There's no denying that the world's love affair with the tablet is cooling, but there's still a demand for compact devices that land somewhere between laptops and smartphones. If you're on the hunt for the perfect laptop for work, personal use or anything in between, this guide will help.
Identify your use case
The first rule of adopting any type of technology is to do so with a purpose. If you don't know how you'll use a piece of tech, whether it's hardware or software, you probably don't need it. Technology should solve a problem or fill a need, so start by defining yours.
- Media consumption: One of the most common use cases for a tablet, even for business users, is as a media-consumption device. If you primarily want a tablet to catch up on news, read e-books, watch movies, listen to music and occasionally shoot off an email or two, you're in the media-consumption camp. Users in this category can skip flashy, expensive 2-in-1 machines in favor of low- to midrange tablets with high-quality displays and good speakers.
- Payment processing: If you're buying tablets for customer-facing use, like inputting orders and processing payments, your focus will probably have more to do with credit card processing software and accessories available than anything else. Durable cases and space-saving mounts are essential for tablets that are being used as replacements for old-school cash registers and desktops.
- Work on the go: For some entrepreneurs, working on the go is easier to accomplish on a tablet than a laptop. If you want the portability of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop, complete with keyboard and stylus capabilities, then a 2-in-1 or hybrid machine is the way to go. These workhorse tablets tend to be pricier than their lighter weight counterparts, but they also come a lot closer to replacing your laptop altogether (while maintaining the flexibility of a tablet).
- Field work: Tablets are essential for field workers like police officers, loggers, farmers, factory workers and construction workers. If your tablet needs fall into the field work category, your best bet is to skip consumer tablets entirely and go straight for rugged tablets that are built to take a beating. Rugged tablets come with plenty of vehicle mounts and cases, can be used in heavy rain and are built to withstand dust and drops, and many come with extended battery life or even external battery docks. The easiest way to maintain your fleet of rugged tablets is to purchase from one manufacturer, so choose carefully. [Interested in buying a tablet for business? Check out our top picks.]
Get to know your OS options
OS, or operating system, used to be one of the biggest determining factors when it came to choosing business hardware, but these days that's less and less the case. The overall quality of operating systems has improved across the board, and as software has moved to being cloud-based rather than natively hosted, compatibility issues of the past have started to disappear in the rearview mirror. Aside from a handful of highly specific use cases, choosing an operating system is largely based on user preference.
If you're like many business users and you're already comfortable switching between machines (and the apps you rely on are available across platforms), leave OS out of the decision-making process entirely. If you want to know more about the nuts and bolts differences between operating systems, keep reading.
- Android: Android is an open platform, which means hardware manufacturers are free to put their own spin on it when they release their devices. Your Android experience will vary widely depending on which tablet manufacturer you choose. Tablet makers such as Samsung release tablets with a slightly modified version of Android that includes extra features, while Amazon's tablets run on Fire OS, a heavily modified version of Android with an easy-to-use interface and features like Mayday, which gives you 24/7 live video tech support right on your tablet's screen. If you're apprehensive about the flavor of Android you'll be getting on your new tablet, make an in-store visit to test-drive it yourself.
- Chrome: The new kid on the OS block, Chrome OS is built on Linux and until very recently, has only been used on Chromebooks. In May 2018, Acer released the first ever Chromebook tablet, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, and depending on its reception, there may be more OEM following suit soon. For now, the Tab 10 is only available for education customers with a price of $329. Chromebook laptops are already growing in popularity, and it's reasonable to assume the same will be true of tablets, so keep your eyes open.
- iOS: If you're an Apple devotee, you're already well acquainted with its proprietary operating system, which is beloved for its clean design and ease of use. Perhaps its biggest advantage is its huge selection of tablet applications. The iOS platform is also known for its great security. Much of that advantage comes from the locked-down nature of the platform; you can't install applications from outside sources, and apps inside the App Store are rigorously screened.
