Welcome, tablet overlords

I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday party circuit. There’s always a certain awkwardness attached to hanging out with people you only see once or twice a year—and don’t communicate with otherwise. The string of vaguely familiar faces whose names I’ve long since given up trying to remember inevitably peppers me with questions about what I’m working on. Usually, my replies brings a quick end to the conversation.

The fact that I’ve tested enough SSDs to match the capacity of my home file server doesn’t impress mainstream audiences like it would TR regulars. Tales of high-end X79 motherboards running water-cooled Sandy Bridge-E processors cause eyes to glaze over. Not even the pair of GeForce GTX 580 3GB graphics cards I’ve been using to test multi-GPU lane configurations inspired more than a polite nod this year. As soon as I mentioned the Transformer Prime, though, I suddenly became the most interesting person in the room.

"That’s that new Android tablet with the keyboard, right? Man, that thing looks awesome."

Although my social circles aren’t populated with folks who would classify themselves as PC enthusiasts or even geeks, everyone seems to be interested in tablets. The iPad is a popular choice, of course, but plenty of folks are keen on cheaper options like the Kindle Fire and the recently discounted BlackBerry PlayBook. One guy I talked to was even eager to brag about the sub-$100 tablet he ordered from China, although he hadn’t taken delivery yet.

The last time I saw this much consumer interest in a new class of computing device was during the netbook craze of a few years ago. It’s fitting, then, that tablets have been pegged as netbook killers. For the developing world, where a netbook might serve as someone’s only Windows-compatible PC, tablets seem unlikely to make a significant dent anytime soon. However, for anyone looking for a portable computing device to complement an existing PC, tablets have considerable appeal—especially if you’re more into consumption than creation.

Most of my brief holiday was spent using the Transformer Prime as my primary PC, and it just doesn’t work well in that role. The keyboard isn’t big enough, the touchpad isn’t smart enough, and the performance isn’t as good as my two-year-old budget ultraportable notebook. I’m far more productive in a Windows environment surrounded by familiar applications. That said, if I’m watching movies, surfing the web, going through email, checking my calendar, or reading just about anything, the Prime offers a much better experience. So does my original Transformer.

The fact is that today’s tablets have better screens than the average notebook. Tablets don’t have to sit on a desk or be propped up on your lap, either; they can easily be held in one hand and rotated into a portrait mode perfect for reading everything from comic books to the web. There’s also something about touchscreen interfaces that, when executed well, offers a more satisfying interaction than swiping a touchpad or clicking a mouse. As precise as those instruments are, they feel more detached than watching a user interface move fluidly beneath your fingertips.

While some have been quick to write off tablets as a fad, I can’t disagree more. Human beings have been using tablets of one form or another since they were carved from stone. Modern versions simply employ the latest technology to provide windows on our increasingly digital world. Smartphones offer similar windows, but they sacrifice screen size to slip easily into pockets. Even 7" tablets seem like too much of a compromise, and I can definitely see the appeal of displays larger than the 10-inchers dominating the market right now.

The PC world has long had its own convertible tablets, and it’s likely to gain more as Windows 8 prioritizes touch-based input. I must admit, though, I prefer the simplicity of a slate. The lack of a hardware keyboard, combined with my disdain for typing more than a sentence or two on a touchscreen, is incredibly liberating. As somewhat of a workaholic, it’s nice to have a computing platform that’s poorly suited to productivity and perfectly tailored for relaxed entertainment.

It’s also gratifying to see everyday folks genuinely excited about the latest computing devices. PCs plateaued long ago for these people, and they’re simply not interested in additional CPU cores, solid-state storage, or the gobs of pixel-pushing horsepower that comes with fresh graphics processors. Tablets represent an engaging and fundamentally new platform adept at handling everyday tasks like email, web surfing, and Facebook stalking.

Some pundits have gone so far as to predict that tablets will kill the PC, but that seems incredibly absurd to me. Like smartphones, tablets have a place in the larger computer ecosystem. I don’t think they’ll supplant traditional desktops anymore than notebooks already have. The line between notebooks and tablets is likely to blur as time goes on, too. Making arbitrary distinctions about what counts as a personal computer is silly when so many devices offer honest-to-goodness computing power and good user experiences.

