Sunday, July 01, 2012

Tablet or Lap Top?

The announcement two weeks ago from Microsoft of new Surface tablet devices coming soon to a store near you has renewed the already heavy interest in a tablet as a   replacement for the traditional lap top computer.  One of my sisters-in-law, who is changing jobs and re-entering academia, asked if she should purchase a tablet instead of replacing her well aged PC. 

Like so many of these “either /or” questions, the answer is not the same for everyone and depends heavily on what you do with a computer on a day-to-day basis.  One thing is for sure, they are two different devices and each does well things the other does not do well.

Tablets, especially the gold standard Apple iPads, are outstanding devices. The iPad screen is bright and has better picture resolution than most of us have on our flat screen digital TV. The iPad excels in surfing the web, reading magazines and watching videos from YouTube and other online video services.  The personal calendar is also great and can be synched with smart phones and desktop computers.  Sending and receiving email are also very easy.  Of course you will need either access to wifi hotspots or purchase a data plan from your wireless phone provider to accomplish most of these tasks.

One of the tasks that the iPad does not do well is word processing.  I don’t mean taking a few notes at a meeting or sending short emails.  I mean writing long documents that require formatting, pagination and perhaps even footnotes.  Here the iPad falls short.  Even with a “real” keyboard (sold separately) instead of the touch screen that is built in, writing even a standard business letter and sending it to a printer is much easier on a laptop.

Getting files into and out of the device is still easier with a lap top computer since it has not only wifi but a standard USB port.  Also the lap top can run most all standard business software not just the “App” versions found on iPads.

Since I have only read about the features on the new Microsoft Surface devices I don’t know if some of these shortcomings will be addressed.  From what I have read, it looks like they will run a version of Windows 8 and, as such, may be able to handle the traditional software used by businesses and academia.  They also have a keyboard but from reports it is still not a full featured keyboard.   I’ll have to get back to you on this when I get a chance to see one up close.

For now I still see tablets and lap tops as two distinct devices each with strong features the other does not have.  This most likely will change in the future.  I’ll keep you informed.

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