Should we call them smart tablets and dumb tablets?

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A while back, Taylor asked; Could you go tablet-only for a day? Many of us responded to that headline right away with something like, “yes, of course, my tablet is running Windows 8.” Most of the Windows 8 tablets out there are fully capable of running all of the professional programs you might use on a traditional desktop or laptop computer.

I’ve gone over a week tablet-only with any of the Windows tablets I’ve owned over the past 12 years or so. I still use a more-powerful desktop as a Media Center and another as a workstation in the office though. These days I use a Surface Pro 2 with 8Gb RAM and 256 Gb SSD or more recently, the Surface Pro 3 with a similar configuration. The Wacom stylus is imperative. 1080p HD video editing is cakewalk in Adobe Premiere Pro. RAW processing of hundreds of photos at a time, no problem. I’ve done After Effects animations with it. I’ve built interactive DVDs with it and burned the masters by plugging in an external DVDRW. Visual Studio for Web or Adobe Dreamweaver makes for website programming on the go. Full Exchange 2013 support in Outlook 2013 is nice too. A couple weeks ago I designed a bathing suit and sent it to a dye sublimation printer to create the fabric. I also beat Halo Spartan Assault.

What did you do today?

What did you do today?

Sure, Taylor meant only tablets that run smartphone operating systems like iPads and Android tablets, but Windows tablets are tablets too. It’s pretty obvious by their form factor and lack of an attached hardware keyboard. Still, the technology press and consumers in general seem to struggle with wrapping their heads around the differences between tablets that run full desktop operating systems and the cheaper tablets that only run iOS or Android.

You’ve probably heard technology journalists trying to pass off the Microsoft Surface Pro as a laptop numerous times. I guess the reason they do this is because you are able to purchase a separate accessory for the Surface Pro that can attach to it and give you a real hardware keyboard that you can use for typing as if it were a laptop computer. Okay, but you can buy attachable keyboards for any tablet, so that doesn’t really make sense. Yes, some Windows tablets have high-end processors and RAM and SSDs that are generally also used inside ultrabook laptops, but that doesn’t make it a laptop. The form factor is what defines a tablet, not its internal components or price.

Patrick_DumbtabletsOne of our readers suggested we call them dumb tablets and smart tablets. Smart tablets would be the ones that can really do everything a laptop or desktop could do (theoretically), while the dumb tablets are running mobile phone operating systems on larger screens and without the phone part. When we had smartphones and dumb-phones, the defining characteristic that made smartphones smart was the ability to extend them by installing more software. All tablets have that capability these days so the “smart” modifier doesn’t really apply, since all of them have the potential to be extended with software.

Still, the “smart” attribute doesn’t really communicate what exactly is so different about high-end tablets running full desktop operating systems. My suggestion is to remember what Microsoft called them back in 2002 when they invented the modern tablet… Tablet PCs! The Surface Pro is most definitely a Tablet PC. It’s a real personal computer that can do anything your home PC or laptop can do, but it’s also a tablet in the sense that it’s got all of the electronic components behind a touch screen that you can hold like a clipboard or pad of paper and use without the need of a lap or table. And like all tablets, you can always attach a keyboard if you do want to use it more like a laptop computer.

So what do you think? Should Microsoft bring back the “Tablet PC” terminology? Will that help the tech press (as well as consumers) understand the difference between a tablet that runs Windows 8.1 and one that runs iOS?

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!