We’re likely to be inundated with new tablets at the Consumer Electronics show next week, and you’ll probably see more tablet reviews from us in 2012. Don’t worry, though; we’ll remain focused on our traditional areas of coverage. New CPUs, graphics cards, motherboards, SSDs, and other components may be snoozers at holiday parties, but they’re the lifeblood of the enthusiast community, and we remain passionate about them. Tablets represent something new, and I have a feeling we’ll be talking about then for a very long time to come.

Comments closed
    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    I maintain they’re not a fad but a toy. It’s hard for me to justify a tablet to anyone but a certain group of people. For 90% of the people I know a laptop will work better in the long run. The rest of the people get a new shiny tablet…then try to find ways to justify it’s existence over a laptop or even their desktop computer, and wonder what’s the magical difference.

    That said, like ShadowTiger, my dad got an iPad for Christmas and he loves it. For someone like him who is completely computer illiterate this device makes perfect sense for him. Something that’s incredibly easy to use, without a lot of options, and he can carry it with him and use it one-handed.

    • Abdulahad
    • 8 years ago

    I really don’t understand why people are forking out more money for products that allow them to do less..
    Is it not just a craze to impress others,….. to say we have tablets… we are in, we are trendy, we are rich, we are successful.
    Is it not a niche market targeting the foolish rich people(with extra income) and the poor ones(with extra debt) but who want to imitate the foolish rich…??

    Some say it’s a great innovation….. it is in a way but in many ways, it has regressed upon the technology that we are already accustomed to…

    To me, it’s a laptop.. I may choose from a 10″ to a 17″.. oh, i can get both for the price of a tablet!!! What more do I wish for….!!!

      • SPOOFE
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]I really don't understand why people are forking out more money for products that allow them to do less..[/quote<] You can spend that $400-500 on a pair of pre-worn jeans instead, if you like.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        and… that would be stupid. you’re arguing it’s a stupid purchase, but other purchases are dumber still?

      • Voldenuit
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]I really don't understand why people are forking out more money for products that allow them to do less..[/quote<] Because they [i<]aren't[/i<] forking out more money to do less. In the first place, Android/iOS tablets tend to cost less than a wintel laptop. They are more portable, so they can be used in more environments. They have longer battery life, so they can be used longer. The drawback of being less productivity-friendly than a wintel laptop only matters if the user is using their device for work and/or productivity. For the vast majority of people*, getting a tablet for movies/reading/browsing/social networks means that they are actually forking out [i<]less[/i<] money to do [i<]more[/i<]. * And even for most power users a large portion of the time.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        tend to cost less? have you purchased a “wintel” laptop recently? most people are in the 300-500$ range. that’s what sells these days.

    • joselillo_25
    • 8 years ago

    You need one hand to hold the tablet and the other to click buttons. This let you with no hand available, a terrible situation for watching porn.

      • Abdulahad
      • 8 years ago

      GET A WIFE…GET A LIFE!!!

    • trackerben
    • 8 years ago

    I can empathize with shadowtiger’s dad. My lovely wife and her fashionista friends had lined up at Valley Fair on launch day to buy iPads. But for the first two weeks I didn’t know what to do with mine. Even shopped it around to Apple groupies so that if it turned out to be a mistake, I’d have some ready buyers.

    But its best uses steadily emerged over time. It became obvious how great tablets are for consumption on the go and lounging around. And we had never met so many friendly people as in those first few adoptive months. Strangers and their smart kids would approach us at cafes and trendy hotspots about our iPads. Credit is due to Jobs and his recommissioning of Kubrick’s 2001 vision for the merits of this revolution.

    But I’ve always been a desktop user who likes using a stationary and ergonomized “keyboard console”. I’m UI agnostic. I’ve used Selectrics and Model Ms, digital diaries and palm pilots, illuminated compact desktop keyboards, gaming keypads. At home I have Intel-Radeon rigs running 24in VA screens. I collect weird gaming mice and mech keyboards like Alps and Cherry types (MX lasered and MY double-shot for those following).

