Most RV'ers use laptops for their computing needs. But tablets are increasingly replacing laptops in the professional and personal fields. Why? Mainly because they are lighter, more secure, and easier to use than a laptop.
Tablets have taken the world by storm ever since Apple introduced the first iPad two years ago. These devices are different than the prior 'tablets' that were really windows laptop computers with a touch screen and a kludgy interface.
The current generation of laptops are much more compact and lighter, making them easily portable. They offer instant-on and are very user-friendly - something that cannot be said about laptops. Almost all tablets are either based on Google's Android or Apple's iOS operating system. Don't get concerned, I'm not going to get all geeky. You just need to know that there is a choice of two tablet flavors. But wait, Microsoft and familiar name PC vendors will be introducing Windows-based tablets by late 2012. More on that later.
I think that a tablet is an excellent choice and can easily meet the needs of most people. I hardly bother with my laptop except for managing the DOAI website and the accompanying map POI database. I use an external Bluetooth keyboard (or voice dictation) since the on-screen (aka virtual) keyboard is not conducive to extended typing sessions. My parents are deathly afraid of a computer, but they can easily use my iPad. When I am using my laptop, my iPad serves as a second monitor - very handy and saves space and weight compared to a second desktop monitor. Software (on the tablet they are called 'Apps') is also very inexpensive. Apple's equivalent to MS Office Word/Excel/Powerpoint is only $30 (or $10 each if you don't need all three). And, there are many free or much less expensive alternatives available and also some very excellent photo and video editing apps.
Just a little more info on the currently-available tablets. Apple's iPad is available only in one size - 9.7" screen. There are many vendors that make Android tablets - as small as 3.5" all the way up to a 13" screen. The Apple iPad is a first-rate tablet, and there are several first-rate Android tablets. But there are also "junk" Android tablets made by vendors you never heard of. You probably are wondering how much a quality tablet will cost. I will only address the quality tablets, so with that in mind, generally $250 - $600 plus the cost of accessories such as a carrying case and Bluetooth keyboard.
Having both Apple and Android devices, I usually recommend the Apple iPad for the following reasons. First, there are over 200,000 apps available for the iPad, and finding these Apps in the Apple App store is very easy. Apple and Google have an app store for both their phone and tablet devices, but only Apple allows you to search for apps that have been optimized to run on the iPad. Not so in the Google App Store. In addition, due to the many different screen sizes available on Android tablets, many of the apps look terrible on a tablet of any given screen size. However, if there are suitable apps available for your chosen Android tablet, Android tablets generally have more features and cost less than the iPad.
Let's look at those features and costs in more detail. I will be discussing current option for the iPad and 10" Android tablets as of late spring 2012.
The iPad and Android tablets are available in WIFI only or WIFI+3G/LTE models, the latter meaning that you can buy a monthly data plan from the cellular carrier of your choice (generally $20-$30/month). Most people can easily get by with the WIFI model since many campgrounds, restaurants, etc, have free WIFI. I have several smartphones that also allow me to connect my iPad to Internet, so my tablets are WIFI only. Adding the cellular data capability also increases the basic price of a table from $100-$130.
Tablets can also be great navigation devices. If you don't have a cell connection, you will need a navigation app that stores the map data on your tablet. Note that most Android tablets either have a GPS receiver built-in. The Apple iPad does not have a GPS receiver unless you spend the extra $130 for the version with the cellular access. However, you can buy a special stand-alone Bluetooth GPS receiver for about $90. Already have a Bluetooth GPS, or a smartphone with Bluetooth and GPS? In all probability it won't work with the iPad since Apple crippled the Bluetooth stack.
In addition to usually having a built-in GPS receiver, some Android tablets also come equipped with a microUSB port for memory expansion, an HDMI port to connect to your TV to show your pictures or movies, and also the ability to connect to your computer and allow you to use it like an external drive or to connect your digital camera. The iPad has no ability to expand its memory. HDMI (or DVI or VGA) out for video or the ability to connect your digital camera is another $30 gadget, each.
There are several limitations of a tablet. Printing a picture or a document can present a challenge. It is easily accomplished if your printer supports ePrint. If not, there are printing apps that will allow you to print, but some of them require a laptop. Also, printing some documents may be a bit convoluted, requiring you to copy the document to another app to print. The other big limitation may be the inability to send things to another app. This is generally less of a consideration with Android compared to the iPad. As an example, I do a lot of research on my iPad and I need the ability to easily clip notes and images from websites and send them to Evernote which is an app I use to store all this info - this is easily done in Android.
There is a good way to get a recent top-notch tablet on a budget. For Android, there are several really good refurbished tablets for around $275. For Apple, you can buy a refurbished iPad 2, last generation but still a great tablet, for $320. However, you usually can't return a refurb tablet if you don't like it. Best Buy allows you 30 days to determine if your new gadget is right for you. Return it in as-new condition for a full refund, no restocking fees, if you are not happy.
Many tablet users are eager to 'escape' from the security issues of PC's. But, is that really true? For the most part, yes, with a couple caveats. Apple tests all the apps for the iPad to ensure they don't contain malware (although very rarely one may slip through). Currently, Google does not test any of the apps on their store, but Google (and Apple) have the ability to remotely delete a bad app from your tablet. Also, you are still just as vulnerable to phishing and hijacking due to weak passwords no matter what type of computing device you are using.
But wait, there will be a new kid on the block soon - Windows 8 tablets. What is that? Windows 8 is the next version of Windows, and it is the first version of Windows that will operate natively on tablets. (Windows 8 will also work on your laptop or desktop, even if it does not have a touch-screen.) These tablets will be available in two versions. One version will be a full-fledged tablet computer that uses Windows 8 and is able to run any Windows program that can run on XP, Vista or Windows 7 in addition to the new Windows 8 Metro apps. The other tablet version runs Windows 8 RT and only runs new Windows 8 Metro apps that are tested by Microsoft and only available through them. Obviously, the Windows 8 RT tablet will be more secure, but you are still vulnerable to phishing attacks and hijacking due to weak passwords. As of now, it is unknown what screen sizes will be available, other than 10" and above.
Is a tablet right for you? Should you wait for a Windows tablet? Or, maybe an Ultrabook ($700 and up) or a MacBook Air ($1000 and up) will better suit your needs. Both are very lightweight and compact and excellent choices. Only you can make this decision. Personally, I will probably sell my iPad and get a Windows 8 (not RT) tablet when they come out. But, that is only because I need to manage the DOAI website and the map database. If it wasn't for these responsibilities, I would just keep my iPad.
Questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org