One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how to go about buying a Tablet PC. The question is usually posed by someone who feels they would benefit from a Tablet PC but since they have never owned one they want to make sure they consider everything before making the purchase. The Tablet PC is available in many form factors and I can understand why it is important to make the right choices prior to purchase time so the new Tablet will be sure and fit the needs of the user. I have been thinking about this question and thought it would be beneficial to lay out my thoughts on this interesting topic. This article is not intended to cover every Tablet PC on the market which is beyond the intended scope. There is an excellent Tablet PC comparison table on Tablet PC 2 which provides details specs (and photos) of most Tablet PCs available today and you should have a look at how they compare. Read on for insights into the decision making process.
The Tablet PC playing field
Tablets are available in several forms and sizes and consumers considering a Tablet PC purchase should understand them and take a look at how they anticipate using the Tablet. One of the first choices confronting a prospective purchaser is one of the most important. Tablet PCs come in three different basic forms, convertible, slate and hybrid. The convertible Tablet is essentially a typical notebook computer with one major difference: the screen contains an active digitizer and swivels around to cover the keyboard. This provides the best of both worlds, a true laptop when your computing task is more conventional, and a slate for using with the pen. The true slate Tablet PC has no integrated keyboard, it is just a screen for using with the pen. Slates have all the guts of a PC tucked away under the screen and are usually a bit smaller and lighter than the equivalent convertible model. The hybrid is an unusual combination of the two as it consists of a slate Tablet but with a removable keyboard. This means you can attach the keyboard and have a "convertible" for those times when you need one but still be able to detach it and leave it behind. Many users of hybrids like the HP TC1100 swear by this form factor as it is much smaller and lighter than other Tablets.
Toshiba Convertible; Motion Slate; HP Hybrid (slate and keyboard attached)
Another important consideration in the purchase process is to determine what screen size and resolution will best fit your needs. Tablets come with screens from 10.4" all the way up to 14.1" and you should think about those options very carefully as the proper decision will go a long way to provide your happy use of the new Tablet. A lot of Tablets currently offer 1024 x 768 resolution displays regardless of the actual screen size. There are now a few exceptions to this rule with higher resolution Tablets available and more being released all the time, so if your primary use requires a lot of information displayed on the screen at once then definitely consider one of the higher resolution Tablets.
Most slate Tablet PCs have an optional docking solution available which makes it much easier to use the slate as your primary computer. It is definitely worth a good look at one if you go the slate route as a lot of Tablet owners end up using their Tablet as their main PC. You will not regret the decision to spring extra for the docking station. Convertible owners may not find a docking station much of a necessity since they are basically laptops, although they are available if you find you need one. Most hybrid owners I’ve talked to end up getting a docking station at some point for the additional utility. Remember that you can get the docking station later if you decide after using your Tablet that it will provide some benefit to you, so there is no pressing need to get one at the same time as you buy your Tablet PC.
An important thing to consider in a Tablet PC is the size and weight of the device. You want to make sure the Tablet you choose will be one that you will be happy with as you use it every day. Tablets run from the small and light, typically around 3 pounds, to the large and heavy. Big Tablets with a 14.1" screen can weigh as much as 4.5 – 5 pounds and you should think about how you will use it to determine if that is a problem for you. We’ll cover different work styles and how they enter into the weight decision later in the article. One thing that is a safe bet, if you hate lugging your 4 – 5 pound laptop around now, you will not be happy with a Tablet PC that is just as heavy.
Some mobile professionals consider battery life to be extremely important to them and if that fits your description then you should have a look at the Electrovaya Scribbler series of Tablet PCs. Electrovaya is famous for their long life batteries and the Scribblers can get as much as 8 hours on a single charge. In any event I usually recommend that all Tablet owners get a second battery which is easy to swap on the go. This is usually sufficient for most mobile workers.
Price is always a big factor when making a major purchase like a Tablet PC and fortunately you can find them at a wide range of prices. We are beginning to see manufacturers offer lower priced Tablets so you should be able to find the right device at the right price. While it is true that Tablets are usually higher priced than notebook computers it is important to remember that Tablets are actually super-sets of notebooks. They offer more features and greater utility so it is not really fair to expect the prices to be the same as similarly equipped laptops. I have recently seen top notch Tablets on sale for as little as $1300 so the advice here is shop around.
Assess your work style
Now that we are familiar with the types of Tablets that are available the important consideration needs to be how it will be used by the individual. The first thing to think about is what percentage of your day is spent behind a desk or at a workstation type of setting. If you spend the majority of your time sitting at a desk and only some of the time out and about then you fit what I call the "slightly mobile lifestyle". If you spend more of your time on the go, either traveling or otherwise not at your desk in your office, then you are a "highly mobile lifestyle" kind of person. I find that almost everyone fits one of these descriptions in today’s world since very few people never leave their desk. Once you determine which of these descriptions applies to you then you should consider what you think your primary use of a Tablet will be. If you plan on doing something that requires entering special keys a lot, like programming, then you will almost certainly want a convertible so you have access to a keyboard at all times. If you travel a lot and want to use the Tablet on planes then a slate form is very desirable since there is never enough room on those little trays to use a laptop. Think about how you anticipate spending most of your time with the Tablet and then mull over the different form factors before making your decision. If you think you will be using the Tablet outdoors than you want to make sure you get one with a "view anywhere" type of display, as not all Tablets display well in bright sunlight. Common sense is the rule of the day in this stage of the purchase consideration.
The Slightly Mobile owner
Those of you who fit in this category of user would be well served by a convertible Tablet. Since you spend most of your time at a desk you will likely find having the keyboard a great benefit. You can also consider some of the larger Tablet PCs since your lack of mobility makes size and weight less of a factor than it might be for others. The important thing to remember is you can always swivel the screen around and use the slate when you need to.
The Highly Mobile owner
I fit firmly into this category since I spend most of my work day away from a desk. If this describes you then you might find one of the smaller slate Tablet PCs more to your liking. I find that keeping the weight down makes it much easier for me to carry the Tablet throughout the work day and it really pays off when traveling. I do a lot of writing even when on the move and while an attached keyboard would be nice at times I prefer to forgo the weight whenever possible. I just bring a portable keyboard with me for those times and it stays in my gadget bag when I do not need it. Battery life is usually more important to this type of worker and most of the longer life batteries are offered on slates.
Road warriors fit firmly in this category of user and may find a hybrid Tablet PC the perfect fit. You can use them as true slates, and since they have a smaller screen they are very light and mobile. It is simple to attach the keyboard when you need one so you have at your option the best of both worlds. It is up to you if you take the keyboard or not so it’s a very flexible option for those "on the move" work days.
So which one should I buy?
One thing I have tried to demonstrate in this article is how different people are in their needs and the way that they work. That’s why it is so important to consider all of the things mentioned in this article before purchasing your first Tablet PC. Hopefully you now have enough information to make an informed decision that will result in a Tablet PC that fits your particular situation and complements the way you work. One thing I know for certain, once you get your Tablet PC you will find you use it more than any other type of computer you have owned in the past. Adapting a Tablet PC into your daily routine and work pattern is quite liberating and you will find that you not only use it more than you anticipated but you will be constantly coming up with new uses for your Tablet that you never realized.