For many of you around the world, the holiday shopping season is upon you and due to their size and weight, you may be considering purchasing a tablet for your traveling loved one (or self). Tablets have been increasing in power and options over the last 18 months but can they completely replace a laptop for you on the road? There are advantages to traveling with both, still, in terms of a total replacement, there are a few important caveats to keep in mind before ditching a full-fledged screen and keyboard.
Your Programs Will Be Limited By Apps
Most of the major tablets on the market right now (Windows Surface, iPad, Nook HD, Google Nexus 7) and their respective operating systems (Windows RT, iOS, Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and Android 3.0) have apps that can comfortably replace many of the laptop programs you’re likely to use. Web browsing, email management, and media consumption (e.g. watching movies) are all very intuitive on tablets. The larger 7-inch variety also make short-form typing easy enough, despite the lack of tactile feedback from physical keys.
However, common computer-laptop tasks like serious document editing (not to mention video and photo preparation) are limiting on tablets because of inadequate apps, screen size, and lack of a mouse for better cursor control. You should also keep in mind that unless you go through the effort of jailbreaking or rooting your tablet, you’re generally going to be limited to their app environment. So a great iPad app may not be available for Android or Windows RT… so on and so forth.
Repairs And Upgrades Are More Expensive; Harder To Find Outside Of The Developed World
For the most part, tablets are fairly hardy gadgets – as is the general rule of the universe – the less complex something is, the less there is to go wrong with it. (A lack of moving parts is also a huge part of that equation.) Yet things can and do go wrong, and if you’re not in a major, developed, city somewhere in the world, the chance of you getting it repaired is next to zero percent. Also, you’re bound to the tablet hardware, unlike a laptop, most tablets don’t make memory or processor upgrades feasible. Although some tablets do have data storage expansion slots for microSD cards, generally speaking, you can’t extend the lifespan of a tablet with upgrades like you can most laptops and netbooks.
Tablets Can’t Replace Laptops Yet But Might Not Need To For You
There isn’t a single tablet on the market right now that can replace a laptop and honestly, probably never will be in their current form; simply because they’re physically limited in several key ways. Those limitations however are their strongest assets – reducing their size – making them ideal travel companions if you don’t need a laptop replacement. Checking emails, surfing the Internet, booking travel reservations (some of the best flight search engines make the best tablet apps), and catching up on the latest episodes of Dexter are convenient on tablets. Not to mention your sore back – in case your bags need to go on a holiday diet.
Those of you traveling longer term (more than 3-6 months at a time), working from the road for a company back home, or want expansion room should look into some of my best laptops of 2012. Though the time may come when fully-developed, laptop-replacing, operating systems are available on tablets sometime in 2013 or early 2014, we’re not there quite yet.
And for the love of all that is good, if you think you’re going to write, no, really write on your tablet, get yourself a bluetooth keyboard. Trust me on that. I have one that my ipad fits into, and it makes all the difference (for writing). But bloggers on WordPress beware, the photo uploaders are java and flash, which Ipad doesn’t do. booo.
Important for both screen space and sanity 😉
Anil, You’re on the travel trail all over the world and probably meet many other travelers. Are there any travelers that travel without any gadgets of any kind anymore? If there are, do you consider them extremely handicapped? Is relating with other humans one-on-one a thing of the past?
I know you use them as part of your business of staying on the road. As I won’t require an income while traveling, the only “gadget” I plan to have with me is a camera. The more expensive stuff you carry around with you, the more time you spend protecting yourself from getting ripped off. Boy, there’s trade-offs in everything! And, I guess I’m just ignoring the “Fun Factor” too.
Not many – and mostly because of the uses they provide. Telephone, camera, and those they might not own like GPS as well. I think ultimately technology increases communication between people however.
I have 2 businesses and work as a Virtual Assistant (specialising in Social Media) and a CV Writer. So what I need to do when I travel is check emails, access Social Media, use Skype and write Word Documents. I’m a UK resident so we don’t have Google Voice yet but I do need to have consultations with CV clients which are best done via Skype if I can’t meet them face to face.
