Confession time. I’m a mobile technology enthusiast and editorialist who doesn’t own a “real” tablet. At least, I don’t own a “real” tablet by most measurable standards. My flat panel devices at home consist of a Kindle Fire, an HP TouchPad running webOS, and an HP TouchPad running CM9. There is a reason for this. The biggest reason is I don’t really have a pile of money lying around to buy a tablet, unless it’s a laptop replacement. And this is why.
I got my TouchPads during the firesale. Indeed, at the time, I didn’t buy the TouchPad on launch day because it was too expensive for what it was and what it did. I had played with the TouchPad shortly after release and I came away feeling vindicated. As I suspected, while it’d be nice to surf with, I would rather cut my fingers off than type more than a few sentences at a time on a virtual keyboard. So it wasn’t really good for anything more than consumption.
Boys with Toys
My tablets are what most people’s tablets are – web surfing and media consuming machines. Nothing more. What that amounts to is, they’re toys. Sure, they’re expensive toys. Sure they’re multi-function toys. But really, they’re toys. You can argue all you want that a tablet is a convenience, it’s less bulky, less cumbersome and therefore it’s useful for the repertoire of mobile devices. But in my world, a tablet is still a toy.
My next technology purchase will likely be a Chromebook or ultrabook of some sort. The reason is, I’ll be able to work and play on it. Sure in some ways it’ll be less convenient, most notably it’ll be heavier and probably have a worse battery life. It’ll have a slower startup time, and shorter standby time. It’ll be more awkward to watch in bed or on the couch, and it’ll be darn-near unusable while riding in a car.
It will be a machine that won’t make me cringe when I have to write an editorial on it. I’ll be able to do graphic manipulation with the accuracy only a mouse can bring. I will be able to write a multi-sentence email on it. It will be able to handle any task I throw at it.
A tablet just isn’t that. A lot of you commenters are screaming “You can get a bluetooth keyboard you moron!” and for the most part, you’re right. However, a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard has suddenly become two devices to tote around, instead of just one. Plus, once you add a bluetooth keyboard, even one integrated into the cover, the thickness and weight become comparable to a Chromebook, or ultra-book or what-have-you, so why not just get an ultrabook?
Sure this is a utilitarian way of looking at things. Why not have a car that gets me to and from work on the weekdays, and then the convertible to cruise on the weekends? Well that’s all fine and good if you have a garage big enough to accommodate both. I understand I’m in a sort of unique situation here. But, there is hope on the horizon.
Bring on the hybrids
In my mind, the most intriguing category thus far has been the laptop-tablet hybrid, such as the Lenovo Yoga. There are a multitude of hybrids out there that I find to be more intriguing than an iPad or Android tablet. The different styles are almost hard to keep up with. You have rotating screens, you have laptops with a “tent mode” and other screens which fold up and leave the keyboard facing out on the back side of the tablet. All of these are trying to find just the right build to bridge the laptop-tablet gap. Sadly, none of them have really done it yet. But every generation seems to bring something new to the table which is better than the last. But we’re not quite there yet. That gap is getting narrower, but it’s not sealed yet.
In the meantime, tablets just aren’t robust enough to do what I want them to do. Multi-tasking, side-by-side windows, graphic editing. Well, perhaps one tablet is closer than the rest.
The Surface Pro has probably come the closest to tempting me to drop my own dineros on a new device. The Surface, especially with a touch cover or type cover, might be a good way to go for me. But even those covers have had luke-warm reviews from what I’ve read. I’ll definitely need to invest some hands-on time to get a real feel for where that technology is and whether it’s worth the sizeable investment.
The Surface Pro also offers the stylus input which I so dearly miss from my PDA days. You’ll remember I mentioned accuracy earlier in the article. Tablets without a stylus don’t offer the kind of accuracy that I want in a computing device. You just can’t make/manipulate good graphics with your finger. Those Draw Something savants are the exception, not the rule. When it comes to typing, te arrow keys on the HP TouchPad’s LuneCE keyboard are a good step in the right direction, but not exactly what I’m looking for.
…but no cigar
Don’t get me wrong, this is not intended to be a Surface Pro puff piece. The price of the Surface pro (last I checked in the $1,000 – $1,100 range) is definitely a prime reason why it’s still on the store shelf and not in my backpack. $1,100 is pretty high for a brain washed society which says “Tablet = $600 or less”. For what I would do with a laptop, tablet, or computer, $1,100 is even pricier than most laptops that do what I need. Yes, I know I whine a lot about price – I have a mortgage.
So, for the time being, since I have to compromise somewhere – be it in functionality, price, comfort, convenience – I have to put price at the top of the list, followed by functionality. Comfort and convenience, which could be read as “weight/compactness/ease of use” need to take a back seat for me. Those of you who can move “price” down the list of needs will probably enjoy the Surface Pro’s unique ability to run a full-fledged computer OS, rather than solely a mobile OS.
This is the part where I throw out a hat-tip to Samsung’s upcoming Ativ Q.
You’re doing well. Keep it up!
In the meantime, I challenge OEM’s to innovate even further. Make a tablet that can really allow us to put the laptop up on the shelf and forget it exists. When that happens, it won’t matter what operating system it runs – Windows 8, iOS, or Android. Figure out a way to make the typing experience a joy (read: with a keyboard not on the screen) Customize the software to allow for side-by-side window/app viewing. Add a stylus for accuracy. Remember that tablets can be made for work, not just play. Then take my money. I’ll worry about the mortgage another time.
In the meantime, hit me up in the comments. Do you have some kind of tablet/keyboard/whatever that can convince me? Let me know what your rig is in the comments and I’ll keep an open mind.