Tablet PC vs. Traditional PC - Which one to buy?

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Tablet PC vs. Traditional PC - Which one to buy?

This is a really great question or contest. So, first let’s define the two contenders. We’ll consider a notebook, or laptop, as the traditional PC. (The contest between laptop and desktop has already been had and for most users, the laptop seems to have come out on top.)  And as to the tablet, let’s consider only the 10 inch variety. Currently, tablets are available in two sizes, 7 and 10 inches, but as a replacement for a notebook (with screen sized between 14 and 17 inches), a 10 inch tablet seems to be the only real contender. Actually, we could even consider a smartphone as a very small tablet, but in this contest, size counts.

If you need a quick answer to the question, that answer might be: if you are only going to “consume” data, then the tablet will work fine; but if you intend to “produce” data, then the laptop with its keyboard and large hard drive is the better choice. Consuming data implies playing music, showing pictures, watching videos, checking email, light game playing, and maybe minimal web surfing. Producing data is more like creating well formatted text documents, developing spreadsheets, editing pictures and videos, creating lengthy emails, heavy game playing, and spending a good deal of time navigating the internet.

Tablets are similar to notebooks in many ways, because they are both built for mobility. They both are small and light weight (especially the newer Ultrabooks), and they both are battery powered. But that’s about where the similarities end and the differences begin. Tablets have no moving parts, no hard drive or optical (CD/DVD) drive; whereas notebooks typically have a  hard drive and an optical drive. Tablets, with their smaller screens, are typically smaller and thinner than laptops. Tablets, typically, do not have a keyboard or a mouse; data input comes from touching the display screen.  (Today’s improved touchscreens employ a capacitive effect, which responds to fingers, as opposed to yesterday’s touchscreens, that used a resistive effect, and required a stylus for operation.)  Laptops and tablets both have USB connections. However, on the Laptop the USB is used to connect peripheral devices, but on the tablet the USB is used to connect the tablet to a laptop (or desktop) as a peripheral device. Laptops and tablets both have video output connections. Typically, on the tablet the connection will be a micro-HDMI connector, while on the laptop it will be probably be either VGA or HDMI.

Today’s tablets use a different Operating System than traditional computers, although this may change with the advent of Windows 8, which is being advertised as able to run on tablets and traditional computers. Windows 8 is scheduled to be released October 26th, so for today, practically speaking, the choices for Operating System are iOS from Apple, and Android from Google. iOS will be found on all Apple iPad tablets (and iPhones), and Android will be found on all Android style tablets, from manufacturers such as Motorola, LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, HTC, Acer, etc.

Advantages and disadvantages of tablets vs. traditional computers are highly subjective. An “advantage” that appeals to one user may be exactly what disappoints another, but here are some commonly cited advantages and disadvantages. Some of the tablet’s advantages may be: smaller size, lower weight, lower power usage, and the use of the touch environment. While some of the tablet’s disadvantages may be: smaller screen size, and slower input speed due to the use of the touch environment.

The Touch environment is a basic difference, until Touch comes to the laptop. Touch on a tablet is similar to the mouse environment on a traditional computer. If one is familiar with using a mouse, the Touch motions needed for computer input are very intuitive. A Tap on a touchscreen is similar to a click on a mouse. A “Touch and Hold” on a touchscreen is similar to a Double-click using a mouse. Drag and Drop is done with a finger on a touchscreen similar to that done with a mouse. A “Finger Scroll” on a touchscreen is similar to a Mouse scroll with a scroll bar on a computer screen. A Pinch (using two fingers), on a touchscreen is similar to a Zoom on a computer screen. As far as text data input goes, typically, a virtual keyboard is presented on the touchscreen whenever text data entry is required. The virtual keyboard is large enough to be comfortable on a 10 inch screen, but it lacks mechanical movement and feedback. (Typically there is audible feedback and some provide haptic feedback, which is a brief, gentle vibration.)

So, after you’ve seen the obvious size, weight, and cost differences and appreciate the different input techniques, it all comes down to what you want to accomplish with this piece of technology. After all, you’re buying this device to accomplish something, aren’t you?  Or, is this just another toy?

Assuming it is not just another toy, then let’s look at what it might be used for. A tablet is ideal for showing pictures to your family and friends, listening to your favorite music, and watching relatively short videos, like Youtube videos. (Probably best to leave the full length movies for your big screen TV in the living room). (When it comes to listening to music, the smaller the device the better, because listening to music doesn’t require much of a display, so an MP3 player (iPod) is probably the best device for listening to music; but if you have a laptop or tablet around it can certainly do the job.)  A tablet is also good for casual internet access where there is a minimum of data entry and easy web page navigation. A tablet is fine for getting your email, as long as you don’t have to create any lengthy replies. A tablet is great for quickly checking into your social networking sites to keep up with your family and friends, as long as you intend to leave only short messages. (A tablet would probably not be good for you if you intend to “blog” a lot.)

For those familiar with the Windows File and Folder organization, a laptop with Windows provides a familiar interface. The tablet’s interface is similar but not the same. There is no “Windows Explorer” that is common to all the tablets, although there are some good file management Apps available. So, file management is easier on a laptop, making it a better choice if you are going to create and organize many files, be they text, pictures, or videos. The laptop is probably a better choice if you intend to do anything that requires a lot of data entry (keyboarding) such as preparing lengthy spreadsheets. The laptop is better for producing slideshows combining pictures and videos, or creating any digital video. (In fact, video projects are probably better performed on a desktop where you have a larger display screen, lots of hard drive space, a very fast processor and a lot of memory.)

Networking can be a major consideration. If you have a home network, the laptop (running Windows) will be able to become a Workgroup or Homegroup member and it will be able to transfer files to and from the other network members, once the proper sharing parameters and permissions are set up. The tablet (running Android or iOS) will not be able to participate in the home network without a good amount of effort and special Apps running on the tablet. So if you intend to share files on the network, the laptop would probably be a better choice.

Even after you appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of each, specifically to you, and you have struggled with all the differences, it is still a difficult decision. So, maybe it is not really a contest at all, but rather just a separation of capabilities, needs and/or desires. There are probably many good reasons for having both. It is just a matter of what you want to accomplish and how soon you can justify the additional cost of having both. (Good luck with that justification and decision.)  Have both and leave the tablet on the coffee table for easy access and bring out the laptop only when needed.

Phil Sorrentino, Member, Sarasota PCUG, FL

October 2012 issue, PC Monitor

www.spcug.org