Once 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
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.
There’s no shortage of equipment allowing tablets to pass themselves off as laptops. Apple’s iPad and iPad 2 can both be equipped with cases that open up to reveal a small physical keyboard, and some Android tablets 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.
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.
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.
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 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.