Talk to me about tablets

My laptop is, after nearly six years of good-to-middling service, tottering along on its last legs. I’m thinking that at this point it makes the most sense for me to pick up a tablet instead of a full laptop, but I don’t really know what to look at.

What’s out there right now, that isn’t an iPad? (I’m considering that too, but A: I’m a PC user and B: my brother worked on the iPad, so if I need proselytizing and/or information, all I have to do is walk down the street.) What do you recommend? What do you recommend I stay away from?

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0 Responses to “Talk to me about tablets”

  1. akirlu

    My sweetie has thus far been quite happy with his Google Nexus 7 which he’s had since Christmas.

  2. attackfish

    I’ve been using a gateway netbook, and I’ve fallen in love (and not just because it was an open box item, and on sale, and so cost me only $110) It has a full keyboard (warning, my hands are small, so the keyboard is a good size for me, but might not be for you) and it has a lot of the size and convenience of a tablet, with nearly all the functionality of a standard PC, a little slower than a notebook or desktop, a little less memory, but 6 hours of battery life, and it weighs just over a pound, so…

  3. wshaffer

    If you’re going to be doing a lot of typing on it, consider getting a netbook rather than a tablet. It’s likely to be cheaper, and you get a real keyboard. (Having said that, Daniel does a fair bit of writing with his iPad and a bluetooth keyboard, but he seems to be a bit of an outlier.)

    I’ve seen a couple of the Google Nexus devices in use, and they look great. I’d probably seriously look at one if I were in the market for a tablet.
    Samsung makes a tablet as well.

    There’s also the Microsoft Surface, which on the one hand, seems to have underwhelmed people, and looks kinda pricey. On the other hand, if maximum compatibility with your Windows-based desktop applications is a concern, it might be a good way to go.

    • maladaptive

      I’ve seen a lot of people with ipad + keyboard combos, but I am a lawyer so we may just all be outliers.

      • wshaffer

        Actually, from what you and others have said, it seems like the software/hardware may have improved enough to make it viable. I still see a lot more netbooks and laptops in my workplace, but that might be because people are using other software that doesn’t have a good tablet equivalent. (Stuff like programming IDEs and drawing software.)

  4. sillylilly_bird

    I’m thrilled with my Samsung Galaxy 2 tablet. I have the 7 inch, so if you’re going to do much typing, you might want the 10″ and/or a blue-tooth keyboard. It all depends on how you plan on using it.

    • swords_and_pens

      My wife has one of these combos and uses it at medical conferences and the like. She seems very pleased with it. Me, I have an iPad & bluetooth keyboard, so blah, blah, blah, Apple, Apple, Apple. As for OS, you’ll likely either be on the iOS or Android (unless you go with the Surface), so you’ll be having to use apps that talk to PCs and can convert document formats regardless.

      If you aren’t as worried about the table component, or want to use it more like a PC (multiple applications, etc.) then a netbook or ultrabook may be a better option.

  5. sandmantv

    We use a first generation ipad and are very happy with it. Just a plug for going cheap, even if you go apple (also we are a window household when it comes to our laptops).

    I didn’t chime in to give advice you specifically asked not to get, but rather to give some related advice:

    For laptops for the past 8 years my wife and I have taken a “cheap laptop, high turnover” route. We buy them for $300 to $400, make sure they have the minimum requirements to do what we want (streaming video and warcraft), and then don’t feel guilty at all when we want to replace them in 1.5 to 2 years. Over time this is really cheaper than spending thousands of dollars on a laptop that lasts 4-6 years, and means we spend considerably less time with old or breaking laptops (and is much less of a shock when things like “I break my laptop screen” happen).
    Sites like and almost always have laptops in that range up. Or just follow Dell for their occasional “all our laptops are 75%” deals.

    I’ve bought about 10 laptops this way between the two of us, and I’m much more satisfied with this path then when I was hanging onto my $2000 hp for way too long.

    Gchat me if you want specific recommendations, like requirements, pricepoints, or even links to specific deals I’d recommend.

