Thursday 29 September 2016

Keep taking the tablets: four of the best for your business

Published 22/10/2015 | 02:30

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Apple iPad Pro
HP TAB
Toshiba Radius 11

Most of us use a laptop or desktop PC at some point in our weekly work. But there's a new machine knocking at the door, one that purports to be a professional device wrapped up in tablet form. It's the business tablet.

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While the latest charge is being led by Microsoft and Apple, other manufacturers have been getting in on the business tablet act for some time. Large, powerful models that are custom-made for professional keyboards and productivity software are starting to find a niche in a market that has threatened to relegate tablets to glorified Netflix screens.

The thinking here is partially that while iPads - and all tablets - have fallen off significantly in sales with larger-screen phones stealing much of their functionality, people are becoming more familiar with tablet operating systems.

And that means they can do business on them.

But are such tablets a real alternative to a laptop? Or should they be properly regarded more as additional devices? Here are four of the work models currently bidding for your attention.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Price: from €950

Microsoft is arguably the main company responsible for making us look again at tablet-style machines as business tools, and it's principally down to its Surface range. The 12-inch Surface Pro 3's operating system is indistinguishable from a regular laptop (Windows 10), other than the fact that it also has a fully functional touchscreen. The keyboard snaps on and off and acts as a cover for the screen. It matches the power and battery life of almost any other laptop, being configurable up to an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and 512GB of solid state hard drive storage. Its superb screen is a highlight, as are its high-end speakers. Although Microsoft has announced the Surface Pro 4, that has yet to land in Ireland so it is the existing version that is currently available.

Apple iPad Pro

Price: from €900

This is the one that has given the business tablet market a real shot in the arm. True, Microsoft was there first. But when Apple shows up with a new device, it has a habit of getting everyone to look at the genre in a light they may not have previously.

The 13-inch tablet is being pitched squarely at business users and those in the graphic arts. An accompanying stylus, called Apple Pencil, has also been launched to cater for the latter market. To put the screen size into context, 13 inches is the same size as a large MacBook Air or a standard MacBook Pro. Apple has been doing deals with companies like IBM and Cisco to try and embed the iPad deeper into corporate and enterprise computing. In the short time that I had to play with it, I tried out Microsoft office and some Adobe applications which were optimised for the device.

HP Pro Slate 12

Price: €550

HP would really want to liven up its PC range. While its Pro Slate 12 is a competent machine that's reasonably priced compared to some rivals, it's a little dull.

You'll get 32GB of storage bolstering a modest 2GB of Ram and a Snapdragon processor on this Android machine. HP's main selling point for this device is its relatively advanced security and pen integration.

The stylus ('HP Duet Pen') actually comes with the machine, which makes the overall device cheaper than competing propositions. The Pro Slate 12's HD screen is pretty decent. This is an all round reasonable proposition: it just feels very middle-of-the-road corporate.

Toshiba Satellite Radius 11

Price: €430

When touchscreen laptop hybrid devices first came out, they were clunky, awkward and expensive.

Today, it's a generally improved scenario and Toshiba's Satellite Radius 11 is a good example of why. The budget machine packs modest power (4GB Ram, Intel Celeron chip) and has an old-fashioned (500GB) hard drive instead of a sleek, battery-extending solid state drive. But it's nicely designed with a good keyboard.

And its touchscreen tablet function works fine. Moreover, the hinge that allows the screen to become a streaming stand means that this doubles as an effective Netflix device, even if the 1366x768 screen is a little so-so compared to more expensive devices, such as Microsoft's Surface Pro machines.

It's not a featherweight machine, at around 2kg. While I think that most people still scratch their heads when it comes to 12-inch Windows touchscreens, this is a decent option for those on a budget.

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