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tablet no keyboardsOnce the love of all geeks, laptops are now defending their turf against smaller, lighter tablets that provide excellent battery life. While it’s not clear if tablets are the cause, laptops have seen their sales stall out recently after many years of growth.

Yet in spite of their position as the new gadget wonder-child, some tablets try to be more like their older brethren by offering a physical keyboard. Is this emulation a good idea, or are tablets reaching too far?

Solving The Input Problem

tablet no keyboards

Big, bold touchscreen displays are awesome for content consumption and can be great for certain apps, but they’re generally not great for content creation. This is particularly true of writing. Pounding out even a few hundred words on a tablet can be annoying.

While most people aren’t writers, many people need to type for both professional and personal reasons, and this may put tablets at a disadvantage. The only solution to this is the inclusion of a physical keyboard.

no keyboard tablets

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There’s no shortage of equipment allowing tablets to pass themselves off as laptops. Apple’s iPad and iPad 2 Set Up Your iPad: Detailed Look at General Settings Set Up Your iPad: Detailed Look at General Settings Read More can both be equipped with cases that open up to reveal a small physical keyboard, and some Android tablets 5 Things To Consider Before Buying A Tablet PC 5 Things To Consider Before Buying A Tablet PC Read More can also be outfitted in this way.

Keyboard docks are another option, and some tablets are designed specifically for use with them. The Eee Pad Transformer is just the tip of the iceberg; many companies have plans to release tablets with similar docks or a keyboard that slides out from the tablet itself.

Size Matters

Just slap a keyboard on it and you’ll fix the interface problem, right? It’ll be just like a laptop!

Not so fast. Laptops are larger computers with displays measuring between 12 and 18 inches, so tablets are too small to hang with that crowd. There’s a different label slapped on small computers with displays around 10 inches – the netbook 5 Killer Optimization Apps To Maximize Your Netbook's Potential 5 Killer Optimization Apps To Maximize Your Netbook's Potential Read More .

no keyboard tablets

Perhaps this seems like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction to make. Consumer satisfaction surveys indicate that netbooks haven’t always lived up to their expectations. Often, buyers find that the keyboard is uncomfortably small and performance not up to par. Most netbook buyers expect them to work more or less like a notebook, and are disappointed with the limitations.

Tablets aren’t netbooks, but once a keyboard is added to a tablet, the comparison is as obvious as it is unfavorable. Placing a set of keys on a tablet bestows it with every disadvantage of a netbook.

But At Least Tablets Are Portable – Right?

Portability is one reason for the popularity of tablets. While netbooks are certainly small, tablets are on a different level. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is an excellent example. By itself, the tablet weighs just 1.5 pounds and only .5 inches thick, making it much lighter and smaller than any laptop.

tablet no keyboards

Once a keyboard is added however, the equation begins to change. The dock tacks on another 1.4 pounds and adds an additional 1.1 inches of thickness. Suddenly the ultra-thin tablet is just as chunky as a netbook, yet it can’t run Windows compatible How To Create Windows-Compatible ISO Disc Images on Mac OS X How To Create Windows-Compatible ISO Disc Images on Mac OS X Read More programs and will instead have to rely on mobile apps.

Battery life is still in favor of the tablet, but that benefit is tempered by price. The Eee Pad Transformer with dock is $550, making it over $200 more expensive than most 10.1″ netbooks.

Just Say No

Tablet keyboards are alluring. This is no doubt why the Eee Pad Transformer has soared off store shelves despite a nearly invisible marketing campaign.

My advice however, is to avoid them. There is already a solution for people who need a small, highly portable computer, and it’s called a netbook. Adding a keyboard to a tablet will put its size and weight close to that of a netbook, yet you’ll end up paying much more.

Battery life is the only advantage a netbook can’t replicate, but many Atom netbooks can manage eight hours away from a socket, which is plenty for most users. If that’s not enough, purchase a second battery. You’ll still be spending less.

What do you think?  Are you with the pro-keyboard crowd or the anti-keyboard crowd?  Let us know how you feel and why in the comments.

  1. Ashraf H Shourafa
    August 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    what's wrong with an optional keyboard that you are not forced to buy it ????... I don't want windows compatible software, but I still need keyboard, I'm not a writer, but there is noway that touch screen can replace a keyboard for me, that's why I was curious that my android mobile should have a built in keyboard. 

    • Aibek
      August 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

      If I am not mistaken there are Android phones with a built-in keyboard. Some Droid models from Motorola for example.

  2. Mark Anthony Cianfrani
    August 21, 2011 at 12:54 am

    I've also been struggling with an anwser to this dilemma. I'll be completely honest, I now have no problem with touch typing. At first I was highly considering a bluetooth keyboard for my tablet but as you mentioned, I realized this just defeats the whole purpose of even having a tablet.

