Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do you need a tablet?

Seemingly out of nowhere, the idea of tablet computing has exploded in the marketplace. Mobile computing, multi-device syncing, apps, mobile media, and any number of cool new activities are now possible. They are possible for the low, low price of $500-$700.

Everyone sees the commercials. Watching a video on the porch. Reading an e-book on the train. Using the camera to see and talk with a distant family member.
Galaxy Tab, Zoom, Playbook, the unstoppable iPad. They come with 10” touchscreens, two cameras, and a thousand apps that do everything from playing movies to keeping track of your diet. They may even tie your shoes (Ok, they can’t tie your shoes. No opposable thumbs....yet).

I don’t want to delve in to the world of comparing each product and discussing which one wins the day. I would rather focus on whether you need it to begin with. Is the must-have gadget for the Christmas season really the gadget that you must have for Tuesdays in April right before the budget meeting?

The most important thing, to me, is “will the tablet do something I need?” Does it actually fit in to your life? However, the caveat to that is, do I already have something that can fill that role? If you already have the piece that provides a solution, do you really want to just end up carrying more devices? This thought process can be seen in the declining sales of MP3 players. Nearly everyone has a phone that can double as an MP3 player, so why carry around two devices when I just need one?

  • What do I want to be able to do?
  • Where do I want to be able to do “it”?
  • What am I prepared to pay?
  • Do I already own a device that I can use?
  • How often am I missing the functionality?

Each of the above questions should be evaluated when considering if a tablet PC is really for you. It can also be important to look at these categories with business and casual in mind. And, the answers will be unique to each person leading to a different conclusion.

It is important to understand and investigate when and where the tablet would fit in to a person’s normal day. A good bit of advice is to spend an evaluation period determining when and where the tablet would fit in to your life. Can you find an event (say, once or twice a week) that would be improved or made successful through the use of a tablet?

At the same time, it is also important to realize what your current devices may be able to accomplish. Current smart phones can watch Netflix, play music, browse the web, check Facebook, on top of such antiquated actions like making phone calls. Current laptops replace the business computer (at work, at home, and at the coffee shop) while also providing a platform for presentations, home theater, and boring every day word processing.

It is assumed that tablet PCs would fill some combination of the above functions. They will not be making phone calls or being used to type a term paper, but the countless abilities in both casual and business settings can be limitless.

In the end, I recommend two things. First, spend some time trying to place the device in your daily life without attempting to force the new gadget in to your schedule and budget. Second, review the below chart to make sure you aren't missing out on readily available devices.


  1. Very well written post, Jason, and thanks for taking the time to identify work habits that may lead one to buying a tablet. There are many who buy a tablet thinking it will be the panacea to all of their business needs and wind up seriously disappointed.
    You wisely decided not to go into a comparison of each product, as that would easily fill an e-book. I wanted to provide a slightly different perspective while honoring your decision, because the article is perfect - it's the graphic to which I take exception. Showing the ubiquitous iPad up against a Netbook easily reveals the discrepancies, and also demonstrates why I anxiously awaited the release of the Toshiba Thrive and bought it on launch day.
    Were you to post the same graphic using the Thrive rather than the iPad, the response would change to every item except Physical Keyboard (a wireless option is available), and Multi-Tasking. I'd be willing to debate the Widescreen part, given the aspect ratio, and I'd have to add a comparison of each machine's weight and the increased hassle of trying to take notes on a clamshell notebook when a table isn't readily available. With the SD slot and the external hard drive I already carry, I can take my Thrive tablet from the built-in 32GB to 320GB in a heartbeat.
    I freely admit that I'm one who would read your article and have my desire for a tablet validated. I would also caution that, while the Toshiba would win my vote over every tablet out there, and the ever-increasing use of the cloud makes storage less of an issue, I never went in with the expectation that it would replace my laptop. The tablet makes my life significantly easier, except for when working on spreadsheets and doing research requiring me to copy information from one window into a note in another window. It will be a LONG time before the tablet can replace a Netbook for the average user, in the meantime it's an incredible asset in my mobile lifestyle.

  2. For those who might be interested in the Toshiba Thrive mentioned in the above comment. See for a thorough review by Engadget to see what makes it the choice for @techieagent