The Holidays are coming and many will be making decisions about new computing devices. What is the best way to go - Tablet, Desktop, or Laptop??? Windows 8 or Windows 7???
These are the new million dollar questions on your minds, and I hear it a few times a week now. While as a technician I can easily decipher which is best for my own needs, the clients I service don't always have the same easy ability to do so. There is a lot of hype and distortion out in the media about what tablets can do and where PCs are being phased out. Some of the information is accurate, while a good portion of it is wishful (and inaccurate) thinking.
When it comes to these issues you are looking to see if tablets can either replace your current laptops and desktops, or if they can supplement your primary PC with a tablet for mobile purposes.
Tablets may be the flashy, sexy newcomers to the computing arena, but their best aspects are only useful to end users who have certain needs to fill. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to the tablet vs laptop vs desktop debate, and I won't make such claims in either direction.
What I hope to do is provide the groundwork for how you can think about these issues in your device purchasing quest.
Below are what I consider to be the most pertinent questions that need to be answered before deciding on a device.
Are you looking to replace or compliment your existing technology?
This is probably the most important question of all, and is the biggest influence on the direction I recommend for a client. If you are looking to merely extend your mobile capability while on the road, a tablet is a clear choice for light web browsing, light email, and some media consumption on the go. But for a heavy user, that depends on email for their work, or someone that clearly has a usage-scenario that benefits from the tactile aspects of a traditional laptop, I'd steer you clear of replacing a laptop entirely with a tablet. As they say, a microwave is a great device for the kitchen, but you'd not likely dump your stove in place of one.
How important is size/weight of the device you are looking for?
The laptop is a clear loser here, as even the smallest Ultrabooks out there cannot compete with a fully decked tablet in this area. But each customer's needs vary, and a requirement of simply "small and light" can be a meandering target at times. Some people require that the device weigh in at a pound or less even at the expense of functionality. But some are comfortable with the size of a 12-13? laptop and need the extra versatility. Be sure that you know you are making a sacrifice in either direction: small size for reduced capability.
How much of a concern is battery life?
In general, tablets have the clear advantage here. An Android tablet or newer iPad can get by without a recharge for a good 8-11 hours usually, while the average 14? laptop is lucky to get past 5 hours. Sensitivity to power consumption is relative however; someone that is close to power outlets most of the day may not care that they have to recharge once or twice to keep going. Some users may need a full day of usage without thinking about a power outlet. There are extreme options for laptop users who need excellent battery life, though, that sway the field a bit. Lenovo for example has the 25hr capable Thinkpad X230 which runs on a regular plus slice battery combo (for a cost of $700+ however.)
What kind of application needs do you have?
Let's face it: tablets are nice, but their usage of Android and iOS limits compatibility of traditional LOB (Line of Business) apps. This is becoming less of a problem these days as much of what we took for granted on the desktop is now being thrown into the cloud. But applications like Photoshop, Quickbooks, Peachtree, ACT, and other important business suites are only fully functional on a Windows-based system. The advent of the sleek Microsoft Surface tablet this holiday season may blend these two realms together, but for now, application needs are fairly split across OS lines. And, when it comes to thinking about a new PC at all it is important to remember that Microsoft is just now coming out with a brand new OS (operating system) called Windows 8 and this is a guaranteed game changer and a huge leap in user learning curve to get used to.
How important is GPS functionality and mobile (4G/LTE) access?
Tablets come out stronger in this area by far. A clear majority of them have integrated LTE or 4G chips for mobile broadband access and are supplemented by nearly-standard GPS chips for excellent location awareness functionality. This may be key for some customers' line of work or personal needs and should be accounted for.
While laptops can add such functionality pretty easily, it's another added expense, item of upkeep, and device that needs to be worried about (some laptops can integrate these items internally, but not many.)
How important is a traditional keyboard (tactile input) for you?
This is probably one of the gotcha questions that catches most customers of mine off guard. It seems many believe that tablets either come with keyboards in the box or can have them installed relatively easily. While I won't say it "can't be done," it's not a pretty setup to have one of the myriad of keyboard devices attached to a tablet via a USB cable. And anyway - doesn't this defeat the purpose of the size/mobility aspects of a tablet device?
The best hybrid to this dilemma is likely the forthcoming Microsoft Surface, but likely at the price of a well equipped laptop anyway.
And let me add some comments here about the new line of laptops that will come equipped with the new Windows 8 operating system. They are going to be much more expensive devices than you have become used to with the standard laptop models. Most of them are going to have a removable tablet-type screen attached to a fairly standard-type keyboard, or they will have some form of flip around feature for ease of converting it to a tablet feel, and they are starting to show up around 2 to 3 times more expensive than the current standard laptops.
Be sure you are aware of the touch-only nature of tablets and that your typing needs will be a big factor into what device suits you best. It is a very different typing experience to type on a smooth shiny, non tactile pad service compared to a tactile keyboard which we've all grown used to. If you type a lot this issue becomes even more pronounced as many folks indicate they don't like the typing experience of the pads. It's one thing to jot off a quick email and quite another to type a long document for school or work.
What peripherals/accessories do you rely on?
This factor could also have a large bearing on a decision either way. Tablets by nature don't have a lot of traditional ports, don't have CD/DVD drives, and worse, have even slimmer driver support.
Printing, one of the biggest complaints with tablets, has been mildly appeased through Google Cloud Print-enabled and AirPrint-ready printers, but the number of models available is relatively slim. Furthermore, other various devices may be compatible (especially on the Android front) but usually require special add-on adapters for most items that don't run on USB. If you don't have external peripheral needs, this point is moot. But it's best not to be surprised about a lack of compatibility after a purchase.
What kind of comfort will you have with the potential new OS?
Even a small child can pick up and learn to use an iPad in short order. It's not a question of how usable an OS is. The biggest issue at hand is the comfort level of someone learning a new platform, and likewise, how willing are you to make this transition. If a longtime Windows laptop user (who travels for business) asks me whether they should dump their laptop for an Android tablet, I'd put up the red flags right away. Not only do new platforms present a learning curve for end users, but this translates directly into downtime and potential reduced productivity. While all new products present some sort of first time experience issues, jumping OS (operating system) platforms is much more risky for some users as opposed to others. Be sure you understand what you are getting into before you purchase.
If you do go with a Windows 8 computer and then find you don't like the feel of Windows 8 I have software that can easily convert the environment to a Windows 7 look and feel. I suspect many will want me to come out and perform this for them on their new Windows 8 PCs.
Options are aplenty - and I'm trying to be your trusted adviser...
As you can see from the above, this decision is not as straightforward as the hype may make it. Personally, I don't use a tablet on a regular basis as I have no needs to fill with such a device. The only thing close to a tablet which I love is my smart phone. That's about it. My Lenovo Ideapad handles everything else I need in a computing device: email, research, writing, music, and web browsing.
As a consultant to my customers, I'm attempting to be sure that I am not the one making the decision for you. I'm laying out here the questions that you will likely want to answer; I'm giving some general thought guidelines but you are the decision makers in the end. Besides, I won't be the one using the proposed device - you will!