tablets and laptops

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.