Friday, September 14, 2012

Google Nexus 7

After a considerable delay in getting any tablet at all, reading a lot of reviews, picking up various tablets at stores, I finally decided to get a Nexus 7. The specs and various reviews sounded good. Without saying anything more about it, I do not expect to ever own an iPad or an iPhone, just as a personal choice.

The idea with the Nexus 7 was to find a replacement for the laptop I carry on my medical rounds. I still have the laptop, still use it daily for generating EMG reports, but I wanted something smaller and lighter for rounds. The key thing was that I needed to have access to the hospital charts via the free wifi the hospital has.

Getting to the Chart
Some time ago, the hospital switched from a Windows-only means of hooking up (and required IE 6 and XP), but they began using Citrix for connection, and Citrix has receivers not only for Windows, but also MacOS, Linux, and Android. I knew the Android works because I have it on my phone. The screen size of the Samsung Galaxy S is not conducive to navigating and reading hospital charts, however, let alone trying to see a CT or MRI scan.

I thought I was going to have to use a browser to connect, since I didn't know all the settings for the standalone receiver, so at first I connected through Firefox, since Chrome didn't work. Later, I found out what to enter in the domain setting, so now just use the receiver. It takes a little while to get all the usability issues resolved. While the Nexus 7's screen is much bigger than my phone, there is still limited real estate. Except for some of the larger targets, many of the clickable things on the hospital chart UI are quite small, and yes, you can zoom in, zoom out, but it's annoying to be doing that constantly.

I'm guessing it comes from the Citrix receiver, but it turns out there is a small tab to click on at the top of the screen, and tapping this slides down a number of choices, including a soft keyboard and a mouse pointer. You use the pointer by sliding it around the screen over a target, then tapping anywhere on the screen is like clicking where the cursor is, so this is what most navigating is done with. You can also simultaneously activate the keyboard with this pointer active.

The biggest problem with the keyboard is that it shoves the screen contents aside, so you tap out something, then slide the keyboard away. Fortunately, there isn't so much data entry involved with the UI, and sometimes holding the tablet in portrait orientation works Ok.

A Real Keyboard
After a couple of days I bought a bluetooth keyboard (Targus), and this is handy for doing something more than tap-tap-tap. Even with the predictive nature of keyboard entry guessing words, typing is slow. The Targus keyboard works fine right out of the container. At first I seemed to have some trouble with something like keybounce, where tapping a key enters the character twice, but I believe it was because I was hitting the keys too hard, so it seems less a problem now.

A Better Soft Keyboard
I thought maybe I would try out a Swype keyboard like I use on my phone, where you just wipe your finger over the keys to enter words. I works surprisingly well even with pretty sloppy swiping, since it also is looking for words, and gives choices if it isn't sure. What I found at the App store was actually something better, called TouchPal.

TouchPal has the swiping down pretty well, and also briefly shows a blue trail where you have swiped. It has more available keyboards, even one which has arrow keys, an ability to select, copy, cut, and paste text, plus Home and End keys. You can also download and use keyboards for other languages. I'm still working on my technique, but another cool feature, aside from a dedicated keyboard with numbers and symbols is that on the QWERTY keyboard the top row shows small numbers in the upper right corners -- for example, the Q has a 1, the W a 2, and so on. If you press firmly on the Q key, then slide up to the corner where the number is, you type a 1. I'm getting better at it, but still making some mistakes.

My Census and Charges
This took a while to sort out conceptually. What I have been doing for years, many many years in fact, is to use a database to keep track of my hospital patient census and the daily charges and patient diagnoses. On my Linux computers I learned how to use Postgresql, and so used that, even though this is a pretty trivial database. I thought maybe there might be an Android port, but not yet, at least anything that works.

One thing about the Nexus 7 is that you cannot directly print from it. Someone might figure out how to use the USB port, but you have to find software to handle the task. So right away I needed some other path. I found Jota+ for a simple text editor, and so far am still using that. The next step after creating some file is then to email it so that I can either get the attachment at my laptop or a desktop. But do I just do plain text files, then edit later after emailing?

Then I remembered that my favorite program Scribus can import CSV files. CSV stands for comma separated values, and is a way of saving spreadsheet data, as well as importing it to a spreadsheet or maybe even a database. The first thing I had to do was to review CSV files and Scribus, then I played around by exporting some Postgresql data as CSV files. Since I have Scribus not only on my laptop running Linux but also on my office computer running Windows, it was easy to come up with some styles which would display the information in the appropriately distanced columns. After that, it's just a matter of playing around with fonts and labels for that right "look". Now that I have the TouchPal keyboard, generating these files is quite easy, and actually simpler than the process I had for Postgresql.

In Postgresql you use commands like "update census set mon='31' where lname='Johnson';", whereas with CSV (using semicolons as separators), I just add "31;" to the line with Mr. Johnson's name on it, and I can copy and paste to other lines.

If I had some initial anxieties about keeping the Nexus 7 safe, they were underscored by dropping my previous unpadded canvas medical bag in which I was carrying the tablet 2 or 3 times in just a few days. I had no intention of running a test on the toughness of Gorilla glass. So, carrying my tablet with me, I went shopping for a bag at a luggage store (Taylor Trunk, here in Louisville), and found a nice heavily padded one, with a pocket sized exactly right for the Nexus 7. And there are several other pockets, so the only thing in the tablet pocket is the tablet. 

So at this stage, I'm right where I wanted to be, making my rounds with the tablet, and only needing to carry my medical bag, no additional laptop. I'll have some comments on some other apps I've found useful in the future.

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