Choosing a professional tablet when you don’t want an iPad

A colleague of mine is looking to buy a tablet for largely professional purposes. The Kindle Fire HD, iPad Mini, and Nexus 7 have been jointly dominating the casual tablet market, but only recently has the iPad seen worthy challengers in the professional device market segment. Both the rapidly-maturing Android tablet ecosystem and the aggressive push by Microsoft to get its Surface Pro into the hands of college students and professionals have begun to gnaw on Apple’s lead. Here’s my colleague’s letter, which acknowledges the iPad’s dominant position but expresses a desire for alternative options:

Hi Bill!
As I alluded to earlier this week, I’m planning on purchasing a tablet soon and am curious to get your thoughts on the various options that exist. I’ve done a small amount of my own research, and have come to the conclusion that the best existing product is the ipad – I’m not a fan of Apple in general, so I’m wondering whether you’d agree with that assessment.

I’m planning to use the tablet primarily for 2-3 things: short-term replacement of my laptop for when I travel (such as my 3-week trip to Asia this summer), portable note-taking to “replace” or supplement my hand-written research notebook (so I can have searchable notes), and potentially as an e-reader. Ease of use, ability to use standard programs like Word (or similar, compatible alternatives), battery life, and ability to use/attach a real keyboard are probably the most important to me, given that I don’t know much about the products out there. Wifi is all I need for connectivity, as I don’t have a smart phone and have zero plans to begin paying for data on any device, much less a tablet. I’ve looked at the new Surface Pro, but the battery life reviews are terrible – I can’t justify spending that kind of money (almost as much as an ipad!) for something with only 4 hours of battery. Most other alternatives (Galaxy Note is another I looked at) seem good… but everyone seems to say “good but not as great as the ipad” for practically every category.

Given what I’ve said, what are your thoughts? Is the ipad really the best product, or is there another that I (neo-Luddite that I am) should be considering? For reference, anything $1000 or under is in my price range, so I’m not too worried about that. Thanks!

Given my colleague’s preferences—a non-Apple device with a long battery life and the ability to replace a laptop for professional purposes—I suggested an Android tablet, arguing that it can go toe-to-toe with an iPad for all practical purposes without being weighed down by Apple’s price tag.

Hi!

It’s true that the iPad is the best overall product in terms of hardware quality, app selection, and accessories. It’s also one of the only tablets to have up to 64GB capacity. However, you definitely pay extra, and I’ve grown to really dislike the iOS operating system due to it being so restrictive. Those two things combined mean that I never plan to buy another iPad.

When I bought my iPad a year ago, it was literally the only product on the market which was both an excellent tablet and an excellent e-reader. Most tablets of the earlier era were okay for web browsing and watching videos, but the pixel density was low enough that reading anything long-form was an eye-straining chore. The 3rd-generation iPad, which I bought on launch day, was the only tablet to have a screen good enough for heavy reading.

That’s changed now.

If I were to buy a tablet today, I’d go with the Nexus 10:

https://play.google.com/store/devices/details?id=nexus_10_16gb

There’s a $399 version (16 GB) and a $499 version (32 GB). It’s much cheaper than the iPad, but it has similar specifications, including an excellent screen and a high-performing battery. There are other large-size Android tablets on the market (see this page for more) but I think the Nexus 10 has the best price/performance balance.

In terms of connectivity, it has WiFi, a headphones jack, bluetooth (for keyboards, headphones, and other accessories), micro-HDMI (for video output/presentations), micro USB (for file transfers and charging), and a special docking-pin connector for extra-fast charging. It’s also a popular model of tablet, so I’m sure there are a lot of accessories for it (covers, etc.)

A year ago, the selection of apps specifically optimized for Android tablets was a total joke, but it’s really bloomed since then. I don’t have an Android tablet myself, so I can’t speak from experience, but I’ve heard it’s getting as good as the iPad’s selection. To give one example, my favorite “work-related” iPad app- iAnnotate– just launched its Android version. The iPad dominated the tablet market for awhile, but developers are taking Android tablets much more seriously now.

Hope this helps!

Best,
Bill

If the iPad is off the table, what’s the best alternative tablet for professional purposes? Is Android, stigmatized as a backwater when it comes to tablet apps, ready to step up to the plate with tablets like the Nexus 10 and the Galaxy Note? Is Microsoft’s Surface Pro’s flexibility worth its short battery life? What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Choosing a professional tablet when you don’t want an iPad

  1. What about the ASUS TF300? I’ve seen it bundled at like $350 WITH the keyboard dock before, and it has a microSD slot (though for USB you’d need an adapter or the dock). It also has support from the Cyanogen team, receiving the same nightlies and such as the Nexus 10 (although I suppose schools might buy some type of insurance which might preclude rooting the device).

    • Good suggestion! The TF300 ranks fairly high on the cnet reviews page I linked to. The screen resolution (1280×800) is really subpar, though. It used to be a very common resolution on cheaper laptops, but because tablets are designed to be used closer to the eye than laptops are, that level of pixel density is truly problematic for e-reading purposes. Although I haven’t used a TF300, the math alone suggests that its screen will look grainy and foggy up close, leading to eye strain and frustration. For any professional device which will see a lot of heavy-duty reading and annotating, high pixel density is a must.

      The TF300’s bigger brother, the TF700, has a 1920×1200 display. This is an acceptably high resolution… but then again, the Nexus 10 sports a ludicrously crisp 2560×1600 display for a lower price (albeit sans keyboard), so why settle?

      (By comparison, the iPad 4 holds the line at a still-amazing but second-place 2048×1536 resolution.)

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