For everything from meetings and presentations to customer visits, tablet PCs – along with smartphones and laptops – have become standard equipment in the world of business. Apple injected new life into the tablet segment with its iPad, and now several manufacturers – RIM, Samsung, and Lenovo among others – are following suit with their own offerings.
Tablets have also been making strides in terms of functionality in the past few months. In fact, there isn’t a lot the latest devices can’t do: In addition to working online and with text and spreadsheets, these slivers of technology now enable users to watch television, make calls, take pictures, and get directions. At CeBIT 2012, Fujitsu even showed off tablets that keep working after having joined you on a dive under water. Devices with quad-core processors, full HD displays, and LTE components were also on display in Hanover, Germany at the renowned IT event this year.
For its part, SAP has optimized an entire range of mobile applications specifically for tablets, thus enabling customers to use its business software while on the move. Are you thinking of using a tablet in your daily work and wondering what factors you should consider before buying? This article will sum up the most important things you need to know and provide you with an overview of the newest models.
Overview: Tablets for business
- iPad 3 (iOS)
- Blackberry Playbook (RIM OS)
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Android)
- Sony Tablet S and Tablet P (Android)
- Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet (Android)
- ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime (Android)
- ASUS Eee Slate EP121 (Windows 7)
- Samsung Slate PC 700T (Windows 7)
What to keep in mind
These days, business-oriented tablets can more than keep up with (mini) laptops in terms of hardware and software. If you’re considering purchasing such a device, weight is one of the most important factors. You’ll obviously want to use your tablet while on the move, so every ounce can make a difference. The new iPad that Apple released in March, for example, weighs in at just under a pound and a half – about the limit for true portability. The main determinant of a tablet’s weight is the size of its screen: RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook weighs just 425 grams thanks to its seven-inch screen, while the ASUS Eee Slate EP121 tips the scales at nearly 2.5 pounds, making it much too heavy.
Means of input: touch, stylus or keyboard
The main characteristic of tablets is their support for touch functionality. Those who find this too cumbersome can also connect a Bluetooth keyboard or use a stylus.
Features: USB and HDMI connections
In service of iPad’s minimalist design, Apple has deliberately left out virtually every interface, which means you will have to rely on cloud services to transfer files to your iPad. Dropbox, for example, offers 2GB of storage space, with more available for a fee. Apple has also introduced iCloud, a service you can activate while setting up your iPad. This makes it possible to store addresses, notes, e-mails, or entire applications out in the ether and recall them anytime from any Apple device running iOS5 or later.
Meanwhile, anyone who’s not quite ready to say goodbye to USB ports, HDMI interfaces, and SD slots will have to look into tablets from providers like Samsung, ASUS, Lenovo, or Sony.
Mobility: UMTS and wireless LAN
You’ll probably end up using your tablet for one thing in particular: checking your e-mails and surfing the Internet on the move. That’s why wireless LAN functionality comes standard in these devices. If you’re looking for complete mobility, you should make sure that your device is UMTS-compatible, too. 3G functionality enables you to work online at high speeds on a mobile network. Network coverage permitting, you can even surf the Internet at DSL speed. Mobile network operators now offer corresponding data packages for tablets.
Performance: from Atom to dual-core processors
Before the advent of iPad and similar devices made tablets almost commonplace, netbooks experienced a real boom. Often humming along at their core was the substantially smaller Intel Atom processor. These processors often reached their limits when running several programs, however. If you plan on using your tablet for business software, make sure to purchase a device with a powerful processor. Dual-core processors are now available in almost all tablets.
Operating system: Apple iOS, Android, or Windows 7?
When considering which tablet to purchase, you have the choice of three different operating systems: Apple iOS, Windows 7, or Android. With Google’s Android, you’ll be able to choose from a wide range of devices. Their manufacturers try to attract potential buyers with features like interface variety, Flash support, and multitasking; iPad can now run two applications in parallel, as well. iOS5, meanwhile (the latest version of Apple’s operating system), even displays incoming e-mails, text messages, and stock quotations in a small window at the top of the screen – all while you’re browsing the Web, for instance.
In the meantime, iPad’s lack of Flash support has almost been forgotten: Many providers have now optimized their web sites and applications for HTML5 and CSS3, enabling Apple tablets to run multimedia content.
The latest version of Google’s operating system is Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich to those in the know. This operating system is designed to be even more closely tailored to the needs of tablet users. You can use it to create new folders on your home screen, define your own list of favorites at the bottom edge of the screen, and view all open programs in Task Manager. The device also boasts an outstanding feature: It can be unlocked based on facial recognition. Following Apple’s lead, Android 4.0 now supports voice recognition, as well, which makes it possible to dictate e-mails and text messages.
