New tablet releases from Apple, Microsoft, HP, and Google give you plenty of choices for productivity on the go. But how do they stack up against a small business reality check?
Over the past month, we’ve seen compelling tablet announcements from Apple, Microsoft, HP, and Google. Each tablet targets business professionals and, not surprisingly, each has its selling points and drawbacks.
Here’s a look at these four upcoming tablets, with an eye toward how well (or ill) suited they may be for small business work.
Apple’s oversized iPad Pro ($799 and up), due in early November, leverages iOS 9’s new Split View mode, 4GB of memory, and what promises to be a fast processor, among other features, to justify the ‘Pro’ in its name.
Coupled with Apple’s optional new Pencil stylus ($99) and Smart Keyboard ($169), both of which work only with the iPad Pro (as of now), Apple hopes the iPad Pro will lure graphics professionals, filmmakers, CAD/CAM designers, and Microsoft Office users.
Price check: An iPad Pro with a reasonable amount of storage (128GB) plus the optional keyboard and pencil, will cost you $1,217. For about the same money ($1,299), you could buy a 13-inch MacBook Air with 8GB of memory and 256GB storage.
Small business reality check: Despite the iPad Pro’s larger screen (12.9 inches vs. the iPad Air 2’s 9.7 inches), there’s reason to question how effective an iPad Pro will be as a portable business machine. After all, like other iPads, it will run a mobile operating system (iOS) instead of a desktop OS, and the apps running on iOS typically aren’t as full-featured as their desktop counterparts. Plus, you can’t connect peripherals to it, such as printers, and there’s no file finder/directory, as with Mac OS or Windows. Some content management systems don’t support Apple’s mobile Safari, so you may be out of luck uploading new posts to your company’s blog.
Bottom line: An iPad Pro will most likely be a sweet tablet for watching videos and playing music (on its four speakers), reading magazines and newspapers, checking email, Web surfing, and drawing/painting with the optional Pencil. It will be fine for light office work on the road, too. But for serious work sessions on the go, you’ll likely want a Mac or Windows laptop.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet appears to be a winner, judging from initial reactions. It’s stylish, lightweight, has a high-resolution screen, promises an “all-day” battery life of nine hours, and runs both Windows 10 and Windows desktop applications. The tablet, starting at $899, is due to ship by October 26.
Price check: A Surface Pro 4 with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage costs $1,299—just a bit more than the aforementioned 128GB iPad Pro. That price includes Microsoft’s Pen stylus, but adding Microsoft’s latest Type Cover keyboard ($130) pushes the total to $1,429.
Small business reality check: The Surface Pro 4 is pricey for a portable business machine, especially when you consider the price of some Windows 10 laptops. For example: Dell’s Inspiron 13 700 Series 2-in-1 Special Edition touchscreen laptop, with an Intel Core i7 chip, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive, costs $1,049. (New Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 Laptops, starting at $999, compete more directly with the Surface Pro 4.)
Microsoft still sells its smaller, less powerful but quite capable Surface 3 tablet (starting at $499), which runs Windows 10 and has optional Type Cover and Pen accessories, as well as Surface Pro 3, the Pro 4’s predecessor, which starts at $799.
Bottom line: If you don’t mind paying more a sleek, fairly powerful Windows 10 tablet, a Surface Pro 4 looks to be a solid choice. Bargain hunters, look elsewhere.
Hewlett-Packard recently announced its ENVY 8 Note, a Windows 10 tablet with an 8-inch, high-definition display. The twist: You can pair the small tablet with HP’s optional, full-sized keyboard. The goal is to let you be fully productive with a Windows 10 tablet that weighs next-to-nothing (0.80 pounds) and includes a built-in Verizon 4G LTE cellular networking (for a monthly fee). You can position the tablet in either portrait or landscape mode in its keyboard slot, too, which is unusual (but not unprecedented). The ENVY 8 Note ships Nov. 8 and includes HP’s stylus.
Price check: Starting at $429 with the optional keyboard, HP’s ENVY 8 Note ranks among the lowest-cost Windows 10 tablet/keyboard combos available.
Small business reality check: As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. The ENVY 8 Note, with an Intel Atom processor and up to only 6.25 hours of battery life, will likely not be anyone’s idea of a portable powerhouse.
Bottom line: As a second or even third computer for note-taking in meetings or brief work sessions on the road, the ENVY 8 Note could be a winner.
Google recently announced the Pixel C tablet, running the latest Android version, Marshmallow 6.0. It boasts a Nvidia X1 quad-core chip, 3GB of RAM, and a 2,560 x 1,800-pixel resolution screen. Pixel C has its own keyboard accessory, which doubles as a case and connects via Bluetooth. The keyboard battery recharges when you close the tablet over the case. The tablet is expected to ship later this year.
Price check: Pixel C costs $500 for a 32GB model and $600 for the 64GB version. The keyboard sells for $149. Price for a 64GB tablet and keyboard: $749. That’s $320 more than the base HP ENVY 8 Note tablet and keyboard combo—and unlike Pixel C, the HP device is a full Windows 10 machine.
Small business reality check: There are millions of apps available for Android, and plenty of productivity apps. But tablet-optimized apps still aren’t Android’s strongest selling point. And as with iPad Pro, you’ll be working with a mobile OS, not a desktop OS.
Bottom line: If you’re firmly ensconced in the Android ecosystem and want a tablet, Google’s Pixel C could be a good option. But if you’re just interested in getting a lot of work done on the road, you’ll likely get more productivity out of a Windows 10 tablet from Microsoft, HP, Dell, or other manufacturer.
James A. Martin covers mobile technology and writes The Apple Watch Watcha> blog.
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