to use them and fill them out correctly… the debate of whether they are more of a bureaucratic requirement than a support to the teacher I’ll leave for another time. The other four are from the private school where I am not required to use them, but I use them for convenience and to standardize the same format between schools.
  • Pens, whiteboard markers, and other material for my work as a teacher.
  • A one-liter thermos with water
  • Occasionally, a speaker

The Problem

With everything I carry, my backpack always weighs quite a bit. The laptop alone weighs more than two kilograms and it’s not at all thin. Adding everything else, the result is a bulky and heavy backpack that, besides being annoying to carry around, doesn’t hold up very well. I bought my current backpack a little over a year ago and I already need another one because the straps are already broken. On top of that, the backpack doesn’t fit anymore, so if I need to carry something else, like material or even an extra notebook, I can’t anymore.

The proposal

Several solutions went through my head, I will try to list them below:

Buy a bigger, sturdier backpack.

This doesn’t really solve the problem. The backpack will still be too heavy, besides being quite expensive compared to “normal” backpacks.

Replace folders with digital versions.

While this is a good alternative, it has pros and cons. Using the laptop to record attendance and assignments can save time at the end, as the average would come out automatically. On the other hand, it limits my mobility in the classroom, as I will need students to come to my desk when I want to record something for them or when I need to show students’ progress to someone else, most commonly parents. Since gradebooks are a must in public high school, I would have to print out the lists and paste them into the binder, and truth be told, it’s an idea that doesn’t fascinate me.

Buy a new laptop

A new laptop would be lighter, would solve the problem of the battery that lasts next to nothing, and perhaps could replace the lists altogether, since a good laptop would be thin and light enough to carry to the students’ places. However, such a computer would cost considerably more than I am in a position to spend right now, plus I doubt it would achieve the desired mobility.

Buying an iPad

An iPad is light and portable, its operating system is perfectly optimized for use on large screens and the experience is quite positive, plus it has the quality of being an Apple product. It sounds like the perfect choice… for one small detail: it’s an Apple product.

What’s wrong with that? Besides the price, the app ecosystem requires you to pay subscriptions for just about everything. Add to this, an iPad would not get along with the rest of my devices, which use Android, Linux and USB-C cables. I don’t rule it out entirely, as with apps like iSH I could have a Linux system with almost all the apps I need, like neovim, pandoc or latex.

Buying a Tablet

An Android tablet would solve certain problems of the iPad, but Android is not fully optimized for use on large screens. Still, there are very good exponents among Samsung’s products. With a bluetooth keyboard and Termux I could well replace many of the applications I use.

The solution

Finally, I decided to do a little bit of everything. First I replaced the folders with digital versions. For this I am using a TUI program called sc-im, which is basically Excel in the terminal and with vim-keys. I have been using it for almost 3 weeks now without any major problems. This has allowed me to put aside the gradebooks that are now resting at home waiting for the end of the school year.

The laptop problem I intend to solve with the help of a Tablet, specifically, a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE. It has a great screen, Spen, and accompanied by a bluetooth keyboard should offer me a good experience. Thanks to Termux I can use many of my apps. Hopefully, the tablet should be able to replace my journal and diary as well, being the only device I use at work besides my whiteboard markers.

Or at least that’s the idea, I’m waiting for the tablet to arrive from Amazon. In the next few days I will test how far I can take its potential and a follow up to this post will explain how it has been going for me.”