Some Android users complain of irregular or even missing updates. While iPad users can simply connect their devices to their computers to automatically synchronize and update their operating system, Android users receive an email when a new update is available. The main problem is that not all devices support the updates right away.
Until now, tablets running on Windows 7 haven’t been very successful, perhaps due to the fact that most of them are equipped with the less powerful Intel Atom processor. A few of the exceptions include the Samsung Slate PC 700T and ASUS Eee Slate EP121. Another primary issue with Windows 7 is that it doesn’t support touch functionality. Windows 8 should, however, make up for its precursor’s shortcomings following its release this year.
iPad 3: a top-of-the-line display
Now that some weeks have passed since the new iPad’s official release, the verdict couldn’t be clearer: Apple fever has struck again, with its brand-new device having already registered over three million sales. Its most important innovation is its Retina display: Thanks to its outstanding resolution – 2048 x 1536 pixels – and a pixel density of 264 ppi, iPad 3’s 9.7-inch display offers even higher definition than full HD devices. Compared to the previous iPad generation, pictures and applications appear pin-sharp and even more defined. Under the hood, Apple has also taken the device to the next level by including 1GB of RAM. Its beating heart, meanwhile, is the A5X, a dual-core processor with four graphics cores.
Another important improvement on the previous generation is iPad 3’s 4G (LTE) module, which facilitates data transmissions of up to 73 megabits per second. Users living in Germany, however, will have to wait to take advantage of this blazing speed, as the module is only compatible with frequencies in the United States.
Along with its weight, iPad’s storage capacity has basically remained the same, with 16, 32, and 64GB versions available. If you were expecting the new iPad to come with the intelligent voice-control system Siri, however, you’ve had to deal with some disappointment. A small comfort: You can still enter texts and e-mails using the device’s dictation functionality.
In addition to five-megapixel pictures, iPad 3’s reverse-side camera offers efficient auto-focus control, face recognition, and geotagging features. A simple touch of the finger is enough to focus in on a subject.
Even if iPad still doesn’t support Adobe Flash, the device is able to open attachments in many formats, included Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
BlackBerry Playbook: the perfect tablet for RIM aficionados
If you already use a BlackBerry as part of your mobile office, the BlackBerry Playbook could be a good solution for you. The tablet weighs just under a pound, but its seven-inch, 1024 x 600 display also keeps its dimensions relatively small.
The BlackBerry Playbook comes with 16, 32, or 64GB of available storage. Unlike the iPad, RIM’s tablet offers Flash support but is not equipped with a 3G module. It does, however, support audio/video functionality thanks to a micro HDMI interface.
For a long time, the BlackBerry Playbook didn’t come with its own mail client; the only way to read e-mails on the tablet was to connect it to a conventional BlackBerry through Bluetooth. The new 2.0 firmware has made up for this shortcoming. The Playbook’s own e-mail software makes it possible to synchronize e-mails, personal contacts, and deadlines with Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes Traveler using the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol. The program also supports the POP, IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV protocols. The Playbook can receive direct messages from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but does exhibit a major flaw in its lack of support for applications like Skype and Google Talk.
Another useful tool the 2.0 firmware has introduced is the calendar function. Anytime you want to plan a meeting using the Playbook, the device will select all participants from your address book and organize them into a list; all partners will then be registered on the agenda.
The preinstalled apps Docs to Go and Print to Go make it possible to edit and print documents. Besides these two tools, though, there aren’t a lot of applications for the Playbook in RIM’s store. In order to compensate, RIM has released an Android emulator that enables users to upgrade their tablets with new apps, but it only supports Android 2.3.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: the forbidden tablet
In its Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung released a serious iPad 2 competitor in 2011. The two devices bore a significant resemblance in a number of ways: They had similar dimensions, for example, and neither came with any USB or HDMI connections. For this reason, Apple resorted to legal means and succeeded in having the sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 prohibited in Europe. Undaunted, Samsung tried again with the Galaxy Tab 10.1N – a device sporting minimal changes that left Apple without much of a case. The courts thus gave Samsung permission to sell its tablet in Europe, as well.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1N comes equipped with a 1GHz dual-core processor, a 3G/wireless LAN module, and 16GB of flash memory. The tablet doesn’t offer any USB or HDMI ports, but does have a proprietary multiport interface for connecting USB cables and other devices. The Galaxy Tab 10.1N enables users to take pictures, as well, thanks to its front (two-megapixel) and rear (three-megapixel) cameras. The integrated GPS sensor even makes it possible to geotag photos. The tablet displays pictures at the relatively standard 1280 x 800 resolution.
