What is it with the current fad for "tablets"? And I don't mean pharmaceuticals either ... I'm referring to the world's insane desire to be both fashionable and connected, which has been fuelled by some extremely clever marketing strategies and has resulted in explosive sales of hand-held devices like the Apple iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab. It seems like everybody either has an iPad or wants one.
But how worthwhile are these things really? A tablet is not a mobile phone - with a ten inch screen it's simply too big. But it's too small to be a "real" computer, as anybody will know who actually uses a PC or Mac for work and not just for playing. To get any work done you need a decent-sized screen and a keyboard, otherwise the whole experience is frustrating and not productive. Modern tablets also have a fraction of the computing power and storage capacity of any entry-level laptop computer yet they cost two or three times as much! How is this possible? Have I missed a memo or something?
It seems to me that tablets fall comfortably between mobile phones and laptops, with none of the advantages and capabilities of either of them but with a price tag way above both. So why get one? To swell the coffers of Apple Computer, already the richest and most successful business venture in the history of planet Earth? To appear hip and trendy in coffee shops and at business meetings? [Aside : I go to many business meetings and often see people fiddling with their iPads, but I've yet to see anybody use one to show something of any value to the discussion at hand] Or simply because everybody else seems to have one?
But if a tablet is too big to be a phone and too small to be a computer, what is it exactly? The simple answer is that a tablet is a TOY - a very sophisticated, very powerful and outrageously overpriced toy, but a toy nonetheless. You can browse the internet, watch YouTube videos, send email, connect to people via Skype, post the usual inane drivel on Facebook and tweet your impressions (if you have any) on Twitter. Tablets have some other uses - storing photographs, looking at maps and so on, but that's about it. Ever tried to write and debug a program on an iPad? Or draft a business proposal? Or design a web page?
However, I do understand the need to be mobile and be able to work "on the go", and for this there is a much better solution - get a Netbook. A netbook is just a very small laptop - it is typically the same size as a ten-inch tablet, but it has a keyboard and runs exactly the same Operating System as your laptop or home computer does (Windows, Apple OSX or Linux, depending on preference). So all the software that you use on your home computer will run on your netbook in exactly the same way, meaning that you can do the same work ; the only difference is that the screen is small and the machine will probably be a bit slower. A netbook will also cost less than half of what you'd pay for a tablet, yet will be far more powerful. Sounds like a no-brainer to me ...
Netbooks are slightly thicker than tablets and weigh a little more, but that is a small price to pay for the power and flexibility you get with one. I'm enjoying mine (this blog entry was written on my netbook in a coffee shop in Franschhoek) and will be carrying it around China when I travel there in June 2012.