Is a tablet the best workhorse for the road?

Is a tablet the best workhorse for the road?

While it’s preferable to travel light when you’re on a business trip, you still need to carry the right tools to get the job done.

Most of us have a pre-flight checklist when it comes to packing an overnight bag for a quick interstate business trip. Just your toothbrush and a change of clothes can suffice in a pinch, along with the mandatory phone charger so you can stay in touch with the world. Things become more complicated if your smartphone won’t meet all your tech needs while you’re away from your desk.

Smartphones are fine for checking your email and skimming the occasional document, but if you’re doing much more you’re likely to demand extra screen real estate in order to remain productive. Once you’re considering a larger screen to slip in your travel bag, you need to make some tough decisions as to which device best meets your needs.

If your everyday workhorse is a 15-inch notebook you might find it weighs heavy in your bag. If you travel regularly you should certainly consider downsizing at least to a smaller notebook, with 11 or 13-inch models offering a better trade-off between portability and usability.

Thankfully it’s easy to keep all your documents in sync via the cloud so you don’t have to manually shuffle them between devices before you walk out the office door.

Alternatively you might forgo a notebook completely in favour of a tablet, but look before you leap. These days, tablets are often painted as complete notebook replacements, perhaps in conjunction with a wireless keyboard if you need to do a lot of typing. While tablets are useful for both work and play, you need to be absolutely sure that your tablet meets all your needs before you put your faith in it. The lack of Adobe Flash isn’t the hindrance it once was but mobile apps and websites can still lack some of the bells and whistles of their desktop counterparts.

Case in point, Google Docs’ iOS app still doesn’t let you edit tables within documents – a major limitation that you don’t want to discover the hard way in an emergency. This might be an instant deal-breaker for some people, while other people might be able to work around it if they plan ahead.

This is exactly why you need to put your travel workflow to the test long before you leave the office. Google’s cross-platform support is attractive, but it’s far from your only option so make sure you evaluate alternatives from the likes of Microsoft and Apple along with third-party mobile office suites like CloudOn and Documents to Go.

It will take some research to find the best solution for your needs while playing nicely with the rest of your business systems. When evaluating your mobile office, spend the entire day working solely on your tablet and see how you fare. Try accessing all the documents, apps and services you’re likely to need on the road to see how you’ll manage in a mobile environment. Consider how you’ll cope if you’re called upon to perform a task or access a system that usually wouldn’t be required when you’re away from your desk.

A solution that only meets 90 percent of your needs might not cut it if that missing 10 percent could leave you in the lurch at a critical time. If you’re only missing one piece of the puzzle, consider whether a remote desktop service like LogMeIn would make it practical to occasionally access the computer on your desk remotely from a tablet.

Even if it’s technically possible to get everything done on a tablet, some tasks might be so frustrating and cumbersome that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Don’t feel pressured to abandon your notebook for a tablet just because it’s the fashionable thing to do. It’s more important to get the job done efficiently and effectively than it is to be a technical trendsetter.

If a tablet can meet all your needs then you need to find the optimum screen size for travel.

Rather than a standard 10-inch tablet, you might find that a 7-inch model is perfect for life on the road – especially if you can slip it in your jacket pocket rather than finding room in your bag.

If you can make do with a 7-inch screen then you should also consider whether it’s worth forgoing a tablet and instead permanently upgrading from a standard smartphone to a 5 to 6-inch phablet. The extra size can feel awkward at first but it does grow on you and it might be a worthwhile investment if it means you can sometimes get by only carrying one device on the road.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mobility and you’ll probably find it useful to have both a tablet and a small notebook in your arsenal – keeping them all in sync via the cloud. This way you can grab the best tool for the job as you walk out the office door, safe in the knowledge that you have everything you need at your fingertips.

David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.


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