    Tablets are but the latest in a long line of UI progress and they are natural for reading, browsing and casual gaming while lounging or exercising. I only use my laptop at the office when I need to do the desk grind, and at worksites for troubleshooting. Tablets are great for wireless management, quick presentations and look-ups, and I sleep better at night knowing our top people use theirs to transact securely at financial sites. Hah, I smirk when I remember what a loud flop the Kindle Fire was as a “consumer initiative” at my wife’s financial insitution. Am still thinking of getting a Fire once its region locks are revised. Yeah, Amazon is too much a part of my online life not to matter offline in my hands.

    The iPad is brilliant mounted in my car console and connected to the audio system as media center, as well as a GPS satnav with the *biggest* screen. Loading up the latest music, podcasts, and commentary makes traffic-filled commute seem less long.

    Out of the city or off to the hills and beach, there’s nothing else as connectedly fun or relaxing if that’s the objective. If I could securely and cheaply ship my ultraportable and other work gear ahead to my destination on overseas travel I’d do that and retain only a tablet and phone for the flight.

    • Decelerate
    • 8 years ago

    Imo tablet utility depends on the background of people. Tablets’ main crowd would be an Anti-TechReport site (which then wouldn’t even be a site).

    I got the first iPad when it came out. I only had a Lenovo X200s back then (my Shuttle gaming rig died) and was marginally useful. I then built my gaming rig later in the fall and ended up not using the laptop, as the ipad – PC combo fit better: productivity (or lack of … gaming) on the PC and consumption on the tablet. What i find the most usefulness is at 6am when I want the news and/or weather pronto, I don’t need to even wait for a 30-second boot. Instant access.

    But that’s nothing. The real impact was with my mother – a computer illiterate (I’m not sure she can operate an ATM) – hogging the new mobile critter like it was crack-cocaine as soon as she found out that there were Youtube videos and radio apps in her native language, along with easy-access to the Costco specials and other trivial stuff. Now whenever she’s here my ipad is nowhere to be found. It’s to the point where I (and my siblings, who each have their own desktop/laptops) actually need a second ipad in the house (hopefully with retina display and a good set of cameras)

    That is, until my mother finds out that she can face-time with my ipad2-owning aunts/uncles – all of the households in our extended family has one, all acquired after a visit to our home. And most with varying degress of techno-illiteracy.

    And that’s where the magic operates imo.

    • glynor
    • 8 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more, Geoff. Great post.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 8 years ago

    Tablets are an awesome way to sit on the couch or the can and surf the internet. And there are some awesomely fun and useful applications, like astronomy apps that use GPS and compass (if the device has them) so you can hold it up to the sky and it’ll show you what stars you’re looking at. And games; can’t forget games, though they’re pretty simplistic given the means of control.

    I find tablets to be of pretty limited utility beyond that. There’s certainly a place for them, but the home and office desk will always have a PC (or future derivative of the PC).

    • squeeb
    • 8 years ago

    I used to be really “meh” on tablets…then I got one. Its awesome..at least for consumption. As a PC gamer it certainly will never replace my main rig. But its nice sometimes (especially as the day winds down) to just sit back and chill on the sofa/bed with one.

    That said, I’d never spend more than $300 on one. I just couldn’t justify it since 90% of the time on them is spent watching Netflix.

      • burntham77
      • 8 years ago

      It’s also great for reading on the toilet.

        • Sahrin
        • 8 years ago

        This is why I would never spend more than $300 on one.

        • Abdulahad
        • 8 years ago

        Just make sure you don’t wipe yourself with it..

      • ChronoReverse
      • 8 years ago

      It’s the pricing part that is the issue with me. I’ve maintained that Tablets are great for their niche but it’s not really $500+ great.

      Marketing has somehow succeeded in convincing people, despite the poor economy, that such a luxury item is worth shelling out for in droves.

