Posted: Tue 2nd Apr 2013
I'm a freelance writer and editor, writes Simon (left). Until recently, I've worked exclusively from home, using my trusty laptop (an Acer Aspire 5750 with Windows 7, 15.6 inch screen with 1366x758 resolution, weighing in at a fairly hefty 2.6kg). It works pretty well, sits squarely on my desk and it's a perfectly good machine for me. Basically, I use it to:
Write lengthy documents comfortably, using Word
Browse the web and edit the Enterprise Nation website (which is WordPress)
Read and write emails
Do some social media
Maintain a spreadsheet or two (currently I use Excel)
Download photos from my camera
Store and edit high quality images. I actually use an online image editor for my editing.
My laptop is fine for all of this. It also has a nice springy full-sized keyboard and a touchpad. If you're writing blog posts, pitches, long emails or presentations, you probably have similar requirements to me.
Recently, however, I've been working 'out' a lot - at clients' offices, in co-working spaces and even in cafes. I have a good over-the-shoulder laptop bag and it's fine; it's ok. But if I'm also carrying my camera, things start to get a little bulky. So I've been thinking: how do I lighten up? The obvious answer, of course, is a tablet. But how good are they for writers?
If we think about my requirements, I'm confident I'll be able to get Dropbox and Word for whatever operating system I choose. Word, in particular, is essential - it's the format I'm expected to deliver my work in to clients. But I need a reasonable sized screen (10 inches is the minimum) with decent resolution and a good keyboard. While a touchscreen keyboard may be fine for tweets, notes and short emails, I won't be able to write a book with it, so it's a no-no. I need an external keyboard and I'm not particularly optimistic that I can find one that offers the same usability as a standard laptop keyboard. After reading around, I've come up with three potential options:
The general consensus seems to be that the iPad is still the one to beat in terms of overall quality and performance. We're now into fourth-generation iPads, with the Retina Display model, which offers amazing screen resolution. A quick glance at the iPad 4 spec tells me I'll get a 9.7" screen with 2048x1536 resolution, 32GB of memory, a quad-core processor and around 10 hours of battery life for about Â£480. I also know it'll have excellent all-round performance. An iPad 2 with 16GB is around Â£330.
I'd need to get a separate bluetooth keyboard, preferably with a docking case to give it a more secure feel. The two best available seem to be the Logitech Ultrathin for around Â£75 or the ZAGGKeys PROplus for around Â£99. The ZAGGKeys is said to have a keyboard comparable with a good laptop. Both have USB ports, but neither has a touchpad, so I'd also need a separate mouse, which means more storage and desk space - and more cost. If I got Apple's own Magic Mouse (Â£60), I'm looking at a total of around Â£640 for the best package I can get. It ain't cheap.
The Dell XPS 10 is a 32GB tablet with the new Windows 8 operating system. It's got 1GB RAM, a 10.1 inch screen with a decent 1366x768 screen resolution, a dual-core processor and sells for Â£349. There's a docking stationwith keyboardÂ available, which Dell sell for Â£170; or they'll do all in for Â£480. The keyboard looks ok: it's 92 per cent standard size and it has a touchpad. The battery life is around 10 hours when docked.
The big advantage here is that I've always used Windows operating systems on the various PCs and laptops that I've owned or worked on. So I'm familiar with it and I know that I'll get Office with Word and Excel as standard. I'll also have the various ports I need and, to an extent, it's the Devil I know.
Though the first serious attempt to create a 'productivity tablet' and first released in late 2011, the ASUS Transformer Prime is still highly regarded, particularly by writers. I suppose it's currently the tablet equivalent or a Remington typewriter. Â It's got a 10.1 inch screen with a resolution of 1280x800, 32GB memory and 1GB RAM, quad-core processor and the ports I need. It runs Android and comes with Polaris Office as standard and, crucially, it comes with its keyboard port as standard and has a touchpad.
In fact, it seems to be the most integrated device on offer because it's specifically designed for people who want a laptop experience with a tablet - hence the name, 'Transformer'. The keyboard is considered fine by writers and the whole package comes in at around Â£530.
Overall, I would expect a sharper performance from the iPad 4 - and , of course, it has that fantastic screen resolution. But the nuances of the multimedia experience aren't necessarily the selling point here for me. First and foremost, I'm interested in functionality as a writing and browsing device. So it comes down to two things: 1. The keyboard It looks as though the ASUS has the advantage here, but I suspect the ZAGGKeys keyboard case for the iPad would give it a run for its money. It may even be better. The Dell keyboard is an unknown quantity. A good keyboard is essential for me, so I'd try them all out before committing. Given that all three devices will likely hit the minimum performance level I need, the keyboard is probably the deciding factor here. 2. The operating system The operating system is a more complicated affair, though. I've never owned an Apple device and the very closed, proprietary nature of their approach to tech puts me off - I've always preferred open systems to closed ones. Plus they're pricey - I'm looking at Â£640 for the best on offer here (though I could get the iPad 2 setup for about Â£490). Windows is a system I'm familiar with - in its previous incarnations. But how does the more app-driven approach of Windows 8 compare to Apple and Android? It's not make or break for me, but I suspect we're looking at another closed system, although the BlueStacks mobile apps player may well become standard on Dell Windows 8 machines, meaning I'll have the pick of Android apps, too. Costwise, the Dell is the best of the bunch and it looks fine. But I'm not inspired by it. Why is that? My inclination is to go for the ASUS. There are two reasons for this - the first is the Android operating system, which seems the most open and adaptable. The second is that this machine is tried and tested by writers and has been given the seal of approval. The performance won't be as sharp as the Apple, but it'll more than likely do the job for me.
The bigger question here though is this: is it really worth spending this sort of money for a lighter machine for the occasional journey? I reckon with keyboard cases, I'm probably looking at around 1.3kg for a tablet, compared to the 2.6kg of my laptop. That's a fair saving, but I'm not convinced it's completely worth it - though it may be when I start cycling to workplaces as the weather improves. I'm also not entirely convinced that I need a tablet anyway. I'm not a great online consumer of film and music, though I guess I could become a convert (and I do look rather enviably at my EN colleagues' tablets at meetingsÂ - perhaps the real issue here is tablet-envy). Maybe I should wait until I need to replace my laptop, by which time 'productivity tablets' may have taken another leap forward and the laptop as we know it will be a machine of the past. So there's a nagging doubt in my mind: do I really need this? Given that a laptop is itself a portable device, I'm not sure I do. Would you get one in my position? I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Please do leave your comments, advice and recommendations below.
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