Posted: Tue 9th Apr 2013
If you're in the market for a new mobile computer, it's becoming increasingly hard to choose between a laptop and a tablet, writes San (left). Mobility, software and usability are the three key areas to consider before shelling out your cash. But how do the two devices compare?
Laptops were designed as an 'on-the-go' alternative to desktop computers and they serve this purpose well. Not only have they become thinner and lighter over the years, they've also become faster and more powerful - to the point where they can no longer simply be considered the underpowered cousin of the tower PC. Tablets are even more portable and lose out little, if anything, in processing power to laptops. But mobility is about more than just portability and power. How do the two compare in terms of battery life? At Enterprise Nation, we encourage people to be mobile and find public places in which to work, such as cafes. The two big questions to be answered when choosing a location are:
Do they have free wi-fi?
Do they have a power supply?
More often than not, it's the second that you miss out on. Running out of power in the middle of a mobile working day can be devastating for business people. That's less likely to happen with a tablet, thanks to their usually longer life (which can be boosted by an external keyboard).
On Windows and Mac laptops, you'll find fully-featured software you already know, love and/or live with, such as Microsoft Word, Outlook and Adobe Photoshop. On a tablet, however, you'll find yourself making do with alternatives, including:
QuickOffice HD in place of Microsoft Office
Adobe Photoshop Touch in place of Photoshop
Dropbox in place of a decent file manager.
These alternatives aren't quite as feature-packed as the originals, but they're a fraction of the price. Plus, there are apps out there that are just as good on a tablet, such as iMeet and Evernote. And, of course, there are tablet apps that enable you to do things you just can't do on laptop - such as taking notes with your finger, flipping your screen for reading orÂ accepting credit cards on the move. So it's not as straightforward as feature-rich vs feature-lite productivity software. But that could be the clincher for you. Think carefully about the degree to which stripped-down apps might compromise your workflow. For the no-compromise experience with established productivity software, stick with a laptop.
For years now, mobile computers have got thinner and lighter. The screens may have got bigger or smaller (think netbooks), but the basic design hasn't changed: upright screens hinged to table-flat keyboards. The iPad and other tablets have challenged this standard by turning a computer into a device where the screen is everything. It's both the display AND the input mechanism. Laptops are operated by pressing buttons; with tablets it's gestures - pinches, pulls, swipes. They take time to get used to; but so, too, did keyboards when they were first invented, and there's every chance we'll be just as proficient with tablet interfaces in time. What's more, the tablet liberates you from the desk. It's truly portable in use. You can operate it on your lap, standing up, against a friend's back - and easily share what you're doing with others. Tablets come with accessories, too, that protect against drops in productivity. For my iPad, for example, I have:
Wireless keyboard - for long-form writing that demands I sit at a desk
Incase Origami Workstation - protects the keyboard and quickly folds up into a stand for desktop working
Boxwave Capacitive iPad Stylus - for sketching out ideas that are better visualised than written down.
So the tablet wins the battle for usability. It's just so much more adaptable than a laptop, which almost always requires you to work at a desk in sitting position.
So the tablet takes it - just. However, choosing the tools you use in your working life depends on the kind of work you do and, of course, what is most important to you. Your work may be reliant on software that is too feature-lite or unavailable on a tablet; or you may travel too little with your work to justify the expense of a new device. My advice? Don't just weigh up tablets and laptops in your hands, but weigh up the pros and cons of each device as well. Do you agree with San's final score? Which is better for your work - a laptop or a tablet? Let us know in the comments below.
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