Tablets vs. laptops vs. smartphones

Many people today carry multiple mobile devices to access data anyplace, anytime. But a question always lingers: between a smartphone, laptop and tablet, which should you carry on the road?

There's little debate that the most important device is the smartphone, which is becoming increasingly sophisticated with advanced hardware such as the dual-core processors found in new devices like the Motorola Droid Razr and Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Beyond communication, smartphones offer some basic computing functions such as e-mail and web browsing which were until recently the domain of laptops.

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BACKGROUND: iPad 2 vs. business class tablets

Though for the information hungry, a smartphone does not offset the need for a tablet or laptop, says Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst at Technology Business Research. Tablets and laptops may compete head-to-head, but each have their own benefits based on usage and audience.

For consumers who have a smartphone, tablets such as those from Apple, RIM and Samsung are not "mission critical" devices, Gottheil says. With its portability, long battery life and always-connected features, the tablet can be a handy secondary device for web browsing, e-mail, presentations or light notes.

"The tablet has real long-term viability as an additional device," Gottheil says. "The tablet is going to replace the smallest and lightest PC."

Steve Jobs described the iconic iPad tablet as a device fitting somewhere between laptops and smartphones. A tablet provides a better browsing and e-mail experience than smartphones, Gottheil says. Tablets also provide a wider soft keyboard to make typing easy, and a larger screen to read books, play games, write e-mail or view websites. The emergence of tablets in 2010 had a ripple effect on laptops, especially netbooks, shipments of which have slowed down due to the growing interest in tablets. (The share of netbooks as part of PC sales during the second quarter was 12%, down from 22% from the year-ago quarter, according to IDC.)

Tablets have also captured the imagination of enterprises. SAP is handing out 8,900 iPads to employees such as salespeople to record sales, access data and read analysis reports. United Airlines said it would hand out 11,000 iPads to pilots as a replacement to paper-based flight manuals and aeronautical navigational charts. Some CIOs feel that the full firepower of tablets has yet to be explored.

Non-profit Trans World Radio has deployed 10 iPads to make presentations, access email and for Internet and intranet access. With benefits, there are also concerns of having iPads in the enterprise, said TWR CIO Steve Shantz. Larger organizations can centrally manage and secure iPads, but TWR has concerns about remotely securing the devices because of a limited budget.

For those who need a full keyboard and performance, laptops are the way to go, Gottheil says. Most people have a laptop and a smartphone, so it may be easier to forgo a tablet.

iPad vs. everything

"Anyone who needs raw computing power -- financial people driving giant spreadsheets, rendering financial models -- will need a PC," Gottheil says. Any media consumed on a tablet will most likely be created on a personal computer, Gottheil says.

Ultraportable laptops like Macbook Air could potentially serve as a lightweight substitute to tablets. But realizing the threat posed by tablets, Intel has set out to redefine PCs with a new category of thin-and-light laptops called ultrabooks. The laptops are slightly thinner than Airs and carry a hefty price tag of around $1,000. Ultrabooks in the future will have touchscreens and always-on and always-connected features, and Intel promised that prices would fall to the $650 range by the end of next year.

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Tags consumer electronicssmartphonesSamsung Electronicshardware systemstabletslaptops

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