For a few years now I’ve been watching tablets develop into ever more potent machines, with an eye towards making the jump from a laptop to a slate for my mobile workstation. Sure, people have been working on iPads for years, but until recently it’s always seemed like a bit of a hack to me.
But between a legion of slimmed-down, powered-up Windows tablets hitting the streets and the increasing performance of the iPad, the day may soon come when I officially make the leap. And PCWorld senior editor Mark Hachman has already embraced the Surface Pro 3 for work and for play.
If you’ve been thinking about making the switch too, here’s a look at three features to keep top of mind when pondering the jump from a clamshell to a tablet.
What’s your platform?
The first thing you must decide on is which platform you want to use on your tablet: Android, iOS, or Windows. This comes down to a mix of personal choice and what you need your new mobile workstation to do. If all you need is Microsoft Office, for example, then a Windows tablet would suit you best—although the Office apps are also on the iPad if you have an Office 365 subscription. (Android tablet versions are not yet available.)
But if you work mostly in the cloud with Google Apps or something similar, then your choices get much wider since all you need is a modern browser.
At this point you can start to look at the app catalogs for each platforms to see what appeals to you.
But don’t forget about the power of the Windows desktop over mobile apps. If you’re buying an Intel-based tablet like the new 13-inch Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with Windows, you can get the convenience of the traditional desktop OS as well as Microsoft’s new touch interface. Only Windows 8 tablets can run desktop PC programs, though they aren't touch-optimized like Windows Store apps or the apps available for Android or iOS.
Try that keyboard, and maybe a mouse?
If you think the on-screen keyboard is going to be good enough for productivity you’re kidding yourself. The fact is you’ll need some kind of physical keyboard to get some serious work done.
Tablets like the Surface Pro 3 and the aforementioned Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 both work with optional keyboard covers, for example. If at all possible you should try out these kinds of keyboards before you buy to make sure they’ll work for you. A wide variety of third-party keyboard accessories with a far-reaching range of features are also available for iPads and Android tablets, however.
Also, if you’re going to need a mouse for your tablet, then you’re looking at a Windows slate.
All about storage
So now you’ve got your tablet picked out and the keyboard works, but what are you going to do about file storage? Do you even need additional storage? All tablets come with at least 16GB of storage and if you’re going for a Windows tablet then you’re often looking at about 64GB minimum, though some newer ultra-low-cost Windows tablets have only 32GB.
If you need more than that, then it’s time to look at pricier step-up models with increased onboard storage, or tablets with SD card slots so you can store your less frequently used files on a small external drive.
Alternatively, tablets are a natural candidate for cloud storage where you can upload, download, and stream files at will. Microsoft recently announced that OneDrive would soon offer unlimited storage to Office 365 subscribers. With Office 365 Personal subscriptions priced at $70 a year that means you get full access to Microsoft Office on one PC plus one iPad or Windows tablet and all the cloud storage you could possibly need. Microsoft’s new unlimited cloud offering is still rolling out, so at first you may be stuck with just a measly 1 TB of storage, the current standard for Office 365 subscribers.
If you need access to your music library you could also augment OneDrive with Google’s free Play Music storage locker that lets you put up to 20,000 songs in the cloud for free. Both Google Drive and Dropbox have recently slashed the price of their cloud storage services, offering 1TB of Internet-based storage for $10 per month. Relying on cloud storage means you'll need a consistent Internet connection, however.
Those are just the basics for the laptop-to-tablet switch. Windows tablet users may also want to consider the number and type of USB ports, and if you do a lot presentations then Lenovo’s Android flavor of the Yoga Tablet 2 and its built-in pico projector may be just the tablet you need.