News Flash: You Don't Need a Tablet

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Watch the video at the bottom of this post very carefully. There's a woman who is about to bankrupt herself for a product she does not need.

Unless you have an IQ under 30, you already know that Rent-to-Own stores like Rent-a-Center are the biggest rip-off in retail today, preying on low-income shoppers who have no credit but are desperate to buy things they think they need. The Acer Iconia Tab A500 the woman in the commercial is considering carries a suggested retail price of $449 right now, but if she listens to Troy Aikman and Hulk Hogan -- the pied pipers of predatory lending -- she'll be paying $19.99 a week for 78 weeks. That's a total of over $1,500!  The worst part: she doesn't need a tablet. Nobody does.

Despite all the hype surrounding successful devices like the iPad 2 and lesser slates like the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad, no one has yet made a compelling case for tablet as necessity. Most of us geeks believe that tablets are the future because of their shiny touch screens, adorable apps, light weight, and long battery life. But ask yourself:

  • Will your Samsung Galaxy Tab really let you work more efficiently from the road?
  • Will your child really move to the head of the class because she has an iPad 2?
  • Will your company's CIO get fired if he doesn't provide employees with tablets?

The sad reality is that, no matter how you spin it, a tablet's primary purpose in 2011 is still entertainment. When you get beyond playing Angry Birds, surfing the web, and watching downloaded movies, there are plenty of productivity tasks you can perform on a slate. But how many of these tasks actually work better than they do on a laptop or a smartphone?

Is there any doubt that a notebook provides the best way to edit documents, spreadsheets, photos, or presentations on the go? Is fumbling around with a virtual keyboard in QuickOffice really better than typing on a full QWERTY one?

Is there any question that a 4.3-inch phone, which fits in your pants pocket, is more portable than a 10-inch slate you must slide into a crevice in your trench coat like some secret weapon? Despite its smaller screen, the phone may have as much processing power as a tablet and its light weight makes it ideal for gripping in one hand as you walk down the street or peering at covertly during a boring meeting. It even makes calls!

Yes, there are practical benefits to having a tablet. But those benefits are nice-to-haves, not must-haves for living and working in the 21st century. Apart from field workers in vertical industries like healthcare, who tend to use high-end tablets that cost twice as much as an iPad, nobody needs a tablet to pay the bills today.

As it stands, some analysts predict an anti-tablet backlash as thinner, lighter notebooks cannibalize tablet sales. What would you rather spend your only $500 on: an entertainment slate that plays movies and games or a full-featured notebook that weighs the same amount but runs all your apps and provides a keyboard for content creation?

Somewhere in America right now there's a mother browsing through the aisles at Rent-a-Center, thinking  "I can't really afford this, but maybe my kids needs this Acer Iconia Tab to stay up to date." Please stop her before it's too late.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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  • Anthony Says:

    I too work for a Lease To Own company. We offer our customers 120 Days same as cash. I admit if a customer does complete the full 12 month lease to own plan on a tablet, it will cost more, DUH! If you finance something on a credit card, or other means of credit extension it is gonna cost you more. I ALWAYS suggest a customer shoot for the 120 SAC Price, to save money.

  • James Wilson Says:

    I've a 64 MB iPad for 15 months now, courtesy of my wife and children (I would never waste that much money on such a limited device), and I must say that it is the fastest way to read your email--given the large screen. In addition, since the battery lasts all day, it's always on and only fails when the network goes down. I can show pictures, graphs, charts and classified information easily and without a start-up, and at 72, my eyes need the large screen to read everything--just streettcchh the screen a little more. Do I need it? I have a desktop, two laptops and about 10 obsolete computers in the basement. No, but I use it, and it is ALWAYS ON. Think about it. Don't buy one, or you will be using it too.

  • TinkerTenor Says:

    This is how I have felt for years now...thank you Avram! I have looked for reasons to want a tablet aside from the usual (wow! there's no keyboard and its so cute!), but have ended up staying out of the tablet world instead. I just have a hard time shelling out $500 for something that will only *sometimes* be necessary or useful when I already have a smartphone for all of those things.

    A slightly more primitive example: I bought a netbook to take with me on a tour that lasted 6 months, but now that the tour is over I don't EVER use it, because I have a very nice quad-core win7 desktop that I built myself for less than the cost of an iPad (literally). The netbook is now collecting dust and will probably end up on eBay soon. So while I almost feel that the netbook was a poor investment even though I used it constantly for 6 months, I CERTAINLY wouldn't pay the same for an even less-useful device like a tablet that I would only occasionally use on a daily basis.

  • ansrac Says:

    I work for RAC and renting isn’t right for everyone, but I know our customers use us because we take small payments for items in a way that’s more manageable. We also have a 90 Days Same as Cash policy so if you pay off your item in full within 90 days, then all you've paid is subtracted from the cash price. No credit needed, flexible payment plans, free delivery and repair service at no extra charge are some of the benefits that make sense for our customers and, if for any reason their circumstances change, they can return the merchandise at any time.

  • Filipe R. Says:

    A windows 8 tablet which last 8 h on a charge, and is fast , solve this problem. You have both portability and produtivity. Case closed.

  • josh Says:

    and tablets don't have native dvorak support. lame

  • Steve Hendricks Says:

    Another +1 for the comments about predatory lenders like Rent-a-Center. And yes, if I had only one computing device, my iPad 2 wouldn't make the grade. But like Jason Dunn, I've found the iPad to be a remarkable device that far exceeds my expectations.

