Close-up Of Two Businessman Analyzing Graph On Digital Tablet

Early tablets were designed to consume information, not to produce it. Now, vendors are offering up tablets as complete laptop replacements that are able to keep up with a wide range of tasks. Should you make the switch?

If you are a financial advisor who visits clients regularly, you probably prefer to have your data with you in easily presentable form. A relatively hefty laptop, with its array of windows to sort through, isn’t always the right answer. For several years now, lightweight tablet devices with their glitzy, full-screen software have been an attractive alternative.

In the early years, though, tablets were designed to consume information, not to produce it. They were too low-powered, their screens were too small and their interfaces were too restrictive to create documents effectively.

Much has changed in the past few years. Increasingly, vendors are offering up tablets as complete laptop replacements that are able to keep up with a wide range of tasks while offering stunning battery life and superlative portability. Are modern advisors finally able to ditch the laptop for a tablet?

Blurring the boundaries

Depending on the operating system (OS) in question, the biggest problem these days may be defining what a “tablet” is. Two-in-one hybrid devices have muddied the waters. Microsoft Corp. first released its Surface Pro in 2013 – a tablet-format design running a full-function Windows OS that supports a detachable keyboard. The company touted the Surface Pro as a laptop replacement early on. Other two-in-one devices, such as Alphabet Inc.‘s Google Pixelbook and AsusTek Computer Inc.‘s Chromebook Flip, powered by Google’s ChromeOS, also support Android apps.

Conversely, Apple Inc. has kept its laptop and tablet lines distinct, offering touch screen and pen input only on iPad devices. Apple also maintains the separate iOS for the iPad and iPhone, reserving the more powerful macOS for laptop and desktop machines. Nevertheless, with the introduction of the iPad Pro, Apple has been touting that device as a laptop replacement for users who have relatively simple needs.

One consideration – computing power – is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Tablets typically feature low-powered, energy- efficient Intel processors (or, in Apple’s case, its own line of processors) that easily match mid-market laptops. The administrative applications and web browsing that most advisors rely on will run quickly enough on most tablets.

Interface differences

Of more importance is the OS interface. In the past, iPad and Android tablet OS interfaces were rigid and inflexible – not allowing users to put multiple applications on a screen, for example. Then, the Surface Pro and other Windows two-in-ones offered all the interface capabilities of Windows, while Apple followed suit in a limited way with the September 2015 launch of iOS 9, which allows users to split a screen in order to run two applications simultaneously. The company has since enhanced that feature.

Apple’s iOS 11 introduced some basic file-management capability with a Files app that enables users to manage files both in the cloud and on the device and keep those files all in one place. Although the Files app falls short of macOS’s full-blown Finder file manager or Windows’ File Explorer, the app still will enable you to handle basic tasks. You also can combine it with third-party file-management software such as Documents, an app from Readdle Inc. that features support for extra file types and the ability to download and save files from the web.

(Apple’s iOS 12, released on Sept. 17, includes improved support for gestures and enhancements that make switching between applications easier.)

Unlike Windows, with its common code base, iOS still supports only applications written for that OS rather than those written for macOS. However, with the increasing array of apps available for iOS, software choice isn’t really an issue. That’s especially true now that Microsoft and Apple have versions of their office software available for the iOS platform. Microsoft and Google each support Android with their respective office software products.

Physical differences

The one thing that may take the most getting used to when using a tablet is its physical format. Although there are some add-on keyboards that make typing possible when using a tablet, they often fall short of traditional laptop keyboards.

The iPad’s “smart” keyboard is a good example of this. It props up the device well enough on a table, but the iPad tends to fall over if you try to balance it on your lap.

Some companies attempt to bridge the gap between tablet and laptop by using docking stations that let you connect to an external monitor for a full desktop experience. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.‘s Android tablets – and even the firm’s Galaxy Note smartphone – can use Samsung’s DeX docking station, which connects them to an external monitor and keyboard, projecting the portable device’s display onto the external monitor. A docked Samsung tablet also displays a desktop interface, optimizing apps so that they appear as windowed, desktop-style software.

Apple remains steadfastly opposed to docking stations for the iPad, which raises one of the biggest objections to using tablets as laptop replacements: the lack of input/output ports. The iPad – and most Android-based tablets – aims to be thin and light. That means it doesn’t include ports for HDMI cables, USB devices or SD cards. If you’re looking for expandability, then you must find a third-party dongle that plugs into the iPad’s lightning port.

Another difference between the iPad and a conventional laptop is that the former doesn’t support mouse devices. This limitation can create problems as you adjust to swiping and poking at text to select it on the iPad’s screen. You could find yourself using the keyboard exclusively to select text and move it around.

What does all this mean if you’re hoping to replace your desktop or laptop with a tablet? Windows OS devotees can make the shift easily, thanks to the many two-in-one devices that offer the ultimate in portability and functionality. You will be able to use the same OS you’re used to in either tablet or desktop mode.

Apple users have a tougher call. Although using an iPad as a desktop replacement has become more feasible, you’ll still find yourself making compromises. Those compromises are shrinking, though, as the iPad becomes increasingly capable.

If you focus on using office software and want an easily portable solution to tote among your office, home and client visits, then the iPad is looking increasingly viable as a laptop replacement – especially after the iOS 12 roll out in September.