    My solution was to take the plunge and see if there wad any 'proper' way to type on the iPad glass screen. I found that all it takes is a little time to 'relearn' the interface since it's slightly smaller than the physical keybord that I am used to. It just takes some time and practice until you begin to acquire that unconcious muscle memory. I remember how awkward learning to type in the first place was.

    Sure, I'm still not perfect at touch typing and my Words Per Minute are significantly lower (averaging 50 wpm on the iPad) but after putting in the time, I'm more than satisfied.

    The problem of having those physical keys that respond to your touch is certainly an issue but one that I am recently overcoming. I've also read of some pretty interesting patents that involving piezo electronics and haptic feedback that will greatly improve this issue.

    All in all, I highly recommend simply relearning everything you knew about typing. It had brought so much more value in productivity to my tablet.

  3. JPD
    August 20, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Wow, how black and white.  Sure, maybe in your
    opinion, and what you demand of a keyboard it is all those things:
    unpleasant, unnecessary...  There are other people out there with wants and needs that differ greatly from your own.  I own a transformer and keyboard and love the convenience, portability and freedom it offers.

    I'm a sysadmin and I travel a lot - I'm from Portland as well but I'm
    currently in Thailand.  I pack the keyboard in my bag and carry the
    transformer itself around for all the benefits a tablet offers.  I pull
    out the keyboard if I have to write a bunch of emails or if I have to
    ssh into one of my systems or if I'm almost out of juice and there's no
    outlet to plug into.

    I'm not doing full app development on it, or freelance writing so the
    keyboard size is not nearly as important and I don't have the virtual
    keyboard covering half my screen while I'm trying to work.  If I lived
    in your world I'd have to carry the tablet and a full laptop which would
    be more to pack around and much more expensive than the
    transformer and keyboard.

    • M.S. Smith
      August 22, 2011 at 6:47 am

      What are you doing while walking around with your tablet that you can't do on a smartphone? Does your smartphone not have service in Thailand? I realize that can be an issue while traveling, so perhaps that would add some value to a tablet with a keyboard...but you have to admit, that's quite a niche.

  4. Fondy44
    August 19, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Based on my own experience with an iPad:
    Typing in portrait requires long thumbs. Typing in landscape just about requires something to prop the tablet up against. Neither solution is ideal but it beats waiting 10 minutes for the PC to boot and download/install updates from Microsoft and Adobe. Also, I'm not tethered to a power cord or having to make sure I'm within close proximity to one.
    Many of the keyboard cases and stands I've seen don't seem very lap-friendly. Okay for a desk or coffee table, but not so great in a recliner.
    The main advantage I see with a tablet is the freedom to leave the charger at home - something I learned not to try twice with a laptop.

    • Sunjik Lee
      October 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      I'm not sure what decade you're living in, but let me tell you the flaws of your extremely outdated argument. 

      1. downloading updates does not take any of your time, you just have to hit "OK". I dont see the problem. You can also decide not to update, but that's pretty stupid.
      2. Computers do NOT take 10 minutes to boot. Have you used a modern computer? Not to mention these days most laptop users simply put it to sleep, especially mac users (since they don't have the option to NOT put it into sleep when closing the lid). Not to mention SSDs are now an affordable option on laptops; cold boot takes less than a minute, hell less than 30 seconds if you don't install a massive amount of startup programs. As well, waking from sleep these days is almost instant (maybe 2-3 seconds wait time - negligible).3. Laptop battery has improved tenfold. Seen the Thinkpad X220? +10 hours battery, more if you get an expanded battery option. 4. Speaking of options, you actually have them with computers/laptops. Bigger harddrives, expandable memory, etc. You don't have to sell your device to upgrade specs by getting a new device.So again, if you're going to make a point about something, make sure its actually viable to modern times.

  5. M.S. Smith
    August 19, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Obviously, I'm not arguing that the keyboard option makes the Eee PC Transformer a tablet a less attractive tablet. What I'm arguing is that the keyboard is unpleasant, unnecessary and actually runs counter to some of the reasons you'd want to buy a tablet in the first place. 

    • Stephen Rice
      August 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      It's also pretty expensive.

      • DP
        August 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm

        With the keyboard it is the same price as a Galaxy or Ipad2. I bought it as a touchscreen tablet with also capabilities to expand to a full keyboard, not as a netbook with touchscreen capabilities. I think it's priced just right.

