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Frugal & Fabulous: Laptop vs. Tablet Makes for Tough Choice?

Is the Apple Fully Baked, Galaxy Fully Formed?Considerations when weighing the value of a laptop versus a tablet.

If I were to make my wish for this year’s holiday season, here’s what it would be: a tablet with all of the functionality and capabilities of a robust laptop with a detachable smart phone and a docking station for when I want to use it as a conventional laptop at my desk.

Now, am I asking for too much? Apparently yes. But, we’re getting there.

Granted, I am hammering out this story on a six – count ‘em – six year old Sony Vaio laptop that at times, appears to be suffering from heart failure.

So I find myself facing a pivotal moment – do I invest in another laptop or spring for a tablet and hope that it can meet all of my needs, or should I do what I did before the economic collapse – buy both?

Not likely.

Since a tablet and a laptop are both fairly big ticket items, part of being "frugal and fabulous" is taking the time to really explore which one will better serve your needs -- this requires rigorous self-questioning.

What I have found from Googling and Binging all over the ‘Net, is that if you’re going to use it for large video projects, and the creation of financial spreadsheets, and lengthy documents, you still may want to lean toward a laptop, primarily for storage reasons. 

“If your primary use is going to be for e-mail, browsing the Web, interacting on social media sites, and watching video and films, then a tab should work very well for you,” said John Nichols, Ph.D., a resident of Westfield and owner of Custom Computer Solutions, located in Mountainside.

Nichols, who has been in business for 25 years, taught computer science at Kean College and Monmouth University, now serves as a reseller for Dell Computers, and provides customized solutions for businesses and individuals.

He said while the industry is definitely going in the direction of the tablet, he’s taking a more conservative approach to see what emerges in the next six months.

“If I’m going to recommend a product, I need to be able to stand behind it. And right now there are so many tablets coming into the marketplace, it’s going to take a while to see how they perform,” said Nichols.

Pivotal Moment – Tabs, More Expensive Than Laptops

If you were to make your decision strictly on price alone, you might be surprised that a number of very capable laptop computers actually cost less than tablets.

For instance, at BestBuy, you can scoop up a Toshiba Satellite Laptop with a 15.6" Display, 4 gigabytes of memory and a 320 gigabyte hard drive with an Intel® Pentium® processor for $349.

This model also records up to 4 hours of video, has a built-in Web cam and microphone, 2 high-speed USB 2.0 ports and Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Edition 64-bit operating system preinstalled.

So What are the Options? 

There are about 10 major tablets on the market now, and most of them will serve you well if you are simply interested in surfing the Web, interacting with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, using e-mail, and watching videos.

The drawbacks are mainly that you don’t have as much storage. The most you can get on a tablet is 64 gigabytes as opposed to 320 gigabytes on a low cost laptop. However, eventually, you will be able to store all of your documents, photos, videos, and music in the cloud.

For those of you who remember the days of ‘dumb terminals’ connected to a mainframe, the tablet is a more sophisticated version of the dumb terminal connected to a mainframe – only the mainframe is now – the cloud.

When it comes to tablets, they come primarily in two camps. There’s the Apple iPad 2 which runs on the IOS4 operating system that has some great features, and the Honeycomb operating system that is used by tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.   

And while the iPad 2 doesn’t support Microsoft Office applications, it does support a number of applications as well as Google Docs which interface with Microsoft Office programs such as MS Word.

And of course, the cool thing about documents created in Google Docs, is that they sit in the cloud and are therefore accessible from anywhere.

When it comes to printing from your iPad 2, you will be able to print wirelessly with an AirPrint-enabled printer connected to your Wi-Fi network.

The iPad also has some great features that offer you video conferencing capabilities, and HD video shooting and editing.

One limitation of the Apple iPad is that it doesn’t support videos created in Adobe Flash, however some Web sites offer a work around.

The iPad designers made the decision not to support Flash because they claim it drains the battery and the iPad 2 is touted as having a ten hour battery life.

The iPad 2 begins at $499 and can cost up to $899 if you want expanded memory up to 64 gigabytes. You also need to choose whether you want an iPad that works on Wi-fi only or also on the 3G cellular network.

In addition, with all tablets that are connected to the 3G network, you will need a data plan which can range from $15 to $80 per month, depending on usage.

Is the Galaxy Fully Formed?

The other tablet getting a lot of attention now is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is supposedly turning up the heat of competition on the iPad 2 designers, according to Galen Gruman, a blogger and an editor at InfoWorld.

The Galaxy Tab runs on the Honeycomb operating system and has very similar functionality as the iPad 2 such as front and back cameras, and video chat capability.

The Galaxy does have its own word processing and financial spreadsheet applications, and since it supports Adobe Flash, it is able to more easily access video on the Web.

The Galaxy ranges in price from $529 to $629. You can also purchase numerous applications and a docking station with keyboard.

If funds are extremely limited, before you purchase a tablet, you may really want to spend an afternoon shopping around and become as knowledgeable as possible about all of the features and functions that are offered.

As Nichols said, "The leading edge, is often the bleeding edge." 

It's easy to waste a lot of money if you don't fully understand the features and functions of new devices like the range of new tablets. 

Then again, if you are more inclined to be fabulous, and not so frugal -- if you can afford a tablet right now -- they are extremely handy and there is a certain ‘wow’ factor involved if you are using them to make presentations to clients. 

Bottom line, these are the essential questions to ask: will this purchase allow me to be more productive and move forward? Will this new device help me accomplish my mission?

***

For more information about John Nichols and Customer Computer Solutions, visit his Web site: 

http://www.custom-computer-solutions.org

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