    • Marie Brennan

      Ah, but I went the route of spending less than a thousand dollars and using it for 4-6 years. 🙂 I don’t play any games on my laptop more processor-intensive than mahjong and Steam’s King’s Quest pack, so I don’t have to shell out for things like a good video card. I buy something simple but robust.

  6. kathleenfoucart

    I have a Galaxy Tab (the 7″) but I got it as a Reader replacement, not a laptop replacement. If you’re planning on doing a good deal of writing on it, I don’t know what I’d recommend, because I haven’t really liked any of the writing apps I’ve tried just for *reading* manuscripts, let alone attempting to do any serious writing. I use my iPhone for random notes & things, but I’m really not liking a tablet for anything but reading apps. It just doesn’t have the functionality as a laptop replacement for what I personally use a laptop for, but it depends on what you’re looking for it to do, I guess.

    • kathleenfoucart

      Although, I will admit, I haven’t tried the spendier office-ish apps yet, just the free versions, so paying for a better app might make all the difference. *shrug*

  7. icedrake

    Depends — hugely! — on your mode of work.

    I have an Asus Eee (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!) Pad Transformer Infinity. Or, for the non-marketoid-speakers among us, the TF700. It has the benefit of coming with a dock that has a pair of full-size USB ports and a second battery, giving me an overall battery life of something like 12-16 hours.

    That said, I dearly miss the ability to have to windows side by side, or to very rapidly switch between tasks. When I’m transcribing audio, I need to be able to see the time stamp and to rewind at will. I can’t do that under Android. Of course that’s a problem with any and all tablets out today (with the exception of some custom roms, which I haven’t dared to investigate yet).

    The only other issues are: The underpowered speakers in the tablet (and no, the dock doesn’t have a set built in) and the infuriatingly non-customizable touchpad with its touch-to-click distractions. The first time you accidentally select a bunch of text and type over it will be one time too many, trust me.

    That said, the touchpad is easily disabled — there’s even a dedicated button to do that right on the dock. I find that I never need to re-enable the touchpad, either. Directly poking at the screen has worked fine for me.

    But the thing is, those two caveats above are the *only* issues I have with the device. Docked with the keyboard, it’s a netbook with unrivaled battery life. Since it also runs a much more lightweight OS than any Microsoft attempt at a netbook Windows build, it’s much more responsive than any netbook I’ve ever had dealings with. Oh, and it also comes with both a MicroSD and a full sized SD slots, two USB ports, and an HDMI port. Detached, it’s a top-of-the-line tablet with performance and display resolution comparable to the latest iPad. It also has IPS+, which is supposed to make the screen readable in direct, bright sunlight. I haven’t tested it because frankly, I haven’t needed to. Turned to full brightness, it’s perfectly readable in sunlight even without IPS+.

    I’d definitely buy the thing again.

  8. Anonymous

    (I wanted to comment over at dreamwidth, but the comment form there renders as incomprehensible garbage on this machine [Linux running Chromium.)

    I’ve had a few different models of netbooks over the years–an MSI Wind (though that brand is long defunct) and an HP. I was quite happy with both of them, as both were quite performant enough for surfing the web and simple writing. (Note that though these devices came with Windows, I installed Ubuntu Linux on both of them.) Between those two devices I wrote two novels and a whole pile of short stories, so I can attest that they’re big enough for comfortable typing, yet still portable enough to easily carry wherever you’re going. I found that I couldn’t comfortably type on anything smaller than a 13″ netbook, though. If your hands are very small you might get away with the next size down, but you’ll probably still have trouble adapting your fingers to the narrower range of movement.

    I also have an iPad and a Windows Surface RT. I like both of them quite a bit, though they encourage different usage patterns. The iPad feels like an entertainment device, good solely for gaming, watching videos, and the like. I don’t really even like surfing the web on it. The Windows Surface feels more like an actual laptop shrunk down to tablet size, and I use it for reading the internet, writing (short) emails, as well as gaming and entertainment. Its screen has much higher density than my (older) iPad, meaning that it’s superior for Netflix, Hulu, and the like. The little clicky keyboard is somewhat nice, too, though it’s still not really suitable for long-form writing.

