Geek Vs Geek: Who Needs a PC Anymore?

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eHow Tech Blog

Is it possible to replace your PC with a tablet?

Ocassionally, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.

Dave: I guess it’s time to shut off the lights and lock the doors at the PC factory — we don’t need computers anymore. People talk about living in a “post-PC world,” and I totally get it. Equipped with a tablet like my Apple iPad, I don’t really need a desktop computer or laptop for anything anymore. Now I can do all my computing in the palm of my hand, far away from an electrical outlet.

Rick: Those must be some mighty big palms. Much as I wouldn’t mind abandoning my heavy, pokey, battery-challenged laptop for a slim, speedy tablet, the reality is it just isn’t practical. Some users might be able to get by on apps, but to actually get any work done, you need a laptop. Heck, I’m working as I type this, and it would be a lot slower going on an iPad.

Dave: That’s 20th Century thinking, Rick. Come join me in the 21st–there are donuts here. An iPad, Android, or even a Windows 8 tablet beats a laptop hands-down; not only is it smaller, lighter, and more portable, but the battery life is incredible. I can use an iPad all day long without recharging. Same for the Microsoft Surface that I unboxed a while back. Try that with a laptop. And for times when I need to type a lot on my iPad, I just use my Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio, which gives me a full-sized keyboard built into the cover.

Rick: You make some valid points, which I know is a unique experience for you, but simply adding a keyboard doesn’t overcome a tablet’s many deficits. For starters, you’re working on a relatively tiny screen–just 10 inches versus at least 13 on most laptops. That’s a huge difference, especially if you’re fiddling with productivity software like spreadsheets or presentations. And don’t forget the limitations inherent in many mobile browsers, which can prevent you from viewing and/or interacting with certain Web sites.

Dave: You’re right — some Web sites and online tools don’t work quite right on tablets quite yet. But those kind of incompatibilities are increasingly rare. More and more sites are switching over to HTML5, which runs natively on mobile devices, instead of Flash and other technologies that have trouble. And don’t forget about Windows 8. The Surface RT might have been something of a misfire, but the Surface with Windows 8 Pro looks like a winner. And when Microsoft gets behind a technology, you can generally count on it eventually becoming a standard. But perhaps the best endorsement is my daughter, who reports that she got through an entire year at college using her iPad almost exclusively.

Rick: I’m actually quite eager to see Surface Pro up close, because I do think Microsoft might have hit on the perfect blend of laptop and tablet technologies. I mean, a cover with a built-in keyboard? That’s as cool as it is practical. So, yeah, the day may come when you can trade your laptop for a tablet. But I still don’t think that day is here, because you’re still looking at a cramped screen, a non-standard keyboard, browser issues–no Flash video, for example–and, lest we forget, software incompatibilities. Some folks need to run programs that simply aren’t available in app form.

Dave: I think you’re being too dismissive. Just because my eyes can’t properly focus on 3D images, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fill your home with those 3D Magic Eye posters. Never mind: I’ve been to your house, and I know that you’re way ahead of me on that suggestion. In any event, if you happen to have unusual needs, you might need to keep a laptop around. But for most people, I contend that you can be perfectly happy with nothing more than a tablet. Tablets do it all: Productivity, games, music, even movies. You can get a keyboard. You can project your tablet display on a big screen. You can print. Honestly, what can’t you do, besides specialty applications and line of business tools?

Rick: Let me be totally clear, I love tablets. Tablets rock for things like books, games, movies, and music. But productivity? That’s very hit-and-miss. While some folks might be able to get by with one, many will miss the comfort, familiarity, and versatility of a laptop. It’s like trading in your minivan for a really sexy bicycle: Sure, it’s cool, and it can take you where you need to go, but the trip won’t be nearly as quick or comfortable.

Dave: I concede that using a tablet is a different experience than a desktop PC or a laptop, and takes some getting used to. For example, tablets encourage you to store files in the cloud, so you never have to worry about crashed hard drives or making backups ever again.Tablets are smaller and lighter, making them easier to travel with. Tablets are disorienting because you’ll find that you stop worrying about battery life. And yes, your productivity software — word processors, spreadsheets, and so on — will look different, but still enable you to get your work done. So you can continue living in 2002, Rick, but I will be snacking on Donuts of the Future here in 2013, while I finish writing this very blog post. On my iPad.

Rick: Sounds good. Just hope your time machine doesn’t require any CAD work. Or a large spreadsheet that’s too wide to fit that tablet’s display. Or a Flash site for choosing your travel coordinates. I also hope you have deep pockets, because that tablet and Bluetooth keyboard are gonna cost you. My $400 laptop already has a nice, comfy, keyboard, plus a big ol’ screen, all the storage I could possibly need, and even a DVD drive for those old-fangled platters some people still like. If you want to get any actual work done, give me a call. I’ll loan you my laptop for some donuts.

Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.

And what other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send Dave your ideas in the comments below oir via Twitter @davejoh.

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