An American Editor

July 25, 2011

To Tablet or Not to Tablet: The Conundrum

All the world’s been taken by the tablet. Each week brings a new tablet to compete with the original Apple iPad. When it was just the Apple iPad, I had no problem answering the question, “Should I buy a tablet?” For me, the answer was clear — no.

My “no” came about for various reasons, not least of which is that I really dislike Steve Jobs telling me what compromises I have to make. For me, the lure of the PC/Microsoft world has always been that, with the exception of the operating system, I have choices — and lots of them. The result has been that over the years I have had my computers custom built locally. If I wanted a faster but smaller hard drive, I could have it; if I wanted extra memory, I could have it; if I wanted a different type of mouse, I could have it; if I wanted a different keyboard, I could have it. Unless I bought from a company like Dell, I could dictate what components my computer was built with and which software I wanted loaded. None of this could I do with Apple.

So in the beginning my answer to the question of whether to tablet or not was an easy “no.” Besides, what would I do with the tablet?

That’s the real kicker and what I wonder about with all of the millions of tablets already purchased. What exactly is it that a tablet would bring to me, aside from separating money from my wallet, that isn’t already provided by my desktop and laptop and could be provided by a smartphone if I had one?

I work all day on a computer; it is the tool that helps me earn my living. Consequently, I have a computer that has been customized to fit the work I do and the way I work. For example, I have three 24-inch LCD monitors with rotating screens. Consequently, I don’t need a tablet to get my daily work done; no way would a 10-inch tablet replace three 24-inch monitors (or even my 15-inch laptop screen).

What about when I need to meet with a client or when I am giving away my secrets at a conference? I have a 5/6-year-old laptop that has all of my work programs on it, can access all of my e-mail accounts, and lets me pop-in a DVD to watch a movie should I need to kill a lot of time travelling. Other than having a smaller, nonrotatable screen (15-inch landscape rather than 24-inch rotating) and fewer screens (one instead of three), my laptop is essentially a clone of my workstation.

What my laptop isn’t, which the tablets are, is lightweight (it’s about 5 lbs. vs. less than 2 lbs. for the tablet) and it lacks touchscreen capability. But then the tablets lack a DVD drive and many lack USB ports and bluetooth technology, which are found on my laptop.

So here I struggle thinking perhaps I should break down and buy the Samsung Galaxy Tablet. After all, I can get it at $100 off (until July 30), which is a 20% discount. I’ve seen the ads for the Galaxy and it sure looks good. But what would I do with the device? As it is, my laptop sits in the corner and is booted up only a few times a year. But my laptop can do more for me than any tablet currently can.

I do know someone who bought a tablet and loves it. But when I asked him how it stacks up to his older laptop, it is like I burst his bubble of enthusiasm with a pinprick. What he keeps pointing to are the “cool” factor, the weight difference, and how much he loves the touchscreen. Not a word about how the tablet actually helps him accomplish anything.

I guess I have a more utilitarian view about things now that I am getting closer to retirement. I know that 25 years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about plunking down money for something just because it intrigued me or because it was “cool.” But age does change one’s thinking and now I need to justify (albeit to myself) spending $500+ on a device that I have no real need for. I didn’t hesitate to spend $300 on my Sony 950 Reader, but then I knew I would spend hours reading ebooks on it; but what would I do with a tablet?

I’m stuck in that rut of wondering what it is I would do with a tablet were I to buy one. For the most part, if you own a smartphone, you have a miniature tablet. Buying a tablet would simply duplicate what your smartphone already does for you. So I ask: To tablet or not to tablet? I think I’ll continue to wait. I much prefer the $500 to be in my pocket than in someone else’s. There is always tomorrow.


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