It’s a few weeks since Christmas, and the novelty of that new iPad or Android tablet may be wearing off. You’ve already watched a Netflix movie, played “Angry Birds” and maybe even downloaded an e-book or two from Amazon.com or Apple’s iBooks. What next?
Here are three things you might not be aware you can do with your new tablet:
USE IT AS A TELEPHONE: If you want to place a video call over a Wi-Fi connection, you’ve got a lot of options, including Microsoft’s Skype and, for iPad users, Apple’s FaceTime. But suppose you want to make and receive voice calls, and not just with other Internet-connected devices but with traditional phones as well?
You could set up a Google Voice account, which comes with its own phone number, and download its app -- which in the case of the iPad means an iPhone app blown up to twice its usual size.
A more elegant solution is Line2, an app from the cleverly named Toktumi, a San Francisco company. For less than $10 a month, Line2 converts your iPad or Android device into a fully functioning phone with its own number, voicemail and a host of advanced features.
It works not only over Wi-Fi but also 3G and 4G wireless data networks -- giving you voice service any place and in any way your tablet can connect.
Even better, the service is transferable from device to device. Put the app on your phone too, and you’ve now got a second, fully integrated line you can use for business or in other situations where you don’t want to give out your personal number. Toktumi also provides software to let you place and receive calls on your Line2 number from Windows PCs and Macs.
Line2 for Android provides a seven-day free trial before the $9.95 monthly fee kicks in. For the iPad, the company, prodded by Apple, is in the process of moving to a “freemium” model, with a no-cost level for calls with other Line2 users and a paid service for everyone else.
You’ll also want to invest in a Bluetooth headset. You’d look awfully silly holding an iPad to your ear.
RUN WINDOWS AND MICROSOFT OFFICE: Several apps allow you to create, open and manipulate Microsoft Office files on a tablet, such as Documents To Go from Blackberry maker Research In Motion, Quickoffice and, for iPad users, Apple’s iWork suite. LogMeIn Ignition allows you to view and control a specific Windows PC over an Internet connection, while Citrix Receiver is aimed at enterprise users.
Now OnLive, a Palo Alto, California-based online game service, has launched an app called OnLive Desktop that puts a fully functional version of Windows 7, plus Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, on your iPad -- all for free.
The Microsoft programs aren’t actually installed on your tablet. Rather, they are running on OnLive’s servers, to which you connect over the Internet. You’ll need a Wi-Fi connection, where the programs run smoothly; while you can occasionally squeeze in a few minutes over 3G, you can’t count on it.
The documents you create are stored on OnLive’s servers; sharing them with other computers, or uploading documents created elsewhere, is managed via the OnLive website. The free app provides 2 gigabytes of storage, and OnLive says a coming $10-a-month service will provide 50 gigabytes, plus the ability to add and run more Windows programs. Enterprise and Android versions are also in the works.
OnLive Desktop uses a touch-friendly version of Windows 7; an on-screen keyboard also is available. You’ll almost certainly, though, want to use it with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard. It may now be possible to imagine The Great American Novel being written on an iPad - but not via fingers-on-glass.
ENTERTAINMENT REMOTE CONTROL: Here’s perhaps the only area where some Android tablets are easier to use than iPads.
Most TVs are being sold with some ability to put them onto a home network, either with built-in Wi-Fi or an adapter port. Connecting your TV to a network means, among many other things, that you may be able to control it with an app on your Wi-Fi-connected device. Millions of TVs, though, don’t live on Wi-Fi networks. Owners rely on the infrared technology in traditional remote controls to change channels and adjust the volume.
Unlike the iPad, some Android tablets have a built-in IR transmitter, allowing them to function as universal remote controls for TVs and home-entertainment gear right out of the box. Probably the best I’ve seen is the Tablet S from Sony, which includes an app that mimics the functions of the company’s high-end standalone remotes, including controlling non-Sony gear. Other Android tablets with IR blasters include Vizio’s Vtab and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
If you have an iPad, or a non-IR-equipped Android tablet, your best bet is a device that uses a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection to your tablet and translates its commands into IR instructions. One that I’ve used is the Peel Fruit, which is currently on sale for $79; other products that perform similar functions include Logitech’s $100 Harmony Link and Griffin Technology’s $70 Beacon.
Whatever you use, there’s one huge advantage to using a tablet over a traditional remote: little risk of losing it in the sofa cushions.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)