September 2013 – Portable Workstation Review
With the wealth of mobile devices now flooding the market, it is difficult to choose which one best suits you and your mobility needs.
Each device has its place and there are essentially 3 device categories and within that, multiple flavours in each.
Tablets are essentially portable devices with touch screens and normally on screen keyboards. I would argue that they are tempered towards the home consumer with the ability to watch videos & TV, listen to music, browse the internet and a multitude of other nifty applications available to download from their App Stores. Whilst you can read the news, check email and open PDF files and Word documents, business usage can be a bit limited and clumsy due to the lack of keyboard and mouse and limited (if any) Microsoft Office and other business applications along with the “locked down” nature of the device.
However, Microsoft has released their Surface RT Tablet and whilst sales have perhaps been a little slow, this is the ideal consumer tablet / business tool all in one. The Surface RT is really a PC companion. Whilst it has Windows 8 touch capability, it also has a desktop mode that comes pre-installed with Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Excel and One Note). The removable touch cover has a keyboard and mouse pad built in so you really do have a very business friendly “Nearly Notebook” style device to enjoy your personal applications and to work on business documents and emails in the same way as you would on a PC. It has great battery life and is very portable. The only downside is that you can’t install applications on it that you would normally be able to on a PC due to the different processor it uses. I however don’t see this as a downside, as long as you accept that this is not a full PC but a ‘almost a PC’ companion for working on the move.
The Apple iPad has probably been around the longest of all tablets and has grabbed its market share through being innovative and the first of its kind. If you like Apple and have an iPad then you learn to love it very quickly, however, it is not as flexible as the Surface from a business point of view, lacking physical keyboard and mouse (although you can buy add-ons that will give you this) but the lack of a familiar Windows interface for working in is arguably clunky.
Android tablets are Google’s version of an iPad but again are limited for business use. Whilst they deliver great personal usage facilities, they can also be a little clunky to use.
In summary, for the business user I’d strongly favour the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, especially if you are familiar with the Windows environment and want the capability of Microsoft Office with physical keyboard and mouse in a very well designed magnetic cover. There are 2 choices of keyboard, Touch and Click. I’d suggest paying the extra £10 and going for the click keyboard which is much easier to type quickly on.
All 3 devices are priced at a similar cost at the ‘under £400’ mark although it’s possible to get some Android tablets cheaper but with a possible compromise on specification and build quality. Both Surface and Apple and the higher end Android devices are really superb devices from a component and build point of view.
Ultra books, Notebooks & Hybrids
If a tablet isn’t for you and you want true computing power then you will probably want to look at a more traditional PC notebook. Modern notebooks, or the now called Ultra-books, come packed with power and performance. These devices will run full Windows and some are now hybrids with removable touch screens that act as tablets. You will pay a premium for the full PC tablet version but if you need raw power then these are a great choice.
There are multitudes of Traditional Windows 8 laptops with/without Touch on the market to choose from, some very slim and lightweight, others a little more bulky but at the end of the day you get what you pay for. You can’t beat going to John Lewis and choosing something you like and getting that essential peace of mind from John Lewis that you are warranty covered if anything goes wrong.
In the hybrid range, Microsoft has released the big brother to the Surface RT and called it the Surface Pro. It’s expensive, not as light as the RT and is much more bulky. Again, if you need power, it has it but I’d suggest that for normal day to day use then RT is fine.
The Apple MacBook Pro has a great reputation for elegance, power, performance, design etc… If you are an Apple fan then this may be for you. Personally for business use, I’d recommend a good old Microsoft PC.
Chrome Book is Google’s version of a lightweight laptop that runs Chrome o/s. They are much lower priced and good if you want to do browsing and light work. I’d seriously question their application for business users though.
Smartphones & PadPhones
SmartPhones are essentially a cross between a phone and a mini-PC. Nowadays they are packed with power and can do most things but the screen is much smaller and, I’d suggest, very difficult for doing any real work on. They’re great for checking your mail, small email replies, social media, looking up contact information, basic browsing and the like but they are really very limited as a tool to do any work on. Popup keyboards are small, however there are larger screen versions coming out such as the Galaxy Note 3 that could be more usable; but at the end of the day, you can’t beat a tablet or ultrabook for doing real work on.
Again there are Android Phones, Windows Phones, Apple iPhones, BlackBerry’s which are all cut down versions of the main tablet with (smartphone) operating systems optimised for small screens. The choice is yours and I’d suggest either a Windows or Android phone for reasonable and very mobile usability. Whilst I like Apple I do find that their operating system is now a little dated (though iOS7 is a facelift) and there is very limited choice on hardware. I’m afraid that I’ve never been a fan of BlackBerry but can see why some people are. Most phones will have a tethering facility where you can use the mobile internet on your phone to hook up with your tablet or notebook to get you on the Internet. Be very aware that you must understand your web allowance and how your airtime provider charges for this. Virgin do a great all round deal for unlimited Web, Phone minutes and Text for £15 per month on a SIM only deal if you own your own phone.
Each device type and operating system choice has its place and nowadays it’s not uncommon to have a selection of each for different purposes. I personally have a PC Desktop and a Laptop for doing office or home based work on, a Microsoft Surface RT for working on the train and when I’m out of the office (as a PC companion) and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for very mobile quick work like checking emails and replying to messages and brief online searches. I find this combination works really well for my personal all round needs for flexibility, mobility, personal and business consumption.
However, everybody’s needs are different and there are plenty of devices out there to meet your requirements and personal taste.
If you would like any advice on mobile or flexible working, please feel free to email me and I’d be happy to offer some friendly advice firstname.lastname@example.org
Warren Wander is founder and Managing Director of LawWare Ltd. His work on LawCloud (Cloud based Practice Management Software for lawyers) is highly acclaimed and his business has built a solid reputation for helping lawyers do more with IT.
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