With tablets set to dwarf other tech gifts this holiday season, according to a recent CNET reader survey, we got to thinking about all the people who may be enjoying a shiny new tablet very soon. Surely they'll use it to watch movies, play games, send e-mail, and visit their favorite online haunts. But there are lots of other cool, creative (and possibly less obvious) uses for the portable computers. In this gallery, we round up some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path ideas for taking advantage of tablets, starting with turning them into a dSLR's best new accessory.
Thanks to the ever-useful USB On-the-Go adapter and the Download DSLR Android app, which offers advantages like better focus, time-lapse photography, and even the option to share photos the moment they're shot, you can use your Android tablet to augment your camera and open doors to a range of new shooting options and flexibility.
Once you're connected, every function available on your camera shows up on your Android device's screen and a large live view displays your shot. As CNET's Sharon Vaknin says in her how-to piece on controlling a dSLR with an Android device, a camera-to-Android setup can add a lot of utility and fun to your normal shooting routine.
Who says tablets should be the sole purview of creatures that walk upright? About a year and a half ago, the co-owners of Manhattan dog-training academy School for the Dogs started training their canine clients to use iPads as a novel tool for getting humans to bond with their pets and keep them mentally stimulated. This can prove especially useful, they say, in places where pooches might not have much room to run around and play fetch.
Here, Yazhi demonstrates that dogs can become highly attached to tablets, though the obvious potential for slobber on touch screens cannot be ignored.
Why should dogs have all the tablet fun? You've always suspected Mr. Fluffytoes to be an artistic genius, but apps like Paint for Cats give him a digital canvas for proving his talents.
The iPad app features a rainbow-striped mouse that dances around and off the screen in a way that tantalizes feline Matisses into batting the iPad around. When a paw lands, a splash of paint gets added to the faux canvas.
Pictured here is Crave writer Amanda Kooser's cat Delia capturing the angst of the modern connected life. Delia calls the masterpiece "Vase of Smartphones" (and Amanda says her cats have been using the app on her unprotected iPad 2 for a couple of years now without any screen-scratch problems).
Friskies, which has targeted the emerging feline-gaming market with titles like Cat Fishing and Party Mix-Up, also says the bare glass screen of the iPad stands up to repeated clawing just fine. But the company does warn "that a cat's sharp claws could damage add-on plastic film covers."
With the aid of a few apps (and a bit of self-restraint), a tablet can become the navigation and media center of your car's dashboard. CNET's Antuan Goodwin put together a tutorial for turning a Google Nexus 7 into a car tech powerhouse that helps you get safely from point A to B and entertains you along the way, but his tips will apply to other tablets as well. Note: Antuan doesn't recommend windshield mounting.
Back when Amazon's original Kindle Fire welcomed its Kindle Fire HD successors, CNET's Donald Bell shared five great ideas for keeping the old Fires' fires burning. Among them, make it into a dedicated couch-side IMDb for easy mid-movie research. (Amazon owns IMDb, so the app's really good.)
But Donald's absolute favorite thing to do with an old Kindle Fire is turn it into a jukebox. Rig up the auxiliary input to your stereo, upload your favorite songs to Amazon's Cloud Player (pictured here on the Kindle Fire HDX 7) or stream them via services like Pandora or Spotify -- and you've got yourself a cool cloud-connected music system.
Tablets aren't just for feline creatives, of course. Artists from amateur to renowned have discovered the value of using the devices as a digital sketchbook that's portable and allows work to be shared instantly. One big fan of tablet art is British painter, stage designer, and photographer David Hockney.
This is "Yosemite I, October 16th 2011," one panel in Hockney's series "Bigger Yosemite" on display at San Francisco's De Young Museum through January 30. The exhibit encompasses 17 works made on an iPad and then printed out on paper, and other iPad drawings that rotate on LED displays.
Need more proof that amazing art can be created on tablets? Have a look at Kyle Lambert's insanely lifelike portrait of actor Morgan Freeman. So many people expressed doubt about the authenticity of the work recently that the co-founder of Procreate, the iPad app Lambert used to paint the work, issued a statement verifying it.
"This portrait of Morgan Freeman is so realistic, so well crafted, many believe it's a fake. This is testimony to the quality of Kyle's ability. His work is so realistic, it's practically indistinguishable from the reference photograph by Scott Gries," Procreate co-founder James Cuda said. "The controversy prompted us to check the source file for ourselves, and after analysis we were able to verify that what we are seeing is the real deal."
If you have an old Android tablet lying around, consider repurposing it as a Chromecast receiver -- no wireless video dongle required. The free CheapCast app, which is not made by Google, allows nearly any Android device to function as a Chromecast, effectively playing the role of the TV as you stream media from your other Android device.
Why do this? Well, as CNET's Rick Broida notes, if you have an Android tablet with an HDMI output, you could plug it into your HDTV, then use your smartphone to drive it. Voila: free Chromecast!
Want your Android tablet to do more than just sit there in its downtime? Turn it into a socially connected photo frame. The free Dayframe app integrates with various social networks, displaying pictures from services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as 500px, Tumblr, Google+, Dropbox, and Flickr.
This means you you won't have to hassle with a microSD card or send photos to the device via e-mail or SMS. Just go about your business as your tablet broadcasts photographic evidence of your goings-on.
While using a tablet as a toilet-training tool might not have crossed your mind, the iPotty's all over the idea of a potty trainer for digitally connected kids. It's a fairly straightforward seat with a holder designed for the iPad. The $40 toilet doesn't pair with a specific app, but parents can use any they think will keep kids on the can long enough to get the job done.
When it comes to kiddie seats with tablet holders built in, there's also this $80 face-level Fisher Price Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat that features a face-level iPad holder -- if you're not among those protesting it, saying babies need "laps, not apps."