Testing time for tablets

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By Matt Bentley

What do you know about tablets? You might know they’re touchscreen, so you don’t need a mouse or keyboard.

You might know that they’re low-power, so they tend to stay on for a long time. What you might not know is that they’re running essentially the same operating systems as your phone. They’re essentially big phones. Without a phone in them. That means they have the same disadvantages as phones, such as:

  • Typing on them is a pain without an attachable keyboard.
  • They get easily damaged.
  • Eventually the batteries deteriorate and they stop being usable as a result.

They’re disposable devices with a comparatively short lifespan compared to regular computers, but they have their advantages. Going overseas, you might not want a big laptop to hulk around but still need a small device to go to websites etc. Some people find that easier to do on a tablet instead of a phone due to their larger size. But what are the alternatives?

What do you need to know about tablets? [Photo: Yura Fresh – Unsplash]

Let me introduce you to the concept of a ‘netbook’. These were reasonably popular before tablets took over the market but they still exist, albeit no-one seems to call them netbooks anymore.

Essentially just a regular laptop in a smaller form, netbooks generally have a screen size of about 11 inches – about what you’d expect from a largish tablet. But unlike a tablet, they have a regular hard drive plus a mouse and touchpad, meaning that they’re easier to fix later on when the hard drive inevitably dies, and easier to use overall. They will run Windows, meaning you can install all your usual programs on there. And often they’re touchscreen nowadays, so you can use them similarly to a tablet. Their advantages are that they’re more durable, faster, and easier to use. The disadvantages are that the battery won’t last as long as it would on a comparably-sized tablet.

In between these two concepts is the Chromebook, which is popular for use in schools, due to being cheap and having a simple interface. They’re basically tablets but with a keyboard/touchpad and typically without a touchscreen. They’re also fairly disposable; the hard drives in them tend to be cheap eMMC drives – basically an SD card, which tends to last about 3 years of heavy use. These are soldered to the motherboard so they can’t be replaced. I don’t recommend them.

Another thing to avoid is the Microsoft ‘Surface’ devices – they’re touchscreen laptops, and they take micro-usb chargers like tablets – but once the batteries start to fail, you’ll find the charger can’t both charge the computer and allow it to run at the same time. In summary, if you don’t want a large laptop to lug around, but you’re comfortable with battery life of maybe 9-11 hours, find a smaller laptop, also known as a ‘netbook’. If you need a longer timeframe between charges, and/or prefer a phone OS to Windows, get a tablet.

  • Matt Bentley is the computer repair guy at Bentley Home PC Support. Contact Matt on info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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