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Top 10 Reasons NOT to buy a tablet computer this holiday

tablet

Well the silly season is almost on us. That time when we all run around like headless chickens desperately looking for stuff to buy for people who don’t really need more stuff. It’s like some sort of insane rain dance. I swear if aliens landed tomorrow they’d die of laughter, not bacteria. We spend all that money for *what…*?

Anyway, in honor of the oncoming fervor, we’re going to offer our own seasonal advice to help folks make the right kind of buying choice this year instead of just following the herd. So here’s our top ten reasons for NOT buying a tablet computer.

(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

1. They’re actually not very good computers

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When you get right down to it tablet computers really can’t cut it in the computing game. They’re typically way too under powered to process really cool stuff like video editing or number crunching, they don’t have enough storage to hold all of your growing collection of hamster photos, and they lack the most basic input systems like keyboards and mice for navigating sophisticated programs. As a photo viewer, or watching a *short* movie until the battery runs out (see 3) they’re great. As an actual real live, let’s get things done computer, they suck. Big time.

2. A decent smartphone is just as useful

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With the increasing power and screen size of Android smartphones, you’re actually not getting much more functionality with a tablet than with a phone. Sure if you go to 10.1 inch screens, you’ll be getting more eye candy real estate, but it comes at a cost (and not just purchase price – more on that later). Phones contain really good GPS, WiFi, microSD storage and crucially 3/4G roaming, which makes them more than a match for just about every tablet. And even when you add 3G onto a tablet, you’ll often find that for some reason it’s not as reliable as a phone. Go figure.

3. The battery life sucks

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No really, tablet computers are supposed to offer great battery life, but if you actually try and do anything serious with them, like play games for extended periods, guess what? The battery life disappears faster than a hamster with a hacksaw. The fact is you simply can’t cram a big enough battery into that slimline form factor without something suffering big time. And in this case it’s battery big time.

4. Laptops do it better

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Look around. They may be slightly more expensive, but skinny gorgeous laptops are available everywhere right now. They’re sleek, lightweight, come with keyboards, massive storage, and some, like the Lenovo Yoga even feature touchscreen coolness so you can mix and match between tablet and PC functionality. And what’s more they’ll cope with everything you throw at them, from stonking great PC games to heavy duty Photoshop work. There’s a reason everyone still keeps a laptop as their main working machine.

5. Where’s the focus?

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When it comes right down to it tablet computers don’t really have a comfortable role, apart from looking good in Starbucks, and even that’s getting old nowadays. So you can view photos on them, or listen to music or even check your email, but are these tasks solely for tablet users? Nope, I can do that and more (Hi Ma, just calling to check if my laundry’s ready…) on a phone. When it comes right down to it, surveys point to the fact that the main use of a tablet is to check TV program times from your couch. Wow, amazing! Not.

6. They’re uncomfortable

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Whichever way you look at it, tablet computers are just downright unwieldy. Even the smallest ones are too big for pant pockets, and just forget about the 10 inchers. So what do you do? If you’re a lady, you pop them in your bag, but for men it’s either a matter of carrying them around in some sort of case like a laptop, or stuffing them into whatever excuse for a plastic bag you happen to have with you at the time. And heaven forbid it rains.

7. It’s yet another obsolescence trap

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Buying a tablet means you’re adding yet another decomposing pile of plastic and metal into your life. You know the thing will depreciate 50% in price by the time you get the wrapping off and open the box, and things only go downhill from there. Try selling one on eBay when you want to upgrade, good luck with that. Even the most majestic of iPad products will only fetch a fraction of their day one price when you come to sell. The marketing guys must love us mugs, because we keep ponying up the cash for their relentless stream of landfill fodder. What a game.

8. The delicate insanity of endless charging

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Do you ever feel like you’re a slave to all your chargers? I do. Most of us know the symptoms, it’s that sudden ‘midnight in bed, just dozing off to sleep’ terror that you forgot to plug one or more of your devices into the power socket before retiring. And it’s all the way at the other end of the house or apartment, and it’s dark and cold and…yeah right. I’m actually not sure how many more charging demands our brain can cope with, but I’ve got a suspicion that once we reach a particular number, our synapses will shatter and we’ll suffer collective charger maintenance overload and that will be that.

9. They’re a total rip off

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Oh now come on, deep down we all know that really a tablet computer costs next to nothing to make. After all what is it? A tiny motherboard, a battery and a mass produced Shenzhen screen. That’s it. If they can sell laptops with keyboards, hard drives, expandable memory and all the rest for $300, what on earth makes a 7 or 10 inch tablet worth the same kind of price? Really? Just think about it for a second. These guys are laughing all the way to their offshore bank accounts.

