Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Take One Tablet (And Call Me in the Morning)

They sounded like a pointless idea, at best. Oversized mobile phones, that didn’t work as phones. Like carrying round a touchscreen monitor without a keyboard, printer or any meaningful peripherals. I confess to being one of the doubters.

But they stuck around and users raved about them. Not just the usual tech-zealots but the technophobes as well. And then the imitations started arriving, the sincerest form of flattery. So by the time my laptop started showing signs of wear and tear, my choice wasn’t as clear-cut. Was there actually going to be a case for buying a tablet?

Tablets have been around in one form or another since 2002 (not counting Moses) but since 2010 there has been one clear leader in the field. I’m no Apple minion – I find myself highly indifferent about the iPhone – but the iPad genuinely shook the market up. There’s been a proliferation of tablets from multiple manufacturers with more on the horizon and sales of PCs have noticeably dropped. Still, it’s not as simple as tablets replacing PCs wholesale. By way of balance:

Although mobile by definition, laptops still require a fair amount of supporting paraphernalia, a bag at least, a mains lead if you’re planning on working for more than a couple of hours. But the tablets are pretty self-contained and most will last you a day of pretty solid use on one charge. And there is something deeply cool about sitting in your favourite armchair reading essentially anything you want. The style is undeniable. Gaming, especially multiplayer, is ace.

Printing is a very hit and miss affair. If you have an AirPrint printer then it’s a cinch, but they remain few and far between. If not, then you are likely to have to turn your PC on and use it as a channel to print through. That has always struck me as deeply counter-intuitive. Apps are available that take a good shot at printing directly via Wi-Fi but results vary. You are also limited to the apps that Apple provides via its app store. ‘Limited’ is a highly subjective word as there are well over 140,000 apps for the iPad alone. However, don’t expect there to be exact equivalents of your favourite programs. Apps have to make it through Apple’s quite stringent approval process and you may find gaps that aren’t met according to your needs.

Personally, I ended up landing in the middle. The laptop survived, but I took the pressure off it by purchasing an iPad. The tablet serves for most of the day-to-day browsing, reading, mailing; the laptop for programming, heavy printing and programs unique to Windows. As is often the way with in the tech-world there is no simple answer. You’ll have to make up your mind based on your own needs. But make no mistake, tablets are here for a while yet…

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