    • Sunburn74
    • 8 years ago

    Meh. To me tablets are just big cell phones that don’t make calls.

    I could see the utility of a kindle though as an educational means to not have to carry books around, but I don’t see the utility of your 500 dollar tablet when the kid would be much better served with afull laptop.

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      To me most cellphones try and fail at becoming tablets. While you can do a lot of the same things on both the form factor and size of a phones is simply too small to do items effectively and their capabilities are there for “in a pinch” situations.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 8 years ago

    I think that people forget how user dependant a Tablet’s usefulness is.

    My dad just got an iPad 2 and he has used it for maybe 5 minutes in the first 2 weeks. He likes watching tv and movies on his 50 inch LCD. He likes playing games on his desktop computer. He checks email plans his schedule on his laptop. He doesn’t use his kindle either because he prefers physical books.

    He wanted a new shiny toy so he shelled out for an iPad but I knew it was a big mistake. I don’t have any use for it either… I spend most of my day in front of a desktop and the games on it are too simple and overpriced. (Or maybe Steam games are too cheap?)

    The idea of spending $500 so that you can spend $20 a month on apps and other content is rediculous. Yes there are cheaper tablets… but the same logic applies. As it is… fruit ninja is all its good for. Also my arm gets sore from holding it… needs to weigh 1/2 as much.

      • End User
      • 8 years ago

      That says a heck of lot more about your Dad than it does about tablets.

        • Rand
        • 8 years ago

        He pretty much said as much, that the usefulness of a tablet is user dependent on the type of tasks they do and proceeded to use his father as an example of a person for whom a tablet evidently wasn’t particularly useful.

        He never said tablets are useless, just that their not useful to everyone.

          • End User
          • 8 years ago

          I’m was not referring to tablets at that point. I was saying his dad was an idiot for purchasing a product he new nothing about.

          As far as tablets go the first thing I say to someone is that tablets are not for everyone. Try before you buy or do product research before you walk into the store. He only had himself to blame.

            • Kollaps
            • 8 years ago

            A “I felt the overwhelming need to insult his dad” would have sufficed.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        oh end user. when will you ever post something rational?

        It says that tablets aren’t for everyone. That’s what it says. it says that for many users, a tablet is a waste of money. YOU like them? cool. that’s great. But many people will have little use for them. My touchpad running android gets almost no use. It’s not that there is an issue with the hardware or the software. it’s simply that it’s a form I don’t find particularly useful. You’re an apple fanboi regardless of what you want to post about owning all different kinds of crap. apple makes an ipad = bestest thing to end user. End of story.

          • SPOOFE
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<] it says that for many users, a tablet is a waste of money.[/quote<] So what? Almost everything you can buy these days is a waste of money.

          • End User
          • 8 years ago

          That is rich coming from someone who sadly blurts out “hey, Windows Phone 7 is awesome” in every Android/iOS post.

          You, a savvy money pinching tech guru, spent $99 on a product that you don’t use? And you were so enthusiast about it. That is sad.

          [quote<]You're an apple fanboi regardless of what you want to post about owning all different kinds of crap. apple makes an ipad = bestest thing to end user. End of story.[/quote<] What was that about the iPad? I've got my eye on a Transformer Prime. Oh, and I am looking forward to a couple of new Linux/Windows system builds this year. You love Microsoft. I love everybody.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            i never said it didn’t get used. I said [i<] I [/i<] don't use it. I was merely reiterating his point. Tablets aren't the best thing for all uses. I was hopeful about it, but after the purchase, realized i was simply not willing to forgo the uses or my laptop. i do less "consumption" than most it seems. I pretty much just do work, and play high end games. my kids like it though. fruit ninja is fine on it. I DO like microsoft. but it's not for the reasons most would. I like bill. I would like to keep him rich, because he is doing more to end suffering than most nations. Do i care about the products? not really. You can say "bills a crap donar". sure. some people have that opinion. I know a number of people who have worked with his foundation and have excellent things to say about it. Ralph Nader was right. Only the super rich can save us now. On the wp7 front, it's merely a reminder that it's not just limited to 2 choices, android or iOS. the products are decent, just like android and iOS. Given a choice between android or iOS, i'd go iOS. if webos was there, i'd take that instead...

