Tablets are hip—everyone is getting one. But the question on many small business owners’ minds is: Can a tablet replace my laptop when I’m on the road?
The answer depends on what work you currently do on your laptop. A tablet is great for surfing the Web or watching videos, but it is not necessarily the best solution for every business task.
This list can help you decide whether you should start shopping for a tablet or need to keep lugging your laptop:
1. Surf the Web
Nearly every tablet offers touchscreen capabilities that make Web surfing more interactive—zooming in or out by “pinching” the content or spreading your fingers outward. Some tablets include built-in Wi-Fi while others offer 3G, which lets users access the Internet wherever there is wireless coverage. The 3G option usually includes a monthly fee for a carrier’s service plan. Once you’re online, you can get caught up on the news of the day, check your favorite websites and update your social networking pages.
2. Catch up on e-mails
Like laptops, most tablets can be configured to access company e-mail accounts. They work fine for sending short e-mails, but the smaller touchscreen keyboard makes it more difficult to compose longer e-mails. Many offer external keyboards—wired or wireless—to make typing easier. Organizational functions, such as flagging e-mails and creating or modifying folders, may not be supported on some tablets. So do your research if you use these features frequently.
3. Keep tabs on customers
Just as you can sync your e-mail from your desktop onto a tablet, you can also sync your contacts and calendars. Tablet-ready versions of SalesForce and other customer relationship management apps allow you to find contact information, update lead status and review customer activity when you’re on the go.
4. Write and edit documents
The light weight and long battery life of most tablets make them a good option for conferences and meetings. Applications are available that let you use your finger to write or draw on the screen (Penultimate) or even record sound (Evernote). Though good for taking notes, tablets generally aren’t as suited for more sophisticated word processing tasks. Most programs allow you to format text, bullet lists and insert photos, but may not offer tracking changes, adding comments or other advanced editing features. Some tablets however, can run full versions of Microsoft Word, so be sure to research what you need. If you plan to type a lot, get an external keyboard.
5. Work with spreadsheets
Most tablets offer some form of spreadsheet software, and even let you make charts and use formulas. Yet, not all tablet spreadsheet programs support working with macros and other more advanced functionality. You could also lose more complex formatting when you import spreadsheets from a different program. So, if your work involves intensive number-crunching or reporting, you may want to hold onto your laptop.
6. Give presentations
Tablets’ size and bright displays make them ideal for showing websites, videos or presentations. If you are presenting to a larger audience, you can connect the tablet to a projector, generally through an adapter. If you want to use a tablet to look at presentations that you created on another computer, be sure to check that fonts render correctly, since some styles may not be supported on the tablet.
7. Manage your website
If you use a Web interface to update and manage your website or blog, you should be able to access it on a tablet. Apps such as FTP On The Go can help you access your FTP server in order to change and upload files. There are also apps available for viewing analytics related to visitors, keywords and other data.
8. Use with peripheral devices
Many tablets don’t have USB ports or other connectors to hook up to printers, cameras and other peripherals—and those that do may lack the software to support those devices. There are some workaround options. For example, apps like PrintBureau and PrintCentral let you print directly to wireless printers.
Other tablet features include a longer battery life and instant-on capability. If you’re still undecided, you may want to test them out. Try using the keypad and navigating the Web, and make sure they run the programs you use the most when traveling. AT&T offers a variety of tablets that can help you be more productive when you’re on the road.