10. They’re not cool

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Yeah there was a time a year or so ago, when strolling into your local cafe or hostel with a slick looking tablet under your arm was something to impress an audience, but man those times have long gone. Now people either assume you’re some posing hipster or they feel sad that you’re so short sighted you need that size of screen on your phone. It’s a no-win situation. And it’s not as though you can hide the thing in your pocket either (see 6).

So, if you’re seriously considering getting yourself a new toy to play with this holiday, do yourself a favor and skip the obvious. Ditto if you’re thinking of buying one for your significant other. They may say that’s what they really want, but trust us, within 3 months the thing will be sitting in a drawer somewhere (or down the back of the couch) gathering dust with a flat battery and a ketchup smeared screen.

Oh sure they may get dragged out every few months, when a new app gets advertised which looks cool, but soon enough the charging hassle will get in the way, and they’ll get discarded again in some hidden nook or cranny.

This has been a public service announcement. Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree, we’re all open minded folk around here.

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


  • Bill Binns

    Huh? I’m not exactly a tablet fanboy but I think your missing a lot here. I love sitting in front of the TV with my Nexus 7 and surfing during commercials or quickly googling things of interest while watching TV. A tablet can be your best friend during a long flight, especially a flight with WIFI. On a recent trip thorugh Europe and the Middle East, I used my tablet far more than my laptop. In fact I used my Android phone that had no network connectivity other than WIFI more than I used my laptop. This worked so well that I will probably not take my laptop on my next vacation at all.

    Obsolescence trap? My wife is rarely seperated from her beloved and well-worn iPad2. A new iPad would be the obvious choice for a Christmas present but I doubt she would notice the difference. It’s not like the iPad or any other tablet leaves you staring at spinning beach balls or hourglasses the way an obsolete laptop will.

    Laptops may still have the edge for some (mostly Microsoft Office) work tasks but the list gets shorter and shorter every day.

    • Thanks for the interesting comment Bill. For me I would rather take my elderly but reliable Asus EEE netbook, since it gives me a perfect compromise between lugging a laptop and the lack of serious input of a tablet. But of course we each have our own habits and preferences, which is what makes it so interesting.

  • Matthew Stout

    I can’t help but feel the need to disagree with just about every point here ALONG with pointing out that I think the author needs to look around a bit more

    My phone is my go to gadget for staying in touch tasks that don’t involve heavy reading/viewing. My laptop and desktop computer are for work and the occasional game that I DIDN’T feel like playing on my console. EVERYTHING else….. my tablet… books/magazines/Soduku and other games/ videos on the patio futzing around the web while kicked back on the couch/scrabble/various photo apps/ etc…… all done brilliantly by my tablet.

    Poor battery life? Maybe you need a better tablet. I’ve got several iDevices AND Android where a single charge caries them rather well thru a full day of pretty heavy activity.

    Laptops (and ESPECIALLY desktops) are terrible for passing around the living room saying “Hey guys, check out this funny cat”. Cell phone….. sure, if you don’t value your eyesight.

    Uncomfortalbe? I can’t think of ANYTHING in the whole of technology-dom that at SOME point or another someone hasn’t announced “This will give you carpal tunnel”.

    Not cool? I beg to differ.

    Obsolescence trap? Moore’s Law. It’s GONNA happen to everything. I have an iPad 3 AND a mini…. you know where my old iPad 1 is? magneted to the fridge acting like a family reminder/shopping list center/ recipe access terminal/……. Something’s REALLY only obsolete when you decide to quit using it

    And biggest of all…. Not decent computers? Tablets are what computers SHOULD have been since the mid 80s. The average ( and even in some cases above average) computer user doesn’t need MOST of what a desktop or laptop can do but would vastly benefit from additional portabillity along with the screensize of a tablet. How long did computers promise amazing benefits to our daily life but require we be pinned to a desk to GET those benefits?

    I could go on but I feel I’ve either vented enough or made my point:)

    P.S. – I’d like to point out my intention was not to take so harsh a stance against the author. This is after all just my opinion:) And the article DID make me think…… which is what ANY bit of writing is for …… right?

    • All good points Matthew, and I’m sure there’s a large constituency which will share your enthusiasm for these little creatures. But to describe a tablet as a decent computer is something that I cannot go along with, the mere fact that you’re limited to 2 GB maximum of RAM and a paltry on-board storage mechanism, not to mention the lack of any decent processing power really means they can’t be used for anything more than light work or media consumption. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. :)

      • Matthew Stout

        No worries…. the internet is BUILT on disagreements.

        I guess I should clarify that for ME it’s a quite capable computer. If my tablets continue to perform as well as they do off of 1 or 2 GB of ram than so be it. And even my desktop computer has very little storage since I keep everything in large paid Google Drive or Grooveshark Or Netflix Or Steam Or……..:)

        I guess ultimately I base my definition off of the same thing I’ve told people for YEARS when asked if they should upgrade: “If it does what you NEED it to do and you can find no complaints…… Then it sounds like you have the perfect device!”