            • End User
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]I DO like microsoft. but it's not for the reasons most would. I like bill.[/quote<] [quote<]I would like to keep him rich[/quote<] [quote<]because he is doing more to end suffering than most nations[/quote<] Tell him to sell his $125 million home and donate the money to charity.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            that’s neither here nor there. You’re making a silly point, on something that has nothing to do with anything. Since you were unable to refute the point that he IS in fact doing more, you complain about something else. well done sir. I win again.

            • End User
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]I win again.[/quote<] That goes without saying. BTW, you remind me of someone [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pipTwjwrQYQ[/url<]

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            Even though we tease each other, I do love you.

            ♥♥♥
            seriously. I do enjoy you.

            • End User
            • 8 years ago

            I know. You don’t have anything better to do.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            is it that obvious? you’re right. once i force my children into bed, i’m pretty much free. you should come over sometime.

            • NeelyCam
            • 8 years ago

            You have kids?!

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            Yes. I have 2. one’s a malawian girl we adopted, and the other is my biological son. She’s 7, he’s 2. if talked about them before!

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            Are you aware of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation? The dude is rather philanthropic as it is. Does he give out of excess rather than out of sacrifice? Maybe, but who’s to say what’s “not enough” and “enough”? Surely not you.

            • Malphas
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]I DO like microsoft. but it's not for the reasons most would. I like bill. I would like to keep him rich, because he is doing more to end suffering than most nations.[/quote<] Yeah, because charities doing work in the developing world didn't exist prior to Bill Gates' retirement. The Gates Foundation is just a shot in the arm, like the majority of charities, and in this instance it's also a vanity project.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            First off, nobody suggested that charities didn’t exist prior. That would be stupid. Strawman ftw. The gates foundation is massive. it’s scale is HUGE. it’s larger than just a shot in the arm. Whether or not it’s a vanity project is not only something you have no way of knowing/proving, it’s irrelevant. Do i care why he’s curing malaria? or dumping fortunes into HIV? nope. sure dont.

            And for the record, imma guess you haven’t done work with charities in the developing world. The gates foundation wasn’t just money. It was a new way of doing the work, it has changed the whole modus operandi.

            Your silly personal vendetta is silly.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            whoops, didn’t see this arm of the discussion. You already made the point.

            What’s truly bizarre is that I’m defending the humanist point of view. “Who cares how it makes him feel? He’s doing a net good.”

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            Lol. Yeah, I know. While altruism is great, it’s not always necessary to get good outcomes. the best? sure, but not required for good.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        You’re right – that’s actually the first thing ShadowTiger wrote. It’s up to the user to find it useful. I’ve only had it since 12/26, but I totally find my tablet useful. My mom finds hers useful. Other people might not.

      • Yeats
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]Also my arm gets sore from holding it... needs to weigh 1/2 as much.[/quote<] You need to get outside more, do stuff.

      • burntham77
      • 8 years ago

      Well put. Some people I know scoffed at me when I bought a Xoom for 800 dollars. It was pricey, yes, but I use that thing daily because I read a lot of magazines, comics and books, I like the games on there, and it’s good for casual surfing on the couch (usually for looking up info for games I am playing on the Xbox). It’s also good for watching Netflix while I play games on the Xbox. On my last vacation, it was a great tool for checking email and keeping in touch with people without having to lug around a bulky laptop.

      Unless a person can give me a solid list of things they want to do with it (which would require some research on their part) I would tell that person to not buy one. I hate when people just get stuff to get it because it’s the shiny new toy on the block. Have a reason for everything you buy and you will rarely be disappointed.

    • My Johnson
    • 8 years ago

    Yep. mobile is a big deal. It used to be the old didn’t know their way around a desktop and now it seems to have reversed. The young not knowing computer basics was hampering them. But they sure know Facebook (except for the privacy settings.)

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