Adrian Weckler: How to go Pro with your business-friendly tablet this summer
With Apple and Microsoft raising the bar on their work-oriented tablets, it could be time to look again at one of these devices as a laptop replacement. Adrian Weckler reviews three of the best.
1 Microsoft Surface Go
Price: €700 including keyboard (Microsoft Ireland store and general retailers)
Specs: 10-inch screen, 8GB Ram, 128GB storage
Before I get into the Surface Go, you should know that Microsoft’s last-generation Surface Pro 5 is sometimes available on sale for around the same price as the model I’m reviewing here (the Surface Go 8GB model). That’s around €450 cheaper than the current Surface Pro 6.
Despite the positives of the Surface Go, the Surface Pro 5 is still a step up in terms of display (12 inches instead of 10) and processing power (Intel Core chips). So if you have a chance to get one of these, I would.
But if not, the Surface Go 8GB is probably the best value of the current Surface line-up.
Another qualification: the entire Surface tablet line is much more analogous to an ultra-portable laptop than a tablet, because it uses Windows. For some, that is a big advantage. For others, it’s a drawback. But I’m including the device in this roundup because of its price, utility and typical tablet-style usage patterns.
Like its Surface Pro stablemates, the Surface Go is a touchscreen Windows hybrid that comes without a keyboard. For work stuff, you’ll clearly need the latter piece of kit, which costs €99 (or €80 if bought as part of a bundle).
If you’re looking for an ultra-portable Windows laptop that doesn’t need lots of power, this is certainly worth considering.
The model I’m recommending is the upper-end device, priced at €700 with the keyboard cover, or €619 without the keyboard cover.
There is a lower-end version which costs €539 (€620. Including keyboard), but don’t get it. It’s underpowered (half the Ram, half the storage) for anyone who’s looking for something that can perform business-related tasks over the next three years.
From a design perspective, Microsoft has mostly gotten it right. The Surface Go is simple and elegant, with a very effective (and variable) kickstand.
The 10-inch screen is very impressive for a device in this price range. Its power, while nominally weaker than rivals, is largely fine too.
It uses a lower-tier chip, Intel’s ‘Pentium Gold’ processor, than the ‘Core’ i3 or i5 chips you usually see in laptops. Normally I’m wary of compromising on the chip as it can be a crucial engine room resource. However, I’ve been able to flip through apps and functions in a pretty zippy manner.
The only place I noticed a possible lag in power was in screen latency: it sometimes seems just a tad slower than I’m used to when scrolling through documents or web pages on an iPad or Android tablet.
On the other hand, it was never enough to really interfere with anything I was doing: I’ve experienced much worse.
The touchpad (to control the cursor) is just the right size, generously proportioned in the context of the keyboard size. This keyboard is also very competitively priced when you look at what an iPad Pro keyboard (€179) costs or third party devices from Logitech and Zagg.
One minor niggle for me is that Microsoft has gone with its own proprietary charger (and connection) for the Surface Go, when others are widely adopting USB-C (or ‘Thunderbolt’) as an interchangeable standard. Microsoft says that you can also charge the machine via its own USB-C port, but this just didn’t work with the USB-C chargers and cables I tried it with.
One final observation is that the Surface Go, out of the box, uses Microsoft’s ‘S’ mode, a straitened version of Windows 10 that doesn’t allow you to use apps outside the Windows Store. A lot of people dislike this, although it didn’t bother me. In any case, you can switch this mode off.
From a physical standpoint, it has only two negative points. The bezel on it is a little wide, making it reminiscent of older tablets. (The trend these days is toward all-screen devices.) And it is also quite fat. It’s almost twice as thick as the (slightly bigger) iPad Pro, making it a little heavier.
However, neither of these design issues impact its ability to fit into the exact same pouches or bag pockets that an iPad Pro currently occupies. So neither is a practical impediment to getting this machine.
2 Apple iPad Pro 11
Price: €1,100, including Smart Keyboard Folio case
Specs: 11-inch screen, 4GB Ram, 64GB-1TB storage
Longstanding readers will know that I’m a fan of the iPad Pro for its mix of power, speed and portability. The one drawback it has had for some business users is the limitations placed on it by iOS which is still, largely, a mobile operating system.
Thankfully, that is now changing with Apple’s announcement of iPadOS. This will bring a lot more functionality to the iPad Pro (and any iPad), including more windows, better file organisation systems and more flexible use of the USB-C port to connect external sources of files directly.
The model I’m focusing on for this review is the model I use most, the 11-inch iPad Pro.
However, it’s worth pointing out that Apple’s recently-launched iPad Air has 90pc of the functionality most people would look for in an iPad Pro, including a Smart Keyboard connection.
And it’s considerably cheaper, starting at €760 for the tablet plus Smart Keyboard (versus €1,109 for the 11-inch Pro model or €1,350 for the 13-inch Pro, both with Smart Keyboard Folios). That said, if you have the budget to stretch, there are some good reasons to consider the Pro models.
I use it for work (a lot) and for non-work (movies, the web and photo-editing).
