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News Flash: You Don't Need a Tablet

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.

The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com 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.