    Yes, my 64gig iPad 2 was expensive compared to sub-$500 netbooks (or whatever they're called this month.) On the other hand, I can use my iPad when I'm crammed into a middle seat in coach, even with the separate and far superior bluetooth keyboard I've added. I hate touchpads and the iPad's touchscreen interface eliminates the need for a separate mouse. And while I rarely use the onscreen keyboard, I can pull the iPad out of my bag for a quick email check and response in less time than it takes to boot my Windows netbook. Finally, the battery easily lasts a full five hour flight with capacity to spare, a feat my 11" HP laptop can't accomplish. In short, for travel, the iPad is a superior solution.

    I've hardly touched my HP since I bought the iPad. I could duplicate the iPad's functionality and convenience with, say, a Lenvovo X220T, but not at a price even close to the iPad. And even then, the iPad would still have some advantages in terms of portability and quick boot time.

    Furthermore, I've found that my highly capable smartphone no longer does much more than take and make calls. Of course, I can carry it in my pocket but I can read my email on the iPad without my glasses and in a pinch I can edit a spreadsheet or use a word processor on my iPad. On my phone it is literally torture to do either.

    Finally, I realize that my iPad won't get my six year old into Harvard (though hope springs eternal.) But with literally thousands of apps for kids, it's far more capable (and fun) for her than her hand-me-down laptop. Nor do I have to show her how to use it. Kids seem to be "hard wired" to understand the iPad interface. And it's a device I can let her use without worrying that she'll somehow delete important information or "brick" it. Even better, we can use it together and as they say, that value is "priceless."

    As I said, my iPad has far exceeded my expectations. Is it indispensable or an adequate substitute for my quad core laptop? Of course not. But like millions of others, I find its portability, functionality, and ease of use combine to provide a compelling user experience at a price that a small laptop cannot equal.

    I'm an old school techie whose first "portable" PC was a Kaypro. Like Avram I was skeptical about the value of a tablet compared to a "real computer." But like Jason Dunn, I've found I was wrong.

  • which-laptop Says:

    My son is getting dangerously close to being able to afford an iPad 2 having saved for around 18 months. I have emailed him this article in the hope that he might realize it is just a cool toy.

  • Roger Long Says:

    Wow, you referenced an article in which the two options presented are "ARM + Windows 8" wins (a.k.a. Windows tablets) or "Apple wins" (a.k.a. iOS tablets) and reference to it cannibalizing tablet sales? The Acer Iconia A500 is quite similar to the W500, both selling for <$500, and are hybrid tablets -- tablets, with touch screen displays, and, yes, even with fold out keyboards, are the way of the future.

    But obviously, places like Rent-A-Center aren't places to get them.

  • Jason Dunn Says:

    I used to think like you Avram. I even had a local TV reporter come and quote me as the guy who was doubting that the original iPad would be used for anything useful. I waited a year, and I got the itch to try my first tablet. I bought the XOOM, hoping it would be awesome, and it was an incomplete product - yet in the two weeks I had it, I found myself using it a surprising amount. I returned it and bought an iPad 2. Again, I wasn't certain how much I'd use it, but given the people I'd seen raving about them, I thought it was worth trying - these products were something truly new. I loved it so much I returned the 32 GB and bought the 64 GB version instead. I'm someone that generally dislikes Apple as a company and buys their products under much protest, hence me trying the XOOM first, so this is no small thing.

    It's hard to explain why, in a succinct fashion, the tablet has rocked my world. Is there anything it can do that a laptop can't do, perhaps even slightly better? No, not really. Yet I find myself using the tablet more often, and in more places, than I would any laptop I've ever owned. In fact, I sold my "upstairs by the TV" laptop because since getting my tablet, I never touched it. The difference? A combination of weight, size, speed, and battery life. I had an HP dv2, and it was heavier, slower, had worse battery life, and a fan that never turned off. Yes, it ran Outlook and slick Windows apps that had far more functionality than any tablet app. Yet I could grab my tablet, check for new email, and have it turned off again before the laptop would even come out of sleep and be logged in. The tablet hits the "good enough" sweet spot with such gusto for me that I hardly touch my main laptop anymore.

    The tablet is no replacement for a burly desktop computer with a big monitor or two - I'm not suggesting it could be a primary PC for my needs, but don't underestimate the power of "good enough" when it comes to the needs of the average consumer.

    I agree 100% on the predatory evils of rent to own stores though. ;-)

  • Robert Says:

    I'd like to disagree with the article, just to play devil's advocate....but I can't really. :) Good article! It's just that tablets seem shiny and new, whereas pcs, laptop and to an extent smartphones (since the latter have been around for a few years now) are a bit more routine. So there is that perceived additional "fun factor" and right now novelty. But in terms of being productive as the article argues, laptops and smart-phones probably fill that need better (especially in the case of the latter as they get more powerful and manufacturer's push the screen sizes as far as they dare). There are features that are nice to have that come from a tablet form factor and because of the touch screen, though there isn't really anything that could realistically be classed as essential. I have a feeling that once less expensive ultra-laptops come out which are lighter, more powerful and probably have better battery life than traditional laptops then tablets may end up being squeezed even more. They will therefore have to get a lot less expensive to continue to remain attractive once the novelty wears off.

  • FlamingoMap Says:

    Finally a gutsy article! Congrats to author Avram Piltch. Guess I'm not the only one who's been looking for a reason I'd need a tablet and have not been able to find one yet. Anyway the fact touchscreen obliterates hovering, hence rollover effects, has always been a deal breaker for me.

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