A Computing Question Most Consumers Will Face: Advice on Buying a Tablet, laptop or Desktop

Tablet computers have evolved beyond the novelty stage.   About 10% of U.S. adults now have a tablet computer, 57% have a laptop and 55% have a desktop.  We were drawn to consider a tablet computer by three themes; downsized gear for easier travel, a better backup storage solution and the advantages of a book reader.  At first it appeared the decision could revolve on value for the money.  But we realized there are both opportunities and pitfalls beyond cash.

I use a 17.3” Toshiba laptop – heavy but wide enough to edit two documents at once.  My wife uses an iPad-1.  The computers work with our Wi-Fi setup and printers.  Any new device should add new capabilities without being isolated.

  • Like many consumers we are shedding our physical books.  Once those books stood in elegant book cases and were a prized possession.  Now they are just “superior wall covering.”  Content from the Internet has cut back on our book acquisitions.  Donations have depleted our library.  A few books remain that we keep for sentimental reasons.  But regularly, new books surface that we want to read, and our experience with the iPad proved that book readers work well.  We’d like another reader.
  • We fear losing important electronic documents (tax files, investment records, letters, articles, music, photos).  Our Seagate storage device works manually but it will not do automatic backups.  Cloud storage may be better and if it works for all our devices, it will be a welcomed bridge between devices.
  • We would like our devices to be compatible.  Although Apple excels in design elegance, Microsoft / PC usually beat it on value.  The only practical way of transferring data from our laptop into the iPad has been via email, since the iPad has no USB, Ethernet, or CD/DVD reader for large volumes of data.   When I say this to Apple enthusiasts, they retort that a Mac has the missing parts (starting at $1000, it certainly should!).

Aside from adding capabilities, the tablet must support our routine work and it should play nicely with related equipment we have.

  • We browse the Internet, mostly seeking text and PDF files.  We are not avid music, magazine, book or video buyers.  We create and edit text.  We create and copy data into Excel, torture it with formulae then format and paste selections into a work product.   We use Word’s advanced features.  The tablet will need to work robustly with Excel and Word files.
  • We also use Quick Books and TurboTax files imbedded with our data going back many years.   We would like to use those on the tablet.  It would be best if our laser and inkjet printers and a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth setup work with the new device.

The candidates.  Advertising pointed us to the Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet and iPad 2.   We also included the Samsung Galaxy 8.9, and a few “Netbooks.”  Six months from now, we’d also be looking at “Ultrabooks,” a slim but full-capability successor to netbooks.  What follows relies on the online User Guides, specifications, and retailer’s assertions.  The challenge is to reduce the list to a few “best candidates.”  Hands-on testing and price haggling would then follow.

Getting Personal Data from Outside

Office Suite

Cloud

Operating System

iPad2

iCloud, email

Apple Pages, Numbers

iCloud

custom Android

Kindle Fire

email

no

purported

custom Android

Nook tablet

micro SD, email

no

purported

custom Android

Samsung Galaxy 8.9 Tab

USB

Polaris +

3rd party

Android

Gateway Netbook

USB

Microsoft

3rd party

Windows

Acer Netbook

USB

Microsoft

3rd party

Windows

Sony VIAO Laptop

USB, CD/DVD

Microsoft

3rd party

Windows

 

Accommodating an office suite.  It became clear that Nook and Kindle support no office suite on their butchered Android operating systems.  We could perform a “hack” that upgrades to a full version of Android enabling the Kindle and Nook to run Office Suite Pro or Polaris Office, but that would trash any technical support from Amazon and Barnes and Noble who intentionally hobbled Android’s functionality on their devices.  The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet were designed for entertainment, not for general computing tasks.

The Galaxy has Polaris Office pre-installed.  The iPad2 supports Apple Pages and Apple Numbers (equivalent to Microsoft’s Word and Excel).  The three Windows-PC style netbooks run Microsoft Office.   Quick Books and Turbo Tax files work on any PC, and they support apps for iPad.  QuickBooks has an Android app, but there’s yet no full TurboTax for Android.

Ability to transfer personal data in and out.  The Kindle Fire offers no pathway other than email for moving personal data in and out of the device.  Books or music purchased from Amazon can be downloaded to the Kindle repeatedly or stored there semi-permanently.  Leaving your purchases at Amazon and downloading them only when needed is what Amazon refers to as its ‘Cloud” service, brazen exaggeration.  The Nook behaves similarly with email and its own “Cloud,” but it also allows transferring personal data via a $17 micro SD card, a big advantage over the Kindle.  The iPad can be fed personal data via email or through Apple’s iCloud, a storage facility for any data.

The Samsung Galaxy 8.9 and the three PC Netbooks (Gateway, Acer, and Sony) have USBs for transferring high volumes of user data.  The Sony Laptop also offers both USB and CD/DVD transfers.  The three Netbooks can run “Kindle for the PC” book-reader software.  The Galaxy can run “Kindle for Android.”  iPad runs iBooks so all the devices can be used to “read books.”   It is doubtful that iBooks works for PCs.

Thinning the herd.  Kindle and Nook fail at supporting an office suite.  Kindle fails at transferring personal data.  Nook and iPad are weak at personal data transfer, but the iCloud supplement for iPad cures its lame data transfer (if our other devices can access iCloud) and offers security.

 

RAM/ ROM (GB)

Hard Drive GB

Approx Price

Screen (Diag.)

Gateway Netbook

1

250

$230

10.1

Acer Netbook

1

320

$280

10.1

Samsung Galaxy 8.9

16

0

$400

8.9

iPad2

16

0

$499

9.7

Sony VIAO Laptop

2

320

$499

11.2

 

Apple says the iCloud can be used on PCs if you install the iCloud Control Panel and have an Apple ID (we have one for our iPad1 and iPhone).  iCloud would address the backup storage needs for the 20GB+ of personal data we have, and would probably cost $40/year regardless of which device we installed it on.  I should trial-run this claim on our Toshiba laptop before choosing to buy an iPad.  The Galaxy is a doubtful fit with iCloud, but it and PCs should fit other cloud storage services, e.g. GoDaddy.com at $28/year for 20GB.

Of tablet computers that could meet our needs, the Gateway notebook is the lowest in cost.  The Sony VIAO Laptop is the most robust at twice the price.  These Netbooks would need a Microsoft Office subscription at $119.  The Apple iPad2 has the office components cost $20, but those would cost $119 for PCs.  The Galaxy is a possibility, but we are leery of buying due to our lack of experience with the Android operating system.

 

Approx Base Price

Annual Cloud

Office Suite

Total

Gateway Netbook

$230

$28

$119

$377

iPad2

499

40

20

559

Sony VIAO Laptop

499

28

119

646

 

The Gateway and iPad2 are the best candidates for me to investigate further.  Consumers who analyze their own needs and options may reach different results.

 

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida.  He follows public policy from the consumer’s perspective. For a printable version of the blog, click here –Tablet quest 010312 AFD.

 

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