So a tablet wouldn’t do these jobs for me I’m guessing. I’ve looked at your Best Laptops of 2012 – which one of those do you think would be most suitable? I don’t want an Apple product, I need a light laptop, and I don’t want to spend a fortune as I don’t travel that often – not a Digital Nomad, just a Digital Flitter!
Articles like this are just what I need personally; I don’t need to know all about other countries, but I do need to know how to stay tech-savvy whilst travelling in Europe for short periods of time.
Thanks for your help in advance!
Any of the net or ultrabooks should be good choices for you 🙂 Let me know what you end up with!
I’d choose laptop over tablets.. uhm, as always. Though it totally depends on your needs, as for me, I sometimes edit my photos first before uploading them, also like you said, for documentations and it’s easier for me to type on keyboards than tapping on screens.. or it’s just me?
I think most people would agree on the keyboards. I don’t know too many who prefer screen typing.
I’m not yet a convert to tablets. I just don’t really know what they do that my laptop and iPhone do not – I can’t properly type on them, people look stupid when they take photos with them… what are they other than a glorified photo viewer?
In my case I use an iPad as a backup/emergency computer in case my laptop dies and my Nook Tablet is for reading…
Interesting stuff. I would assume that both (laptop + tablet) are getting better/smaller/lighter so that either/or will be sufficient for most travellers. I guess to each his own and what everyone needs it for. Definitely the laptop has advantages in power/keyboard while the tablet is a cheaper option.
Yes, although it does depend on your needs. If you edit photos for example, a tablet-only won’t cut it.
I am getting a Surface soon and I wish I had had it with me on my 2-week trip through NZ. I agree with you the longer you travel, the more likely you are to need a laptop and the tablet won’t replace it but rather complement it. But for my 2-week trip, I would have loved the smaller size, less weight, and generally the handiness.
You’ve probably got your Surface now, hope you’re enjoying it!
Great points there. While I truly believe that tablets (phablets and mobile smartphones included) offer plenty of conveniences, in the long run it’s not the best choice particularly for those who work while traveling. I do my work mostly online and I need a laptop for most of the time. Once I went without one for a few days and I missed a lot of opportunities because of my limited device. The great thing is there’s plenty of lightweight laptops that can do the job. Might just have to shell out a bit but prices are getting more affordable too.
Bottomline, it definitely depends on your needs and preferences.
Your last sentence really is at the heart of the question.
I purchased an acer aspire one 722 11 inch ultrabook. i bough it at walmart for about $225. i spent $25 bucks and upgraded memory from2 to 4 GB. In my opinion more bang for the buck than a tablet. It’s a little slow but certainly a good value for $225. Spend another 100 bucks and you could get a faster acer model.
Thanks for sharing, I enjoy hearing the specs of what fellow travelers are carrying!
I prefer tablet as i always avoid too many items in my luggage. Actually it does depend on your needs. Web surfing and email checking will be enough for me.
Then tablet it is for you 🙂
I am in the middle of deciding whether to do my next trip with tablet only, or with both. I have a transformer tablet, which is kinda neat as it combines the tablet and dock into a light laptop. It’s indeed not for heavy tasks, but managing a few wordpress blogs, a forum and a few social sites is easy this way.
I am not sold yet, so I am going to check out the list with laptops too. I already have that tablet, but my current laptop is so outdated. It has the same weight as a 17″ laptop, but only packs a 13″ screen :). Also, it is failing on me and I am afraid it will not last that long anymore in my backpack next time.
Also, the issue of not being able to have you tablet repaired is mainly important for people that are on the road for long stretches of time. In my case I travel for a few weeks each time, and then return back home. I always make sure to bring along enough $ to be able to replace stuff. In countries where they might not be able to repair a tablet, you might not want to be walking around with a tablet…:)