The main upgrades on the previous 10.5-inch Pro model (which is effectively the new iPad Air mentioned above) are an 11-inch screen, USB-C instead of Lightning and Face ID instead of a Touch ID home button. There’s also a new Smart Keyboard Folio case, which is a bit sturdier and faster than the last iPad Pro Smart Keyboard and which protects the device much better.
Unique among its peers, storage is now on par with almost any laptop: my device has a whopping one terabyte (1,000GB), making up somewhat for the lack of USB storage file transfers that you normally have with other laptops. Under the hood, the iPad Pro has substantially upped its game with graphics and processor speed, mostly down to its own A12X chip system.
That Pro’s ‘liquid retina’ display (which is roughly the same design as the new iPhone Xr) serves it well, too – videos and photos are rendered pretty spectacularly on it. In terms of Face ID (using your Face instead of a fingerprint to unlock the iPad), it works pretty flawlessly. Unlike the iPhone X and Xs, it also works from any orientation.
The real payoff to removing the Touch ID button is that you get extra screen real estate for free.
This iPad Pro display is about 10pc bigger than the last 10.5-inch one, purely because the bezels have been thinned out and the Touch ID home button has been dropped.
Where this benefit really comes into its own is with multi-tasking. The split-screen windows you pull up are now that little bit bigger, making emails and word documents slightly fuller-looking.
The redesigned Smart Keyboard Folio case is stiffer than the last version and has two angles for the iPad (as opposed to one on the last Smart Keyboard). It’s now a proper case, covering the rear of the machine as well as the display.
The new USB-C connection lets the iPad Pro connect to monitors at up to 5K resolution and directly into cameras. But it also means that it can be used as a battery itself for an iPhone. Note that this isn’t exactly the equivalent of a USB-C connection on a MacBook – it can’t be used for as many purposes. So you can’t just stick something in and transfer whatever’s on it on to the iPad, even if the new iPadOS will bring the system closer to this goal.
In general, it still depends on whether there’s an app on the iPad that will open it up.
There’s also a newly designed Apple Pencil (sold separately at €135). The biggest improvement is that it’s magnetic and attaches to the side of the iPad, whence it immediately begins to charge.
This is a big upgrade on the last Pencil charging system which meant awkwardly sticking the device into the Lightning port and leaving it hanging out. But it also has more sensors in it. The most practical benefit to these is that you can now tap the side of the Pencil to change its function (to an eraser, for example).
3 Samsung Galaxy Tab S4
Price: €779 including keyboard folio cover
Specs: 10.5-inch screen, 4GB Ram, 64GB storage
There’s one good reason to consider Samsung’s powerful, if ageing, Galaxy Tab S4 tablet. It has something fairly unique for a tablet – a Windows simulation mode.
Not Microsoft’s operating system specifically, but a desktop-like alternative operating interface that lets you work on it as you would a laptop, including the use of a mouse (or, if you don’t have a mouse, your S-Pen stylus). This is part of what Samsung calls its DeX system.
By and large, it’s really quite decent for those who sometimes feel they need a mouse-and-cursor powered session, especially since it lets you open lots of windows at the same time.
You can have 10 different apps open at the same time and resize them anyway you want. Better still, if you have a monitor in your home office or at work, you can use the tablet as the main PC, mirroring the screen on to the larger monitor (and using a wireless mouse).
However, there are some limitations. Getting something on or off the tablet is still mostly a wireless, cloud-based activity – don’t expect physical USB utility in the same way you would with a PC.
Still, if you’re thinking of shifting to something that’s fast and incorporates the advantages of a tablet operating system, this is an interesting choice.
So if you’re looking for an alternative to iPads or Windows, this is probably the best of what’s around right now.
As a standalone tablet, the Tab S4 is fast and powerful, even if it doesn’t quite have the muscle of Apple’s iPad Pro.
It’s 10.5-inch Amoled display is exceptionally bright and vivid because of Samsung’s prowess in making screens (it supplies screens to a lot of rival manufacturers).
Battery life is strong, with a bigger physical battery than any similarly-sized tablet rivals.
It has enough storage (64GB) for what you might reasonably use it for, although it would have been nice to get a 128GB or 256GB premium option. (Apple has a 512GB version of its iPad Pro for serious users.)
To be fair, there’s a microSD card slot if you really want expandable memory.
One other advantage to the Tab S4 over rivals is that its S-Pen stylus comes free with the device. This also doesn’t need to be charged or powered, eliminating one logistical consideration. And if you don’t have space to use a mouse, it acts as something of a substitute.
If you want full use of a keyboard, it’s good advice to go for Samsung’s own Folio Keyboard Cover. It acts as a protective cover as well as a decent keyboard. It’s a bit of a shame that it doesn’t have a trackpad for its DeX mode
The only possible downside to the Tab S4 is that if you depend heavily on work apps, Android tends to play second fiddle to the iPad.
Not for things like Google Docs or even Microsoft Office, but if you have a specific work-related app deployed by the office, check whether there’s a decent Android tablet version of it first.
Otherwise, the DeX functionality is fairly unique in the pro-tablet world and gives the Tab S4 a definite spot for consideration as a working device.
If you’re fairly sure that you won’t use it this way, it’s probably a harder sell against the likes of the more powerful iPad Pro with its bigger work-app ecosystem. But if you’re open to giving it a go, this is definitely worth a look.