  6. Anonymous
    August 19, 2011 at 12:14 am

    you failed to mention, although asus could have put a usb port on the transformer, they keyboard comes with a couple, plus an extra battery that charges the eee transformers internal battery and powers it when its dead (which is great if you dont have a plugin handy!) and if you are writing somthing using the office app, it is a bit more convient to type on a physical keyboard for long periods of time as opposed to an on screen keyboard

    • Stephen Rice
      August 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      If you go down the "it is a bit more convenient" road far enough you end up having to justify why you don't hire a secretary to type something for you.

      It just seems to highlight that there's some things you might as well stick to doing on a laptop.

  7. Jack
    August 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I think that tablets shouldn't have a specific keyboard attached to them, but the keyboard cases are very useful since you will need a case anyway. Also I do not think A tablets purpose is for heavy content creation. I do believe that eventually computers will be highly portable and powerful like a tablet.

  8. Chase Vandiver
    August 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Im gonna have to disagree too.

    • Mark O'Neill
      August 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Why?

  9. Kunal Prakash
    August 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    First a disclaimer: I do not own a tablet or a netbook. All I have is a 15" laptop and 3.5" android phone. So what I think is what I believe rather than experience.
    I think that keyboard is actually beneficial if we consider that a person need not always do the creating and consumption together. For example, I am at home and need to blog about something I can just use the app. of the tablet along with a keyboard. And if I want to go somewhere, a cafe or market for a small period of time or just read a book lying down on my bed (I do this with my android phone right now) I can detach and just take the tablet.

    Also, if I am going to some other city (I am a student and frequently travel between my college and home in different cities) I can pack keyboard in a big bag and carry tablet in carry bag.

    These are some of the uses I can think as a user which a netbook can not provide.
    Please do tell me what you think about this. :)

    • M.S. Smith
      August 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm

      This might work if the tablet keyboard was large enough to use comfortably. But it's not. And because of how small tablets have to be, it never will be.

      I tried to write on the Eee Pad Transformer. I really did. I gave up because the experience was too uncomfortable and frustrating. While performance and software improvements will enhance the expierence, there's no getting around the size issue.

      • pablo
        August 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

        So you say that a keyboard is uncomfortable, thus no keyboard is better??

  10. Christian Demsar
    August 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    eee pad slider is what we should wait for

  11. mesasr
    August 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    optional keyboard(also some ports and extra battery) is never a problem, you can remove it when not necessary, sit on the couch and video chat for example, while doing the same with netbook its way more uncomfortable to hold the device, so in my opinion the tranformer's concept wins in any case when only portability matters, the only problem is the added price of course(which in this case, is actually extra $100 if you buy the keyboard at the same time with transformer), but extra flexibility cant be free as well
    on the other hand "yet it can’t run Windows compatible programs and will instead have to rely on mobile apps."
    this is the main reason I will not buy a tablet now,they are just expensive tempting toys, but Windows 8 might change that and thats what I am waiting and hoping for: x86 based win8 transformer - a true tablet and a true netbook when needed(and a really good one at that with probably 15 or so hours of battery life)
    however right now most people dont even consider doing serious work on a tablet(even web browsing on the iPad particularly is limited) and thats why they most likely dont need a keyboard

    • Christian Demsar
      August 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      Unless you only browse flash web sites.  Other than that it is better than surfing on a desktop.

      • mesasr
        August 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm

        well, my point is that as much as Jobs says we are in post PC world, its really hard if not impossible to rely entirely on his tablet's browser for someone spending at least 2-3 hours a day surfing the web, todays iPad is not even capable of delivering that, not to mention actual productivity

  12. AppleFUD
    August 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Couldn't disagree more! Love the Asus Transformer and I expect to see even larger tablets with similar form factors-- ~12" screens. For many. . .  well, 90% of consumers, a mobile OS is powerful enough to do everything they need. . . if given the proper equipment that will allow them to use it as a multifunctional device instead of a consumption device designed to make apple more money.

  13. HildyJ
    August 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I have to agree with you. People who are attempting to use a phone OS tablet as a laptop replacement will ultimately run into the limitations that make such a tablet great for couch surfing and abysmal for editing a spreadsheet. Still, there is a developing alternative for content creators - the Windows tablet. I have an HP Slate and, while it does not have the responsiveness or the battery life of a phone OS tablet, it does run MS Office, Acrobat Pro, and a full browser that supports the various web conferencing add-ons. Plus, as far as input, it has the Windows Tablet Input Panel which has a handwriting recognition engine that I think is one of Microsoft's best pieces of software.

    • James Bruce
      August 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      You do realise that windows tablets existed 5 years ago? I know for a fact, I had one. It sucked then and it will suck now. Or do you believe Apple has done so well to introduce the world to the concept of a tablet that Microsoft is now safe to try launching them again?

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