I'm getting ready to buy my first tablet computer and I have some fairly specific things I need it to be able to do so that it can be an effective tool for my research. I need it to be able to compile TeX for one, and this seems to be difficult for tablets. I also need a writing program so I can take notes by hand in seminar and to prepare my lectures (e.g. Goodnotes for iPad). Finally, I'm hoping to find a way to edit PDFs (e.g. to add marginal comments or to highlight) and to be connected to google drive. There are probably features I should care about but don't know about yet, and I'd be curious to hear what other things mathematicians have needed their tablet to do. And of course I'm hoping for a recommendation for which tablet to buy which meets my needs.

There was already a question on this topic back in 2010, but obviously those answers are far out of date and the question was closed as no longer relevant. There seems to also have been an issue about spam. Is it appropriate to ask this question on the main site given the history? Is there a better place to ask it where I'll be able to get feedback from other professional mathematicians?

EDIT (after quid's answer): I agree that shopping list questions are bad for mathoverflow, as they detract attention from what's important and become outdated quickly. If I were to ask about tablets on the main site then I'd be trying to make something more permanent. So I've changed the title of this question to reflect that. The key point in my first paragraph is "I'd be curious to hear what other things mathematicians have needed their tablet to do" not "tell me which tablet to buy." Hopefully a list of good features that a tablet can possess would be a bit more permanent than just telling me what's the best one on the market right now. However, even this list of features would get outdated quickly and the question would eventually be closed, and so I'm still left wondering the best way to get this kind of advice from the community without clogging up the main site with another closed question.

  • $\begingroup$ It seems someone has written about a related topic recently in the AMS: ams.org/notices/201303/rnoti-p332.pdf, ams.org/notices/201304/rnoti-p434.pdf I'm mostly convinced iPad can do what I need. I would still love feedback from others in case there are things I'm not thinking of. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ Well -- I think on the one hand, such a question could be seen as a place where to advertise particular products. On the other, I guess many people will be reluctant to recommend particular products, since doing so may be mistaken as spamming. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ I enjoy the Asus VivoTab. It has a x86 processor, so it acts like a computer from the point of view of LaTeX (and with an excellent keyboard dock, it is easy to get actual work done there), and it has a Wacom digitizer pen so taking notes is great (now more than ever with OneNote being completely free!) and I've used it both to take notes and to prepare lectures and compile papers for the past year and a half. Wonderful. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: Thanks, I will add that to the tablets to research $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know what is going to come out this fall, or is available right now, but I think that current processors are considerably stronger than the Clover Trail in my Asus (something which, admittedly, is felt from time to time -- although just for web/TeX/notes it's fine). I'm not sure if any of them come with a keyboard dock that has additional battery and a digitizer. So if those are important to you, maybe going one generation back isn't a bad idea. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ I've just bought a $50 Amazon Fire and I'm impressed by how well it feels to annotate a PDF on it. LaTeX on Android (the Fire is basically an Android tablet) shouldn't be a problem, either, but I did not try it yet. On the other hand, software like Maple might indeed be easier to install on x86+Win10-tablets. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


As this general type of question comes up in various contexts quite a bit got written on it in a Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange context, which essentially applies to our context too, in my opinion.

See for example Why are "shopping list" questions bad? and Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

In brief, such things become obsolete pretty quickly (as you observed), they are real spam-magnets (please note that there are seven deleted answers on the linked question) moreover asking for "the best" is pretty subjective and depends on your personal preferences in various ways. You specified some, but what about the price, the battery life, compatibilty with other devices you might have, and so on.

Things like annotating PDFs or taking notes are really not that specific to mathematics. And, even for asking about having LaTeX on the device this site is not the best fit. This site hardly handles TeX-related questions anymore as tex.SE is so much better for this. Indeed, see Full LaTeX on tablet devices

To sum it up, this question is not a good fit for this site for various reasons, some of them recalled above.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. The problem as I see it is that mathematicians will always need advice on this sort of question, and it is highly related to productivity as a mathematician. I don't know who else makes use of latex, but I know which types of latex users I would like advice from. Mathoverflow provides by far the largest gathering of people equipped to give good answers to such a question, but because these questions become outdated very quickly they would need to be re-asked every few months, posing a conflict to existing guidelines on closing questions. That's why I asked. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ First, have you had a serious look at tex.SE? Your comment suggests this is not the case, and I am wondering why you ask about better places only to dismiss such a suggestion out of hand. Second, there is also really no such things as the needs of a research mathematician; even if only limited to tex-related things: some need comm diagrams some not, some need graphics some not, some need support for languages other than English some not and so on. Finally, if anything the question should be kept up-to-date, but as you admit this will not happen. So, it should not be asked here. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't want to give the impression that I'm dismissing your answer out of hand, but I had the sense your answer would kill this thread and wanted to make it clear I'm still hoping for more discussion. Only part of my question has to do with tex; the rest is about other features of a tablet that I should be thinking about. So I don't think tex.SE will do the trick. Let's step back. What I really care about are features of a tablet that I'll be wishing for in 3 months if I get the wrong one. I want to tap into the collective experience of mathematicians who have used tablets. So... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ The answers don't need to pick a tablet for me, and I wouldn't view this as a shopping list question. Sadly, even a question such as "what features of a tablet should one look for to maximize productivity" will become outdated quickly. Yet I feel MO is the best place to get an answer. So we have a question that only mathematicians can answer, it seems it would be useful for people in the community (surely I can't be the last one to the tablet party), but our software is not great for handling it. Hence the meta post. So this is more the discussion I wanted. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ As I said it is not at all reasonable to assume that all mathematicians have the same or even only similar needs. What you might actually have in mind is to ask on personal reports in what ways other mathemticians use tablets in their work (that might then in part be relevant to you). This would at least be an in priniple reasonable question; albeit in my opinion not a good one for this site either. There are a couple of examples of related questions of the form "[something] for the mathematician" Personally I feel they mainly show that the answers given are really not that specific to math. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately I had not noticed the edit when writing the comment above, otherwise I had phrased it slightly differently. It seems we agree on the scope of the actual question, personal usage reports from other mathematicians. I still believe it is not a good question, just like I thought and think so of mathoverflow.net/questions/85251/… and various other such questions. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 10:17

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