The tablet runs on Android 3.2, and the amount of content available for the operating system on Android Market can now definitely rival Apple’s App Store. Over the last few years, the online shop has grown to offer a whole range of useful business applications.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1N can open Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents thanks to the preinstalled Polaris Office application, and Adobe Flash is supported by default. Users can also read newspapers and magazines by means of the Readers Hub tool.
Sony Tablet S and Tablet P: one tablet, two screens
One feature in particular makes the Sony Tablet P stand out in a very unique way: It is equipped with dual 5.5-inch touchscreens. The device also supports both WiFi and 3G and offers 4GB of storage capacity, which can be further expanded with a microSD card. A USB port is also available.
The Sony Tablet S, meanwhile, comes in a typical tablet format, sporting a 9.4-inch screen and 32GB of storage capacity. A 3G module is also available as an optional feature. Particularly striking is the contour at the top of the screen, which may seem a bit bulky at first. According to Sony, this ergonomic design is necessary to assure a better grip on the tablet. With its TruBlack display, Sony also offers a wider viewing angle, but be careful of people looking over your shoulder: They will probably have a better view, too.
Finally, the Sony Tablet S comes standard with a USB 2.0 port, an SD card slot, and two cameras. Users that already have a VAIO laptop can also transfer its content wirelessly to the tablet device.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet: doing business with Android 4.0
When it comes to laptops, many business customers swear by the ThinkPad series, which were formerly developed by IBM. Lenovo now produces the devices, including the new line of ThinkPad tablet PCs. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is designed specifically for companies that need extensive security features, including encryption of device and SD card data, deactivation in case of loss or theft, and theft deterrent software.
Like most other business tablets, Lenovo’s device includes a WiFi/3G module. It weighs just over a pound and can be purchased with 16, 32, or 64GB of internal storage. Starting from May 2012, it will be possible to upgrade the tablet to Google’s new operating system, Android 4.0.
Meanwhile, if you’re all thumbs on touchscreens, you might find the tablet’s stylus more to your liking. Its 10.1-inch display reproduces images at a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, and the device also comes equipped with front- and rear-facing HD webcams.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet offers a variety of connection options, including HDMI output, a USB port, and a MicroUSB interface. Through Bluetooth, it’s possible to connect the tablet to other devices in the vicinity.
ASUS EeePad Transformer Prime: 3D effects and a high-performance battery
In the tablet PC market, one device in particular means to throw down the gauntlet in terms of performance: the ASUS EeePad Transformer Prime. Its nerve center is the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, which is able to support on-screen 3D effects and other features.
Another outstanding aspect of the ASUS device is its keyboard dock, which offers an additional battery and supplementary connections – including an SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port. Together, the two batteries provide up to 13 hours of battery life, enough to make even the iPad (nine to 10 hours) blush.
The ASUS EeePad Transformer Prime is a mere 8.5 millimeters thick and weighs around 1.3 pounds (not including the additional battery). It comes with 32 or 64GB of internal storage, but is restricted to wireless LAN connectivity due to its lack of a 3G module.
Windows tablet PCs: Samsung Slate PC 700T and ASUS Eee Slate EP121
Samsung Slate PC 700T is one of the few Windows tablet PCs that runs not on an Intel Atom processor, but the more efficient Intel Core i5. It also comes with an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 screen; 4GB of system memory; and a 128GB solid-state drive. The device’s 3G/WiFi module provides for mobile Internet connections, and a stylus for improved usability if needed.
Better features usually come at a higher price, however, and the Samsung Slate PC 700T is no exception: The device will set you back around €1,000.
The Windows 7 tablet from ASUS, meanwhile, features a 12.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display, making it slightly bigger than Samsung’s Windows tablets. Users wary of touchscreens can fall back on the supplied stylus or connect a keyboard through Bluetooth.
While the ASUS Eee Slate EP21 runs on an Intel Core i5 processor and boasts 4GB of RAM, its primary selling point is actually the wide variety of interfaces it offers, including two USB ports, a mini HDMI interface, and a memory card reader for the MMC, SD, SDHC, and SDXC formats. The tablet’s lack of a 3G module and a GPS sensor is a major disadvantage, however, as is its excessive weight: At nearly 2.5 pounds, the ASUS Eee Slate EP121 is too heavy to be handy.