Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tech Column: The Smaller Tablet Computer Wins

by Bill Adler

The smaller tablet computer is the way to go.

I wanted to offer up my conclusion first, so that you didn't have to slog through paragraphs to read those words. If all you want to know is "how do I choose between a smaller and larger tablet computer?" then that's all you need to read. But I do have a few more details:

For many months, I was deluding myself about my iPad, and tablet computers in general. I mistakenly believed that a full-sized tablet computer, the 10-inch varietal, could be my one and only travel device (apart from my phone, which has become a body part), and that it could do everything that my laptop does. I was wrong. While a tablet is a fun travel companion --it doesn't get carsick, doesn't require bathroom stops, is always happy to share the New York Times or play Words With Friends-- it's limiting.

I found myself longing for a laptop on longer voyages. I tried, I really tried, but using a tablet's on-screen keyboard isn't as fast or as accurate as using a real keyboard. Sure, there are Bluetooth keyboards aplenty, but now you're talking about carrying along another device, so that particular Pandora's box has been opened. And even the most capable Bluetooth keyboard can't do everything that a trackpad can do.

During iPad-only trips, I found myself lusting after true multi-tasking. I missed a full-featured browser, with all its extensions and add-ons. I missed the ability to switch quickly between browser tabs. I missed my USB port.

I know, I'm pathetic.

But you know what? All those articles that were written in the early tablet days, about how tablets are designed for consuming information --reading, watching movies, Facebook stalking, playing games-- it's all true. Tablets are really, really, good for that. Often they suck as work machines.

If you find that your tablet isn't a good worker bee, there's no shame in admitting that. If you hate carrying a laptop, but find that you really have to, you're not alone.

Which brings me back to the main event: If a large tablet isn't the perfect traveling companion, then why not ditch it in favor of a smaller tablet, the 7-inch kind? A smaller tablet is lighter, thinner, easier to hold. It's better for reading books in bed. Easier to hold makes it feel faster; it feels more connected to your body. A mini-tablet is comfortable to carry around from room to room or place to place, making it more likely that you will actually take it with you. A smaller tablet looks less dorky for taking photos than holding a full-sized tablet (if you must use a tablet for photography.) 

A mini-tablet is not as good for watching movies because of the smaller screen, and on-screen typing can be more difficult, but those disadvantages are consumed by the advantages of a lighter, smaller device.

What I'm saying is that the ideal tech travel setup might be a mini-tablet, a laptop (I like the new Chromebook), and, of course, the smartphone that's superglued to our hands. If you really need a laptop when you for travel, then take a laptop. Just leave the larger, heavier tablet behind in favor of a lightweight one.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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