In our introduction to tablet PCs, we talked about why you should consider buying one instead of a laptop, or a standard tablet. We’re going to expand upon that in greater detail to help you make the best buying decision.
The tablet PC is really the best of both worlds: it combines the design and functionality of a laptop, but once the convertible screen swivels around, it becomes a tablet – sensitive touchscreen and all.
Overall, the dimensions and weights of the systems we reviewed are about average for a smaller laptop. Most are 12.1 inches wide and between an inch and 1.5 inches thick when closed. They weigh between three and five pounds, so they could be considered a little on the bulky side with the heavier units. One unit is 10.1 inches, another is 13.3 inches.
All of the tablet PCs we reviewed feature full-blown versions of Windows 7, even on the small, netbook-like viliv S10 Blade. However, if you wish to pay for a “downgrade” to Windows XP, it’s available for most systems.
There aren’t any limits on processor types, either. Most of the units available feature the latest Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. One unit we looked at, the Fujitsu T4410, has an Intel Core 2 Duo, and the S10 Blade has an Intel Atom processor, which is ideal for its small size. Plus graphics, RAM, hard drive capacity and other features are competitive with great laptops.
When in tablet mode, these units respond well to touch, feature a virtual keyboard and most of the units have multitouch, for two finger scrolling and pinching to zoom. You can hold the unit in a landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) view, the latter of which is especially nice for reading eBooks.
By far, the laptop conquers the tablet PC and tablet. While the tablet PC can feature many of the same tech specs, the laptop can trounce it in overall screen size and, in some cases, graphics, sound quality and other tech specs. The “lowly” tablet can’t touch the laptop in most categories, except of course the touchscreen.
If you have a killer laptop, why would you want a tablet or tablet PC? For one thing, reading eBooks on a laptop isn’t nearly as satisfying. Being able to lie in bed and hold a tablet in your lap and read is just more comfortable. Watching movies is more fun, as are some videos games that use the touchscreen. And the touchscreen and multitouch features are sometimes better than using a mouse and keyboard. Besides, most folks with laptops will want a tablet, too.
A standard tablet computer, like the excellent Apple iPad, is usually smaller than a Tablet PC. Obviously there is no physical keyboard, but there are units such as Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock, so if you’re doing some serious writing it won’t be a problem.
The operating system is usually a “stripped-down” version, like the Apple iOS or Windows 7 Starter Edition. There’s nothing wrong with that, but using more robust apps requires full versions of Mac OS X or Windows 7 (or earlier).
Tech specs are also limited, such as slower processors, less RAM, smaller hard drives and graphics that are decent, but not great. This way they keep costs down (the iPad starts at $499), the unit's thin, light to carry, and the overall power consumption and heat output are low.
Those limits on the operating system, screen size and tech specs will pretty much force a tablet owner to have a more powerful laptop or desktop, adding to the overall bottom line. You just can’t get the kind of higher-end software (think Adobe Photoshop or Apple Final Cut Pro) or great video games to work well, or at all, on a regular tablet.
But it’s great to be able to use the touchscreen and multitouch features, virtual keyboard and more. That’s the big advantage of using a tablet. Once you start using an iPad or other tablet, the computer experience seems to become more personal.
The tablet PC’s design and tech specs truly make this the ultimate great buy: you get the functionality and speed of both a laptop and a tablet. You’re not lugging around two different computers on trips, which could be the case; you’re not dealing with two units. You also need to include the costs of ownership and repair. You have one unit that can do both. Now if only Apple would release a MacBook/iPad tablet PC running a full version of Mac OS X, we’d be very happy.