It’s all about the tablets

iPad2-vs-Xoom The buzz about tablets has gradually grown into a roar, and with all the noise it’s hard to get past the specs and back to the simple questions. Rather than do a review of what’s the best tablet, I opted to focus on several simple questions this week.

What is a tablet?

When most people think tablet they think iPad, but a huge debate exists in what makes something a tablet. Microsoft vendors have been building tablet PCs for several years, some people classify e-readers as tablets, and others consider multimedia devices tablets. For this post, I’ll define tablets as iPads and competing devices, meaning:

  • The primary input for applications is touch-based
  • The device is portable and optimized for mobile use
  • Applications allow the device to serve several different needs
  • Apps are purchased, and delivered over the air

What is a tablet used for?

Tablets can serve a multitude of needs, but are optimized to comfortably consume data, with the primary draws being comfort and efficiency when consuming information. Unlike a laptop where you’re waiting for boot-up, and then inevitably burning your thighs as you read, a tablet provides an instant on experience and is truly portable. And, unlike your phone which has you squinting or scrolling endlessly, you can actually read the tablet and it feels natural. It’s a perfect fit right in the middle that makes information consumption not just tolerable but enjoyable.

What should I buy? A tablet or laptop?

When forced to choose one I’ll simply side with the laptop. The truth is, each device serves a different need and while the functions overlap they have different primary functions. Laptops are semi-portable and are built with information creation as a primary feature. As I stated above, tablets are built primarily for information consumption. While it’s possible to both create and consume information on either device, you’ll be happier having both.

What should I buy?

If you’re going to take the plunge, you’re going to want to make sure you select the right device for you. For me this is easy as I always opt for the iPad or iPad 2. It’s not the hardware, software, or even the price, it’s simply because it’s the platform I’m invested in. If you’re an Andriod user I’d suggest you check out the competing devices like the Xoom before you fragment your mobile devices.

Unless you have a huge number of movies or want to carry a large music collection the larger sizes won’t be a huge benefit to you. Tablets are cloud devices and the majority of content will be stored online on the device. Don’t be afraid to buy smaller devices, especially if you get a great deal or are just entering the tablet environment.

What are some of the gotchas?

Using a tablet can create some interesting challenges, especially if you use it as your only device. Here are some issues you might want to consider:

  • Typing can take some time to get used to, you can master it, but depending on how you type it might take some time. If you create a lot for content consider an external keyboard.
  • No red-line editing or tracking changes. This can be a deal breaker for several professionals. Editing on tablets isn’t impossible but it requires some serious changes in behavior. For a quick and dirty solution try a program like iAnnotate.
  • Remote connectivity to, or remote control of a PC. Yes it works but it’s not nearly as fluid as you might expect. Don’t think you’re going to use remote sessions for regular amounts of everyday work.
  • Get used to the cloud and storing content online. Local transfer of information is a pain regardless of the device and space on a tablet is limited.

What are some of the goodies?

Using the tablet can create some cool new opportunities as well.

  • Instant on makes reviewing content and consuming information painless, and simple e-mail exchanges and social media updates become less intrusive.
  • Huge battery life make it great on the plane, weather you’re reviewing documents or watching a movie, 10 hours is a real estimate on battery life.
  • Get the apps you need when you need them. That’s right, there’s an app for that and with thousands to pick from you can turn your tablet into almost any type of device.
  • It’s a great way to take notes, several apps exist that allow you to sync audio recordings with your note taking.

Do you have a tablet? If so how do you use it, and what are some of your pointers for new users?