Monday 19 March 2018

The right touch: picking the best business tablet

Apple iPad Pro 10
Apple iPad Pro 10
Google pixel c
Huawei Matebook
Lenovo Thinkpad x1
Acer Chromebook

You have a problem. You're a laptop devotee. But your office is now trying to push you into using a tablet or a hybrid 'convertible' device to encourage you to bring it around with you more.

You've been told the model choice is up to you. Do you opt for a Windows device (as your IT department would probably like)? Or is your activity mostly taken up with document-writing, communications and web-based work, for which one of the 'pro' iPads or Android devices work just fine?

Moreover, can you really use a tablet as a laptop replacement? Even if it's lighter, more portable and has a longer battery life, can you work quickly and comfortably on it? And is it worth getting a 'pen' stylus?

The good news is that you have lots of options available at lots of price points.

Here are five to consider.

Apple iPad Pro 10

Price: from €699

I'll admit that I've become a huge fan of Apple's iPad Pro series - the combination of its high end hardware and custom keyboard makes up for some restrictions that come with iOS instead of a full-blown Mac or Windows operating system.

The iPad Pro comes in two sizes - a 13-inch model and a newer 10-inch model. While you could say that Apple's 13-inch iPad Pro was a high-end niche product suited for designers and some mobile workers, the new 10-inch version brings home Apple's vision of iPads getting closer to being out-and-out laptop replacements.

In a nutshell, the new iPad Pro looks a lot like a tablet but has more than a few of the characteristics that a full-blown productivity machine enjoys.

Speed and power are good examples. The 10-inch iPad Pro has Apple's A9x chip which, for speed, beats about three quarters of the laptops out there today. Aside from the ability to edit 4K videos, it means that things like multi-tasking - flicking between different programs and apps - are noticeably quicker than previous tablet experiences you might have had. This really matters.

I used Apple's Smart Keyboard with the device. For writing, it flies along. And as well as having its own mini-stand mechanism, it doubles as an effective protective cover.

The quality of the 10-inch iPad Pro's screen and speakers are both close to the top. Like the 13-inch model, the 10-inch iPad Pro has four speakers which combine to give you proper stereo sound. I really wouldn't underestimate the value of this when you're watching a video: it's a different class to most tablets or laptops you'll have used.

The screen, too, is a step up - it's the highest quality display Apple has put on an iPad, with deeper colours, much better blacks and a 25pc hike in brightness over the iPad Air 2. Crucially for those using it at work, the screen is way less reflective than other iPads, making it better for sunny or spotlight conditions. The screen is also designed to use with Apple's Pencil, which is about the best physical manual writing and sketching accessory you can get.

Like all modern iPads, the new model has the Touch ID fingerprint reader.

So if you like the idea of a 'pro' iPad, should you get this model or the 13-inch version? If mostly working on a desk, I would default to the 13-inch model for the extra screen real estate. But the smaller 10-inch version gives you more space flexibility on flights and in tight spots.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 tablet

Price: €1,370

This is probably the most focused pure business hybrid laptop-tablet you can get on the Irish market. Unlike Microsoft's Surface Pro, a detachable keyboard comes included with the X1. ThinkPad keyboards are always a draw: easy and quick to use. Lenovo has managed to recreate the form and aesthetic in a lightweight format (including the nubbin) that folds over to become a screen protector. The main screen has a handy kickstand that works at almost any angle. Another accessory that comes with the X1 is the pen (stylus). It's fairly basic pen but works fine on the high resolution screen.

There are plenty of connectivity options too, including a docking connector. The model I used had an Intel Core M chip, the same type used in Apple's featherweight MacBook. The advantage to this chip is that it extends your battery life up to 10 hours.

The disadvantage is that if you want to stack your machine up with lots of tasks simultaneously, it won't get through them with the same aplomb as the beefier Intel i5 and i7 chips that rivals such as the Surface Pro have (but which also add to the cost of the machine). However, this is compensated by its 8GB or 16GB of Ram. You really can use this as a laptop replacement, while it retains many of the tablet advantages (decent speakers, great screen) that a top iPad has too.

Huawei Matebook

Price: €799

Styled rather a lot like an iPad Pro, Huawei's sleek, slim machine clicks on and off to a dedicated keyboard that is not unlike Microsoft's own. The Matebook doesn't mess around with weak specifications. Its storage starts at 128GB (up to 512GB) and it comes with either 4GB or 8GB of Ram. It uses Intel's Core M processors which, though not as powerful as i5 or i7 iterations, are good enough for light laptop activity. (Apple's MacBook uses the same chip.) The Matebook's 2K screen is excellent and it also has a fingerprint sensor built in. As you'd expect the Portfolio keyboard is an optional extra. At €149, it's not a trivial additional cost, although it's cheaper than both the keyboards for the Surface Pro 4 or the iPad Pro. It's definitely worth getting, though: it types well and protects the machine when closed over. The Matebook has a USB-C port and comes in grey or gold.

Acer Chromebook R11

Price: €330 from PC World

Given the nature of what they are, it was always a logical move to make a convertible touchscreen Chromebook. Acer's R11 model does the job nicely. It's cheap, cheerful and very usable. The laptop's 11.6-inch screen folds over to turn the device into a large tablet, albeit one running on Google's desktop-like Chrome operating system. As it's a Chromebook, the vast majority of its functionality is based on 'cloud' apps like Google Docs - you won't be using this as an anchor device for an iPhone or iPod.

There's also the bare minimum of onboard storage with just 16GB available. Again, this won't really matter given the laptop's raison d'etre. It has an HDMI port, a couple of USB ports and an SD memory card slot. It's fairly nicely styled with a usable keyboard and a reasonably bright touchscreen.

Google Pixel C

Price: from €509 (keyboard extra)

Google's latest device, the Pixel C, tries to get into the 'pro' tablet game with a fairly powerful processor, nice design lines, a good screen and a slick keyboard (which costs €169 extra). The 10-inch machine has stereo speakers, 308 pixels per inch and comes in either 32GB or 64GB variants. For those whose work or leisure phone is an Android one, this will be a comfortable and stylish machine for pleasure and light work. The keyboard, in particular, is impressive. It also uses USB-C to recharge, which is very fast. This is a lovely bit of hardware at a decent price. If you're interested, I'd look to pair it with a Logitech wireless keyboard.

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