We’re set to buy more tablets than notebooks in 2013, but are tablets up to the job?
If Macbeth’s three witches lived today, you can be sure they’d pay the bills by predicting technology trends. Many new year’s tech predictions can be taken with a grain of salt, but there seems to be a general consensus that tablets will outsell notebooks this year for the first time.
The fact that people are more interested in tablets than notebooks is not that surprising when you look at the latest crop of wundertablets such as Apple’s iPad mini and the Android-powered Asus Nexus 7. They’re faster, cheaper, lighter and more useful than ever, making notebooks look like clunky relics of a bygone age. Even the Microsoft Surface might grab your fancy, as long as you’re familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of Windows RT compared to a full version of Windows 8.
A 10-inch tablet certainly seems far more practical than a notebook if you’re simply looking for a coffee table companion — a gadget to handle everyday consumer tasks such as checking your email, browsing the web and updating social media. If you’re looking for a travel companion you might find a slimline 7-inch tablet more practical than lugging around a notebook, right up until it comes time to actually get some work done. At this point you might start pining for a “real” computer.
For many people it will be the lack of a physical keyboard which separates a tablet from a so-called “real” computer. Onscreen keyboards are fine for bashing out quick messages, but typing on a slab of glass can be an exercise in frustration. Of course it all depends on what you’re trying to do. Bashing out a long business report or school assignment on a tablet is slow-going, but if you’re only reading and perhaps annotating documents then you might find a tablet is a useful tool.
If you’re looking to swap your notebook for a tablet as a productivity tool and you spend a lot of time typing, it’s certainly worth investigating your options in terms of physical keyboards. You’ll find a range of standalone USB and Bluetooth keyboards designed for tablets, as well as protective tablet cases which feature a built-in keyboard. Keep in mind these tablet keyboards are likely to be smaller and more cramped than what you find on a notebook, but that could be a compromise you’re prepared to make. See if you can test a few tablet keyboards in a store before handing over your cash.
Sacrificing connectivity options can also be frustrating if you’re looking to switch from a notebook to a tablet, especially if you’ve got your eye on an iPad. Be prepared to lug around a range of adaptors if you need USB, SD card and HDMI connectivity from your tablet.
Perhaps the biggest challenge when switching from a notebook to a tablet is forgoing the desktop operating system along with the full web browser and office suite. Once again it depends on what you’re trying to get done. If you’re only checking emails and writing documents then you might be satisfied with tablet apps or even browser-based services. But if you rely on any kind of specialist software, from a computer-aided drafting suite to an accounting package, you’ll want to investigate your tablet-based options before leaving your notebook at home.
If you can’t get by without a full desktop environment then Microsoft’s Windows 8-based Surface Pro could be the tablet you’re looking for. Alternatively you might use remote desktop tools such as LogMeIn to access your desktop computer at home or work for those occasions when only a “real” computer will do.
It seems notebooks are destined to become specialist business tools, just as pre-iPad tablets were 10 years ago. A modern tablet can easily take the place of a notebook for some people, but think long and hard before taking the plunge.