Listen to tech pundits and Wall Street cranks and you’d assume tablets are yet another stillborn trend like ultrabooks or netbooks that are destined for the island of misfit tech. To the contrary, most gadget makers could only dream of achieving the failure that tablets have enjoyed since the advent of the iPad in 2010 — this year alone some 300 million will be sold, dwarfing HDTVs, game consoles and, yes, even PCs. And with average models running circles around laptops in terms of weight, size, battery life, and price, we’d say that for typical consumers there’s actually never been a better time to nab a tab (we’re looking at you, Black Friday shoppers).
To take a step back, note that we’re talking about typical users, doing typical user-type things: Web surfing, light email, checking in on social networking, perhaps streaming music and video. If this is you or someone you love, you simply won’t find a laptop that does it better. Even mid-range tablets have crisp bright screens, zippy processors, weigh about a pound or even less, slip easily into a bag, and have enough juice to go 10 to 15 hours at a stretch, all for a few hundred bucks.
Similarly, much ado has been made about phablet-style smartphones, from the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to any variety of Android versions, obviating the need for tablets. For some users that certainly will be the case. After all, who wants to carry two gadgets when one suffices. Still, phablets cost the same or far more than most tablets, while requiring a pricey monthly subscription yet still tend to have a shorter battery life. If convenience is your deciding factor, then a phablet may work, but the larger screen of a tablet is far easier on the eyes and the wallet.
The caveat then is for power users looking for a computing device primarily for work-related or productivity tasks. While certainly plenty of people produce content on tablets, it’s still likely that most people will find better success using a tried-and-true laptop.
As we noted, even low-cost tablets are now at the level of quality whereby the lowest common denominator is actually pretty damn good, with the price differentiator coming from storage capabilities, screen resolution, and build quality. While you can certainly find some competing models that may have better specs here or there, pound-for-pound (or ounce-for-ounce) Apple’s iPad line still reigns supreme. If you prefer an Android model, the now-vintage Nexus 7 from Asus still hums like a top and yet is bargain-priced, while other options have niche capabilities that might make them especially appealing for certain users: Sony’s Z2 is ruggedized and waterproof, and Samsung’s Note line has clever stylus functions built-in. Windows users will want to look at Dell’s Venue Pro, which offers hybrid PC and tablet functions at a fraction of the cost of a Surface. And finally, Amazon‘s line of Fire tablets has incredible screens in particular and are especially well-suited for media consumption.
The other factor that makes tablets so enticing, and what might turn out to be a major factor in their recent sales decline? Their longevity. Unlike laptops that have hinges and keyboards and mechanical hard drives, tablets have no moving parts and so simply might not be breaking down at the rate of other devices in the past. Now that’s progress.