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The right choice: Smartphone, tablet, netbook, or laptop

The right choice: Smartphone, tablet, netbook, or laptop

Understanding the types of mobile computing devices

Michael Gray on December 14, 2010


Computing Everywhere helps you access the internet and important tools wherever and whenever you need to do it. Stay online and productive no matter where you are.

We talk a lot about "computing everywhere." Modern technology offers the ability to check your documents, email, and even finances no matter where you are. You can even stream movies directly to your mobile computing device, taking some time out from a busy day to bring in some entertainment.

When we talk about mobile computing, we're talking chiefly about four different types of devices: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops. These mobile devices allow you to access the internet and, more importantly, perform business and home functions like writing documents, viewing multimedia, and running programs. There's another similar type of device called a personal internet viewer, like the Sony Dash, which allows you to access many internet services. But only smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops really open up the entire computing experience in a way you can call "mobile computing."

There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of mobile computing device, so it's important to get the right product for you.

iPhone Smartphones
A smartphone is the simplest of the four mobile computing device types. Smartphones offer the usual mobile phone service, enhanced with other, computer-like functionality. They run programs called "apps" and use a mobile web browser to access the internet. Apps are designed by third parties, which means you can find a tool for just about anything at this point. Smartphones can access the internet using wireless signals from mobile phone carriers, although they can also use the wireless signal from your home internet.

  • Pro: Smartphones are as mobile and convenient as you can get. Most smartphones fit effortlessly in a man's shirt pocket. They can carry a charge for 4 to 8 hours, depending on how much you use your phone. The variety of apps created by third parties means you can find hundreds of games, productivity tools, and other gadgets. Most smartphones can access web tools like Google Docs, allowing you to stay productive even while on the road.
  • Con: The small size and portability of a smartphone is also its drawback. Smartphones have capabilities that emulate keyboards and mice, but the built-in functionality isn't as comfortable for long-term use. Obviously, the screen on a smartphone is much smaller than that of a computer monitor. You'll get a lot of mileage out of smartphone, but when you're really doing head-down work, you'll find a smartphone somewhat inconvenient. Also, many smartphones require a full home computer to sync and manage their content, which means smartphones can't be a stand-alone solution to your computing needs.

Tablet Tablet computer
The Apple iPad is probably the most well-known tablet computer, although there are other tablets available on the market. They're very similar to smartphones but on a larger scale. A tablet computer can slide easily into most bags and weigh only a few pounds. Think of tablets as bigger, more powerful smartphones.

  • Pro: Tablets are great for doing light work on the road because you can access all the same tools you use with a smartphone. Because a tablet is larger, though, it offers a more comfortable viewing experience than your smartphone.
  • Con: Tablets are more capable and comfortable than a smartphone but are still restricted by the design of their manufacturers. You can't just plug in an installation disk and run any program. And while tablets are comfortable for more work than a smartphone, you might still find touchscreen keyboards troublesome for marathon sessions. Like smartphones, many tablets still require a home computer to manage content and apps, so you may not be able to use a tablet computer as a stand-alone solution.

Netbook Netbooks
Netbooks were designed as ultra-portable versions of laptops, focusing on accessing the internet and doing basic computer functions. They work very much like laptop computers but save a lot of weight and size by not using CD or DVD drives. Netbooks look like small versions of laptops and weigh only a few pounds.

  • Pro: A netbook can do almost all the same things that a Windows laptop can do. You can install programs, respond to email, and do the majority of your home computing work. And because netbooks are basically lightweight computers, you could use one as a stand-alone home computer solution if you wish.
  • Con: Netbooks are great as ultra-portable laptops, but they don't actually do anything better or faster than laptops. If you want a fast computing experience, you might find netbooks to be slow or clumsy. And while the keyboard is very comfortable, you may still find the screen small for long-term viewing.

Laptop Laptops
Laptops are the flagship of mobile computing. Modern laptops sport the same power and functionality as full desktop computers but do so in a mobile form. While most people keep laptops in special, protective bags, laptops can pretty easily go on the road with you without needing much additional setup.

  • Pro: Many laptops are as powerful as a regular desktop computers and still conveniently fit in a backpack. They can access the internet, play CDs and DVDs, and run most popular programs.
  • Con: The downside of laptops is the price. Laptops aren't as expensive as they were 10 years ago, but they're still no light expense. Also, laptops are relatively easy to carry around, but most tend to weigh at least 5 pounds. They're not as convenient to carry on your person as a smartphone, for example. 

Choosing the best mobile computing device requires knowing what you want out of it. If you want full-fledged computing capability, then a laptop is going to be your best bet. If you just want to check email and cruise the web without carrying anything inconvenient, then a smartphone or a tablet might be a better bet. Ultimately, it's just about what you want your mobile computer to do.

Tecca

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