Can a tablet replace my PC?

January 13, 2013 on Small Business by Craig Nakamoto

A lot of people are struggling with this question.  They just want one device that can do it all, and a tablet would be very convenient.

Here is my executive summary:

Tablets are an excellent complementary device for any business user but it will not be practical to solely use a tablet if:

    • you need any non-standard pc software that is not available for the tablet
    • you need to do a lot of typing
    • you need to work on large, complex spreadsheets
    • you need to work in an environment that needs a larger screen (developers, graphic designers, etc.)
    • you are working on your device at a desk for long periods of time

You might be able to get away with just using a tablet if:

    • you don’t do a lot of typing
    • you mostly read information (emails, documents, web pages, etc.)
    • you spend most of your time traveling

The detailed explanation follows.

Here is some quick background on me:

    • I switch between my phone, my tablet, my laptop and my desktop pc constantly.
    • I use Windows 7, Windows 8, the Mac operating system, and Unix daily.
    • I work from home, from client offices, and I am working on the road frequently.
    • I use wired and wireless ethernet connections, VPNs, and a tether to the Internet with my phone via bluetooth and usb almost daily.
    • I try to use as much different technology as possible.
    • I am currently writing this while sitting in a car on a 5 hour drive across southern Ontario.

In my experience, the tablet can deliver a better experience than other devices for the following tasks:

    • reading email, documents, news, magazines, and books
    • watching or sharing slide shows, videos, presentations
    • surfing the web
    • showing other people photos, videos, maps, etc.
    • multi-player games
    • filling out forms while not at a desk (and getting signatures)
    • using software applications that benefit from touch

The tablet also allows you to do the following tasks, but they are generally more easily accomplished on a laptop or desktop computer:

    • write emails, blog entries, messages
    • edit word processing documents
    • edit spreadsheets
    • edit presentations
    • make video calls (Skype, etc.)

You can perform all of the basic computing tasks, but the lack of physical keyboard can be limiting if you have to do a lot of typing.  Some will argue that you can simply attach or pair a keyboard to your tablet – which is true – but I find that I would much rather use my lightweight laptop instead of carrying around a portable keyboard and something to hold my laptop.  Some of the setups look pretty good, but imagine them sitting on your lap.  Or imagine you are typing and swiping on your tablet, you often have to grasp the tablet while you swipe, if it is in a portable stand.

Additionally, the screen size is inadequate for some applications.  Working with large spreadsheets can be difficult and the current spreadsheet software generally does not offer all of the features of Excel.

For programmers, there are some simple IDEs (integrated development environments) available for tablets, but most people will only be able to use these for quick code updates or changes.  You just need more screen size to be able to work efficiently with this type of application.

Many special pc applications are not available on tablets.  It is possible to set up a virtual computer in the cloud for a relatively low monthly cost that can solve some of these limitations.  You would then connect to the virtual server form your tablet and control it remotely.  This would allow you to use any software that can be installed on the virtual computer.  Unfortunately this solution is not easily set up or maintained by non-technical people.

There is also a new family of tablets that will come out soon that will run the full pc operating systems.  Microsoft already has this and their latest device – the Surface Pro – looks promising.

If you want one device that can do everything and you work in multiple places and/or travel a lot, I recommend an ultralight laptop.  There are lots of good options, but the only one I have extensive experience with is the 13″ MacBook AIr.  I have the most powerful (2GHz Intel Dual-Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB Flash Storage) and therefore the most expensive ($2200) model and I happily run Mac OS X, Windows 7, and Windows 8.  I can run all of my Mac and PC applications at the same time and everything stays snappy.  It is so light and thin I barely notice that I am carrying it.  It has a bright clear screen, excellent battery life, and a backlit keyboard.  If I could have any laptop, this is the one I would buy.

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