        Anyhow, have a great one!

        • Thanks Matthew, I guess the one thing I cherish most about the Internet is the opportunity to have genial and informative discussions, so it’s really great to hear your views. In regard to your comment here, yes I do see your point about ‘horses for courses’, and for many people a tablet is a perfect device for their needs. I suppose my real objection is I feel it has been oversold as an all round computer, when in fact it isn’t really that (yet!). Thanks.again.

          • Matthew Stout

            At the risk of “overstaying my welcome” I have to agree. When you said they’d been oversold it clicked. There have been many of our technologies that had to take a step back in order to make that real leap INTO it’s niche. LCD monitors took us from 21+ monitors back to 14s where we began the climb again….. but it was worth it. SSD drives….. to gain all it’s benefits we had to accept a hit in our storage capacity ( I know there’s more to it than that). Even outside computers…. electric/hybrid vehicles are amazing steps forward conceptually but to get there we take hits to the range/speed/capacity that we’ve had the past 100 years. Tablets are in the early stages of that jump…. from what we’ve been sold INTO what they can be.

          • You can’t overstay your welome Matthew, we’re open all hours here. :)

            Yes I agree entirely. Perhaps my position is summed up best by saying – they’re oversold, over priced and under specced at the moment. But as you say that will change with time. I remember thinking the same thing about early laptops when they were $9,000 each (when they had to throw away 90% of the TFT screens coming off the belt, because yields were so bad). Now laptops are amazing.

            Perhaps I’m just someone who prefers mature technology which delivers on the promise, rather than early tech which doesn’t? Interesting thought.

  • davinpeterson

    Stay away from cheap Android Tablets, such as those made in China. They are no good as the screen is too small and they don’t have many features/apps.

    • Um…the Google Play store has several hundred thousand apps available at the last count, and as far as I remember you can buy budget Android tablets in exactly the same sizes as any other tablets on the market, so I don’t think those points really hold water when it comes to tablet use in general?

      • PaxD75

        Just to add to what davinpeterson is saying… cheap overseas models just have a (well-deserved) bad reputation when it comes to hardware. Slower cpus, darker screens, low sound (even with headphones and sound cranked all the way up), touch screen sensitivity issues, battery life, etc.

        Also, a cousin of mine bought a cheap overseas 7″ model last year that wasn’t license with Google (Play). It used 3rd-party sites for apps (pretty common). Poster may be referring to this.

        This type of review of tablets should really focus on the best breeds because you do get what you pay for.

      • PaxD75

        Just to add to what davinpeterson is saying… cheap overseas models just have a (well-deserved) bad reputation when it comes to hardware. Slower cpus, darker screens, low sound (even with headphones and sound cranked all the way up), touch screen sensitivity issues, battery life, etc.

        Also, a cousin of mine bought a cheap overseas 7″ model last year that wasn’t license with Google (Play). It used 3rd-party sites for apps (pretty common). Poster may be referring to this.

        This type of review of tablets should really focus on the best breeds because you do get what you pay for.

        • Yes agreed, the budget tablet market is in a very nascent stage at the moment. Funnily enough, we’re experiencing the opposite with smartphones, where the budget market is really producing some high quality products. Interesting variation for such similar devices.

  • PaxD75

    Always enjoy reading good ‘ole honest criticism. We need more of these types of articles. Hopefully it leads to good discussions. I disagree with some of your points but won’t make any comments on them – this is already a long post.

    To add to your list… you left out surveillance and tracking. Also the ability to remove useless and unwanted 3rd-party apps without breaking TOSes. The lack of *built-in* security like firewalls and ARP Poisoning protection, for example, for a device that’s sold as a conduit to the cloud just doesn’t make any sense (arghh!). Also, they’re conduits to ‘the cloud’:-)

    On the plus side, they’re fantastic (as Bill Binns noted), for flights. They take up less space and are more capable than netbooks (netbook user for 2 years) for certain tasks (high-quality video support, better selection of ebook reading apps and Video Conferencing over WiFi (it’s just a better mobile solution compared to laptops/netbooks) just to name a few).

    If you’re into reading comics, a larger tablet blows away most laptops because of their ability to easily switch between landscape and portrait modes. Laptops (non-hybrids) force you into 16:9 landscape forcing you to scroll endlessly on comics. I actually picked up a cheap, overseas 12.1″ tablet just for this purpose. It’s much better at handling this task than my 17″ laptop. I may eventually opt for a hybrid device but currently I don’t want anything to do with Windows 8.x.