    The main downside of the Surface at this point is that it’s relatively pricey and doesn’t have the breadth of available apps that the other platforms do.

  9. difrancis

    I have an iPad that was given to me by my job a few weeks ago. So I don’t have much to contribute, except that I can’t imagine doing any real writing on a tablet, though I have found that i use the notetaking stuff quite a bit, and some of the aps have come in handy, though there would be good aps for all platforms, one would think.

    But I’m just checking in on the question of tablet operating systems. (Watch me be clueless now). Aren’t some based on Android software and then the Surface on Windows? Are others based on Windows? I’m personally curious about that. Especially the Android software and what it offers.

  10. jmpava

    We both use iPads (and we don’t use Macs, fwiw) so I don’t have too much to add there besides saying that we kinda got them as fun novelty things and then use/take them EVERYWHERE which we totally didn’t expect. And there hasn’t been anything I’ve wanted to do with it that I haven’t been able to, so very happy with them. But I’ll pass the proselytizing on those since you are well covered (just don’t worry about the mac/pc issue there).

    That said, I would also add to those above who mentioned netbooks. Cora got the pink eePC (you may have seen me taking notes on it?) 2-3 years ago and it’s still going strong. The battery lasts forever and it is super lightweight. It’s also of the ‘buy cheap and not worry so much if things go wrong with it’ school – it was quite a bit cheaper then the iPad, for example. She has a ‘real’ laptop too that she uses for modern games, but she only travels with the eeper (and the ipad) and does pretty much all her writing on it. If your goal is something for writing/usefulnes/portability rather then specifically a tablet, I’d look at that.

    • coraa

      I have been very happy with my Asus eeePC. (I also have an iPad which I really like, but I much prefer the netbook for any typing more than a paragraph or so.) I think it cost around $300 with tax and shipping at the time. I bought it in mid-2011 and it’s going strong.

      It’s very minimal in terms of memory/processor, but for the things I want on the go (Internet/browser, e-mail, and a word processor, essentially) it does beautifully. And it’s quite light, between two and a half and three pounds, so between the comparative low cost and lightness it’s something I’m comfortable putting in a backpack or shoulder bag and hauling around with me.

      EDIT: I should say that the reason I say ‘going strong’ from mid-2011 is not that I don’t expect a computer to last more than a year and a half, but because I’ve been abusing this poor thing by dragging it around in backpacks and generally being hard on it and it has held up admirably.

      • jmpava

        It’s true, she is generally death to laptops. I continue to be amazed this one has held up so well.

  11. maladaptive

    It’s pretty viable, from what I’ve seen.

    I still use my netbook because it has more processing power and I like having multiple applications open at once/side by side, but netbooks have pretty much abandoned the under 10″ market. I like my 10.2″ HP but that’s for travel, it’s too big to put in my purse, and if I need a bigger bag anyway, why not bring along the Mac? Well aside from the fact that it was over $1,000 and the HP was $250….

  12. Anonymous

    I’d reverse this inquiry.

    Figure out what software you can live with for what you want to do with it, and that will focus the hardware search. For example, if this is a machine that absolutely positively must be completely compatible with Microsoft Office’s change-tracking system — so that you can, say, deal with an electronically provided copyedit while on the road — that’s going to require you to use a machine for which Office or LibreOffice are available (other software may come on the market, but there isn’t any now that doesn’t introduce artifacts into change tracking). If there are particular favority games that you’re going to need to run in an airport when you’re away from reliable power and internet connections, make sure that’s in your specification.

    All of that said, both of my kids have done writing-intensive (and non-English intensive) work on Samsung netbooks for several years. I can’t speak to the current models, but they’re reliable, upgradeable (especially with the batteries), and quite rugged. If you do buy a netbook, strongly consider upgrading to a bigger battery right away — it’s only slightly more annoying in terms of total size, it actually raises the keyboard to a better typing angle, and you’ll still have the factory “standard” battery as a backup.

    If the form-factor is a major issue, a Lenovo ultrabook may be an option, too. If it’s weight that you’re concerned with, you’ll have to find a tablet that works, though — ultrabooks aren’t as light as they’re touted to be, at least not in a working form.

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