- Windows: If your business has high-level compliance or security needs, Windows is likely the best choice for the job thanks to its best-in-class security features and MDM. The other big advantage to choosing a Windows tablet is that you probably already use a Windows computer at your business. That means that all of the desktop applications you use at work will also run on your mobile device. Although you can probably find good alternatives to most of your favorite programs on Android and iOS, Microsoft's platform might be your only real option if you depend on a specific piece of Windows software.
Discover the major players
Once you know your primary use case and you're comfortable with your operating system choices, get to know the major players in the tablet world. Just like with any piece of technology, there's a massive price range when it comes to tablets, and this is just a small selection of what's out there. Here are a few of our favorite manufacturers and models.
Amazon: Amazon's line of Fire tablets is affordable and well-suited to users wanting to consume media on the go. The Fire HD 10 starts at just $149.99 and boasts a 10.1-inch HD screen and dual-stereo Dolby speakers. Amazon also sells less expensive (as well as kid-friendly) versions of the Amazon Fire, which are ideal for mixed home and office use.
Apple: The gold standard for creative professionals, Apple's line of tablets screams luxury and productivity. Accessories are sold separately, but with a little investment in a stylus or detachable keyboard, a 10.5-inch Apple iPad Pro can help you crank out work on the go. The starting price is $649.
Asus: Affordability and performance combine in Asus' work-ready tablets. The Asus ZenPad 3S 10, one of our favorites, starts at just $299 and is ideal for consuming media and doing light tasks, like checking emails. Asus tablets aren't intended to replace laptops or desktops, but they're a great affordable choice for on-the-go entrepreneurs.
Dell: Dell's tablets, like its laptops and desktops, are all business, and they're a top choice among heavy business users. Some of Dell's tablets are true detachable 2-in-1 machines, while others are convertible hybrids, which can be used as a laptop or tablet but can't be fully detached from the keyboard. Lots of configs are available, and they range from $350 to upwards of $1,000. We recommend business users consider a Latitude, Chromebook or XPS.
Getac: If you're in the market for an ultra-rugged tablet, Getac should be in the running. As with most rugged tablet manufacturers, the best way to find a match for your industry is to call a sales rep. Such machines are often purchased for highly specific use cases, en masse, and many OEMs offer discounts and deals for large orders and ongoing service contracts. [Want to upgrade your iPad's protection from the elements? Check out our favorite construction-friendly cases on our sister site, Business.com]
Lenovo: Entry-level Lenovo tablets tend to offer excellent battery life and solid displays but somewhat underwhelming performance. Ideal for media consumers but not for heavy duty multitasking, models like the Yoga Tab 3 ($169.99) and the Tab 4 ($129) are affordable and portable.
Microsoft: The Microsoft Surface Pro is the gold standard for business tablets, and it comes about as close to a laptop as possible (while still sporting a detachable keyboard and stylus, both sold separately). The starting price is high at $799, but the display, design, and undeniable functionality make it all worthwhile for heavy multitaskers.
Panasonic: Those in the market for a rugged tablet would be remiss to overlook Panasonic's line of Toughbooks and Toughpads. Its detachable 2-in-1 models are super tough and can be used in nearly any environment imaginable. Touchscreens may be used even while wearing utility gloves, or in the rain, and portable battery docks and specialized vehicle mounts round out the line. Prices are available upon request based on your businesses purchasing needs.
Samsung: Samsung offers both high-end luxury tablets (like the Galaxy Book, which starts at $1,300) and more accessible media tablets (like the Galaxy Tab, which starts at $329.99). Samsung is a great alternative for business users that want an excellent stylus experience without going the Apple route.
Xplore: Xplore is a rugged tablet provider that also makes handhelds and plenty of accessories. They create custom products for private corporations and government entities, and they have several lines of ready-to-purchase devices designed to take a beating. Prices for the Windows products are available upon request.