June 15, 2011

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Tablet or Chromebook? That is the question

Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fifteenth of June, and we will once again be fighting for our freedom… not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from Operating Systems!

Ok… maybe not. But today does mark the official release/sale of the Chromebook. I’ve order a couple of the Acer Chomia Chromebook’s for the office (I prefer the HDMI output) and I’m really quite excited to get them and give them a spin. While I recently spent a bit of time futzing with a Cr-48 Chromebook, I found that it seemed to cross over with my usage of my Xoom tablet. So I asked myself, if I only had one or the other — which would I pick… and why?

I decided that the easiest thing to do was to break down my list into pros for each side (no cons though, because that’s just a pro for the other side). I just listed everything I could think of (along with a brief blurb) for both types of devices and while the list isn’t definitive, it is a good start.

Strengths for Tablets

  • Optimized Apps — The applications on a tablet are designed specifically for that form factor and type of interaction. There might not be as many apps as on the web, but those that are tend to “fit” better and work at a proper speed.

  • One handed operation — (useful while standing in line) You can use one hand to hold a tablet and the other to poke at the screen and get around just fine, something you cannot do with a notebook of any type.

  • Airline usage — Less space taken up by the device means it’s less likely to get crushed by the seat in front of you being leaned back.

  • Weight — Tablets are lighter, ‘nuff said.

  • Offline capabilities — Chromebooks are the definition of Cloud computer and need the internet. Most (though not all) apps on a tablet will function perfectly fine with no internet.

  • Games — At least so far, Tablets have the lead on games. There aren’t many Chromebook compatible apps (especially that work offline).

  • Faster getting started — Chromebooks are fast, but tablets are faster.

  • Dashboard (tasks, email, Cal) — This is one of those features that has been “lost” through the ages and finally is making a comeback. I love having a “dashboard” of sorts on my Xoom that gives me my To Do list, Calendar/Schedule and Email — all in the first few seconds of screen time.

  • Touch screen — Poking at a screen is generally nice and intuitive.

Strengths for Chromebooks

  • More powerful — While Tablets might be lighter weight, that extra weight on the Chromebook does deliver a reasonably powerful machine capable of running more than just the specially made apps.

  • Full and proper web — While we all love those fast loading, stripped down mobile sites, they tend to be just that… stripped down (Editor’s note: Such as US Airways’ mobile site not having an option to Check-In *grumble grumble*). The web was made for big screens.

  • Honest to god keyboard — I can type reasonably quickly on the Xoom or the iPad due to practice, but after any amount of stabbing at a hard screen, my finger tips hurt. Even “reasonably quickly” doesn’t hold a candle to my ability to type on a real keyboard. Any serious amount of typing? You need a something better than a tablet.

  • Better long term sleep — Tablets never truly “sleep”, they are constantly waking up to do things and this runs down the battery. While it is handy to have all your apps/emails/invites up-to-date, it is less handy to (try to) turn on your tablet and find it dead.

  • Actual (hardware) ports — Occasionally I would like to be able to plug stuff in (like a USB drive, or maybe an external keyboard/monitor). Most tablets don’t support any amount of plugging in. Overall

  • In the end, there is no clear “winner” because it really depends on what you want to do with your device. Some days I sit on BART and just want to listen to the radio, read my kindle, surf, and maybe check my email — Xoom is perfect! Some days I want to be able sit down and type out an intelligent and well thought out blog post… for which I need a notebook. For most people who don’t want to type more than a quick reply to an email, I suspect tablets will be the answer. I can’t say for certain yet, but I suspect Chromebooks will displace “netbooks” nearly completely, which means they’ll be relegated to a strictly traveling device, useful for those times when you will be offline for the majority of their use.