    They’re also much better suited for users who are overwhelmed by a full-featured OS. This is a huge market. The bigger screens are also much more useful for older folks with vision issues so this limits the functionality of a souped up smartphone for many users (Migoal TransMaker, hopefully, will provide a good solution and perhaps spur a movement. It’s a unit that will convert a Galaxy s3/s4 smartphone into a tablet and notebook).

    Tablets also automate and integrate so many functions (sharing, email, notifications, updates, auto-correction, etc). It’s something that both savvy and non-savvy users appreciate over traditional computing devices. Not a big fan of “modern/mobile” OSes but I like this integration a great deal.

    One feature that I absolutely love is the ease at which these devices can reset themselves to remove all account information and apps. Traditional OSes (ie, Windows… not sure about Macs or Linux) just don’t have this sort of simple, integrated push-button approach to sweeping your system clean to start over (or for selling your device).

    • Absolutely excellent comment, thanks very much. And yes I agree with you about the positive aspect of tablet computing for those who are new to the genre. It’s easy to forget that there’s still a large constituency which are technophobes, and tablet computers go a long way towards removing the fear (maybe it’s something to do with the lack of that intimidating keyboard?).

      I think we’re actually also agreeing on a lot of points, I see the tablet as being very useful for consuming media, but maybe my problem is with the ‘computing’ side of the equation? They’re priced like regular computers, but in fact they deliver much less functionality in my opinion.

      Thanks again though, great points.

  • miles

    Another great article Nigel. However I cant entirely agree. Surely the whole tablet market is being driven by the ipad and ipad mini and I cant see that going away. Im not prepared to pay crazy amounts for the ipad/iphone hence my gathering interest in the chinese phone/tablet market providing a similar experience at a fraction of the price. Ive just picked up a RK3188 powered 7 inch tablet by Pipo which is getting close to a complete product. Antutu 20,000 and a proper battery due to a thicker profile, priced at around £75 direct from Shenzen. I reckon the tablet market is getting close to producing a complete product. The pomp w89 I recently bought on the strength of your review is just superb and I cannot fault it in anyway. Im watching with interest as it cannot be long before someone like Pomp or Thl simply scale up one of their smartphones to 7 or 8 inch screens powered by mtk6589T cpu and leave all the other internals untouched, add beefier batterys and then you will have a proper product to compete with the ipad.

    • miles

      The other issue I forgot to mention is in your final paragraph and sums up the whole tech issue – your comment about how come are laptops being sold at $300 – including large screens, batteries, hard drives, memory and all the other goodies? What gives apple (and others) the right to price their products at the outrageous prices they do? The profit these guys must be making is unbelievable.

      • They make the profit because they can I guess, Miles? :) The trick is to keep us wanting just one more thing. We’re already seeing smart watches getting a big marketing push at the moment.

    • Yes absolutely. In fact the Chinese are already heavily into 6 inch phablets which really bridge the gap between tablets and phones. Interesting times. :)

  • Rich Duerr

    Yeah, I keep up on this blog all the time, I like it and find it a useful resource, but as a fellow gadget fiend myself, disagree on almost every point as well. They have many great uses, using Citrix Receiver they become a really handy Enterprise tool allowing you to reboot servers and do remote desktop support while sitting at your local pub. Lots of handy stuff.

    • Ah but Rich, my point is you could do exactly the same thing with a decent smartphone, no? :)

  • Bob

    Leaving aside the slightly bizarro hamster references I’ve been feeling for a while that the tablet market has a touch of the Emperors new clothes about it. Nigel, you are clearly the little boy shouting out that he’s nude.
    A tale of two tablets? I bought a cheap Chinese tablet for about a hundred quid; OK the camera is rubbish but it’ll run HD movies via HDMI, and it got loads of connectivity, Google Play store, yada yada. I bought my father in law a dog’s wotsits Samsung 10.1 tablet and you have to buy extra leads to connect it to anything. After 3 months, it’s going back because the battery is defective.
    I love my tablet for the tiny amount of stuff it is suitable for, AND because it cost a hundred quid. If it cost £400, albeit with a fancy camera, it would be a white elephant.
    Smart phone? Is that one without a dial?

    • Oy, leave my hamster out of it. :) Yes, that’s what I’m saying, that the utilty of tablets is not yet quite where the marketing people would have us believe.

      • I tend to agree; in fact, I think the main reason why people are crazy about tablets is because they saw a padd in Star Trek and always wanted one. :) Today’s tablet fad is the sequel to the netbook fad, and I wasn’t a great fan of those, either, because I always thought they had a very small screen, the battery was weak and they were underpowered. To me, a 13″ ultrabook is the right compromise.

        • Yes I think I agree about ultrabooks, they definitely seem to have the optimum balance of features.

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