Laptops Vs Tablets


The laptop’s status as the most essential business travel tool is under threat. For the past decade or so the laptop, which has gotten increasingly smaller and lighter, has been the ultimate workhorse for the travelling business person.

A portable computer with screen and keyboard, that is compact enough to use on an airplane, at a hotel and able to run presentations off. What more could you need?

Well, anyone who has lugged the average laptop (which weighs in at less than 2kgs), its charger and all the necessary cables (easily another kilogram or two) and several other chargers for cell phones and the like, will know that you need broad shoulders. Portable it may be, but light it isn’t.

When netbooks burst onto the scene three years ago, it seemed that the travel gods were smiling on us. Much more compact (with a 10in/25cm) screen, and weighing only a kilogram or so, the latest batch of these smaller laptops were lighter and more travel friendly. But they were lesser computers, with less memory, less storage and a less powerful processor.

But they were a travel boon and because they cost significantly less (on average between R4,000 and R5,000, depending on make and specifications), they were a handy second computer. Some even had 160GB or 240GB hard drives, which is decent enough storage.

But, like laptops, they had poor battery life. Some claimed as much as seven hours – as several manufacturers do with their lighter, business-orientated laptops – but realistically three hours is the average and you’ll be lucky to get four. All this depends on how many programmes you’re running.

Now there is more choice, since the newest entrant of portable computing reached our shores: tablet computers. Right now the choice is somewhat limited and Apple’s iPad remains the gold standard and, interestingly, the cheapest.

The iPad is a great device for consuming media (from video to music) and ideal for social media like Facebook and Twitter. The e-mail application is good, while the onscreen Qwerty keyboard is almost full-sized and good enough to type on.

Buying Apple’s Keynote application ($10), the equivalent of PowerPoint, and an add-on VGA dongle that lets you connect it to a screen or projector, means you can run your presentations off it too.

Word processing can be done with Apple’s Pages (like Word, also $10) or any number of similar, often cheaper applications in the iTunes App Store.

Best of all, is the brilliant battery life. The iPad offers 10 hours of battery life, with or without the wireless turned on.

As a result of the emergence of the tablet, travel habits have changed. By way of example, a much-travelled colleague of mine takes his laptop for serious work and his iPad for the plane, interviewing, and other lesser computing tasks. Cleverly, he uses a laptop/cabin luggage combination, so he never has to carry the bulging laptop bag of chargers, cables and connectors required. Luckily, most devices, including smartphones, now charge off the USB ports of laptops, so it reduces the number of chargers you need to cart around with you.

If you opt for a notebook, look at the more compact models. Apple makes a 13in/33cm MacBook and Pro; while Sony’s Vaios come in various screen sizes

Laptops, netbooks and tablets all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Laptops are the most powerful, stand-alone working devices with everything you need (including bigger hard drives, more processing power and a DVD optical drive). This means you can work anywhere and not compromise on anything. Bigger screens (there are 17-inch laptops for designers and gamers) mean more screen real estate. But with size comes weight – and a steeper price – and the bigger screen chews through the battery.

Netbooks are more compact, lighter and cheaper, but lack an optical drive (but these are seldom used for storage, now that USB sticks are so prevalent). They are good for typing, e-mailing and working with web-based services, but not ideal for processing video or working spreadsheets that require a larger screen.

They have better battery life and the weight difference is worth it alone.

Tablets are great for consuming media, checking e-mail, updating Facebook and Twitter, watching video and browsing the web. The larger 10in/25cm screens are OK for touch typing, but they are not great for copy editing or reworking spreadsheets. They are ideal for use on the plane though, especially for playing games or watching video.

The ultimate solution might be a combination of two devices, but that almost defeats the weigh-less, travel-with-less point. Consider the gauntlet thrown down to manufacturers. We like what you’ve done with tablets and the emergence of new technology. Now, come up with a tablet that ticks all the boxes above AND has the features of a serious mobile work tool. The business traveller is waiting…

The best portable devices

Business Laptop: Acer Timeline X
Thin doesn’t mean less with the Timeline X, which has a 14-inch/35.5cm screen, powerful processor and graphics and a decent six-hour battery life. From R10,000. 

Netbook: Samsung N230
The current top netbook, it has a smallish 10.1-inch/25.7cm screen, runs Windows 7 and claims a 10-hour battery life. It has a decent hard drive and slick styling. From R3,900. 

Compact but powerful: Sony Vaio Y Series
Sleek, fast and mobile, the Vaio has the power of a decent notebook, but the size of a netbook. It has an 11.6-inch/29.5cm screen, AMD dual-core E-350 processor, weighs 1.46kg and comes in bright colours. From R5,000. 

Tablet: Apple iPad
The gold standard of the tablet market and for the foreseeable future. It has a 9.7-inch/24.6cm screen, front- and read-facing cameras in the new iPad 2 and 10 hours of battery life. The wealth of applications makes it hard to beat. From R4,000. 

Android Tablet: Motorola Xoom
The only tablet running the new version of Android on sale at the moment (not in SA yet) is the 10-inch/25cm Xoom. Dual-core processors and the slick Android 3.0 interface, make it a contender with the iPad. 

Compact Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak
Both have 7-inch/ touchscreens and the advantage of being held in one hand. They run Android (albeit older versions and not the 3.0 version designed for tablets) and can function as mobile phones. From R5,500

Three battery-saving tips

* Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth while you’re on the plane or whenever you don’t need it.
* Shut down applications you’re not using while flying.
* Dim your screen brightness. This is the biggest power drain.

Charles Boffard