While I was writing my review for hovernote the other day, I alluded to a point that I’ve been mulling over ever since Android Tablets came out: Can they fully replace laptops yet? This is, of course, a matter of opinion, but I’ll tackle it from a few different perspectives, focusing on the entertainment/media side of things. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be taking an Asus Transformer (as seen below) as my Android reference, and Windows-based laptops will be the comparison.
Interacting with it
This is one of the most obvious differences between the two. Personally, I think that touchscreens are the way forward from here. Apparently even Microsoft agrees with that, as they’ve baked touchscreen controls into Windows 8. At the moment, however, tablets allow for a much easier way to interact for the user. Besides, if you’re really pining for an old keyboard and mouse approach, you can always hook up bluetooth ones (if you’re running ICS or JB).
Movies and Media Consumption
This is one category which I think the Android tablet really outshines any laptop. The fact that tablets are so portable means that it’s much easier and convenient to carry around a library of TV shows, movies, anime or whatever else you want to watch. My personal favourites are Diceplayer and MX Video Player, which have played almost everything I threw at it so far. There are also a plethora of decent news reader apps, blog aggregators and whatever else you need to get your current affairs fix, all available on Google Play.
On the other hand, while laptops are a little more cumbersome, the x86 processors allow for them to run a whole range of codecs. This means that they can play the more obscure file formats out there.
This one’s fairly evenly matched. Tablets have a range of great apps for listening to music. You can’t go past Google Music without having a look, with its cloud streaming capabilities. Plus there are apps like TuneIn which let you listen to radio stations and podcasts, as well as Pandora and Spotify, which let you stream music too. The ability to drag and drop onto Android tablets also makes it really easy to transfer your music collection, if you so wish. I can’t really see many advantages to using a laptop to listen to music, to be honest.
Ah games. This one’s another contentious one in some parts of the world, but I’m going to have to say that laptops have the upper hand, by far. The AAA games just haven’t made it over to tablets at the moment. (In my opinion, it should stay that way, but that’s a whole other can of worms I’ll open somewhere else). Suffice it to say, there are just more games on Windows platforms at the moment.
On the other hand, if you like touchscreen-based games (like Horn) then, well, tablets will be a winner in your books. Plus, there are quite a number of emulators floating around for retro consoles like the NES, SNES, GBA, Genesis, Neo Geo, N64 and Playstation 1 that can provide endless hours of fun! You can even wirelessly hook up bluetooth controllers, plug your tablet into the TV and Hey Presto! A mini console.
Using it for productivity
This is where the tablets start to fall short. Not being able to run things inside windows really limits what you can do on a tablet. In this way, you won’t be able to open textbooks or websites side-by-side with a word processor. Speaking of which, one of the most conspicuous absences on Android is Microsoft Office. It’s no real surprise, considering they have their own tablet range coming out very soon, but it can be a deal-breaker for many. There are a range of decent alternatives, like Documents To Go or Quickoffice, but it’s just not the same. Don’t forget, the Google Drive/Docs app actually works quite well, but is really barebones.
I haven’t had a chance to try out creating powerpoints or excel spreadsheets on my tablet, but I’ve heard that it doesn’t work nearly as well as a full Windows experience.
Let’s finish off with connectivity options, since movies are getting to humongous file sizes these days. Depending on the laptop you get, you’ll generally have access to several USB and probably an SD card slot as well. Unless you have laptops from a certain fruity company, you’ll also have the option of running HDMI-out/VGA-out/DVI-out with full-sized ports. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are now standard too. Most Android tablets have a mini/micro-HDMI out, Bluetooth and a MicroSD card slot. The Asus Transformer also has two full-sized USB ports and a full-sized SD slot. Other tablets generally have a micro/mini-USB slot as well, from which you can mount something with an OTG cable. The Acer Iconia has a full-sized USB port too.
Depending on what you intend to do with your device, though, not having a full range of connectivity options on a tablet may not be an issue, especially with access to so many different cloud services these days, like Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.
In terms of functionality, there’s no two ways about it. Laptops are just able to achieve so much more than any tablet right now. Then again, I don’t think tablets are meant to be replacements, so much as companions. I don’t even have a laptop, personally – My tablet is a perfect complement to my desktop PC.
What do you guys think? Can tablets ever replace laptops? Should they ever do that? With Windows 8 tablet/laptop hybrids on the horizon, Android tablets might be in for a hard slog. It’s possible that the new Windows ones would be able to take the best of both worlds and combine them into one beast of a device. In the end, it’ll probably come down to developer support, but a Nexus 10 or 12 couldn’t hurt!