Tablet or laptop? Why I use a laptop for work almost every time

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Tablet or laptop? Why I use a laptop for work almost every time

Opinion: After every single attempt at replacing a real computer with a touchscreen tablet I've returned to a traditional computer. Here's why.

For the last three and half years I have been engaged in a long, informal experiment - trying to make a touchscreen tablet into a viable replacement for a "proper" computer.

I've come excruciatingly close to success. I've tried devices running Android, iOS, Windows and even HP's short-lived TouchPad running WebOS. I've used a variety of different keyboards and cases, dozens of different applications and cloud services and more accessories than I can count.

After every single attempt at replacing a real computer with a touchscreen tablet I've returned to a traditional computer.


I think it comes down to three main factors. It's important to understand that these our my experiences. There are plenty of people who have been able to replace laptops or other devices in specific situations with tablets.

Operating systems get in the way when you're working

iOS, Android and Windows 8 are designed to be used with fingers. While the gesture driven interfaces work well when consuming content they get in the way when you're working.

For example, with Windows 8 when I'm sitting at a desk and want to open the Windows Charm Bar - the context menu that appears from the right side of the screen - I can either take my hands away from the keyboard and mouse to swipe the edge of the display or remember a keyboard shortcut.

With iOS, moving the cursor in a document requires that I touch the screen to activate a loupe that magnifies the cursor so I can move it accurately. Again, I'm moving away from my main productivity tool, the keyboard, to do something.

It's hard to always work seamlessly with clients using iOS or Android apps

One of the great boons of the mobile age is the rise of the app. Just about anything you can think of has an associated app. And, despite the pointless app counts the developers of different platforms publish, there are dozens of options when it comes to productivity apps.

However, unless I stay in the Microsoft camp, I still hit hurdles when it comes to sharing documents and spreadsheets, unless I use Microsoft Office. Similarly, with many of my clients, I need to use Microsoft Project and Visio. I am yet to find an iOS or Android application that lets me work seamlessly with clients using those applications.

I'm still more productive using a mouse, keyboard

When it comes to entering data, I am still at my most productive when using a keyboard and pointing device like a mouse or trackpad. Other than the Microsoft Surface, getting these integrated into the other main touchscreen tablet devices running iOS or Android is just too hard or even impossible.

Where do the tablets win?

Tablets have some significant advantages over notebook computers. Typically they're lighter and have better battery life than portable PCs. Their "instant on" capability is extremely useful when traveling they usually have better connectivity with 3G/4G integrated - although this is becoming more common in business notebooks.

If you carry a notebook around for reading email, web browsing and checking over documents then tablets are a viable replacement for notebooks.

So, what's in my work bag today?

Interestingly, I travel with both a notebook and a tablet. The notebook is a 11-inch MacBook Air, chosen for its light weight and battery life. It has all the computing power I need and a proper keyboard.

The tablet is almost purely a consumption device. It's a 7-inch iPad mini and only runs a couple of apps I need for productivity - the main one being a time tracking application I use with some specific clients.

So, I have a notebook for the heavy lifting and a tablet to complement that for reading books, documents and email and watching the occasional movie while traveling.

The total cost of this setup is about $1,500 - cheaper than a single sub-notebook just a couple of years ago.


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