The Tablet and Smartphone all-in-one
The Quick Version
Tablets and even smartphones are viable machines as your main (or indeed only) home computer.
The world is full of urban myths about what can't be done with tablets and smartphones. They can do almost everything a traditional laptop can.
Tablets and smartphones can be a cheaper and safer way to get a computer at home.
Here are the 4 main reasons people tell me it is impossible to use a tablet or a smartphone as your main (or indeed only) home computer:
- The screen's too small.
- You can't work without a full sized keyboard.
- You can't print.
- You can't create and edit your Word, Excel & PowerPoint files.
The job of this page is to disprove each of these in turn. But before I do, I thought it would be a good idea to show you a real life example, just to give it some perspective.
A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
I have done a lot of these in various forms and earlier today I was working on the one in the picture on the left, below. I thought "I had better take a picture of this and go home to write that article I have been meaning to write for ages", next thing you know, here I am.
It's based on an iPad and the user has been delighted with it for about 6 months now. His motivation was to avoid security problems. He has a Windows laptop and was worried because a lot of his friends were getting hit by infections and scams on their Windows machines. He wanted a way out. I said "Why not just switch off your Windows Laptop and use your iPad. You really like it and it will do everything you want". He said "the screen's too small, I need a keyboard, I need Word and Excel and I want to print" (because that's what they always say).
I grabbed an Apple TV, a bluetooth keyboard and a little stand for the iPad (he already had the screen and the printer) from the boot of my car. Installed WPS Office and connected to the OneDrive cloud service where all his documents were already stored. Bingo, he has a working system that does everything he wants and is a million times more secure than his Windows Laptop. Also, when he wants to go mobile he just picks it up and walks away with it.
Is this only ON iPads?
No, not at all. I just chose that example because I happened to be working on it today. It works in just the same way with an Android Tablet, Android Smartphone, iPhone, Amazon Fire, any kind of flat touch screen device really. The only difference would be the technology you use to get a copy of the screen from the small device to the large screen.
On this example I used an Apple TV (it doesn't show up well on this picture, but it's a little black box tucked away to the left of the phone) because that's the easiest way to do it on an iPad or iPhone device, both of which will talk wirelessly to it. On Android you would probably use a Chromecast. Most of these phones and tablets will let you connect via a cable, which is cheaper, but messier. I like to do it wirelessly if I can, just to keep it all neat and tidy.
These are the typical motivations:
- The iPad has the best security on the market (see the Security Hierarchy). Even normal folk are becoming aware it's a good idea to avoid Windows because of its security problems in the home.
- People love their tablets and phones. They keep a laptop for the last few tasks that they think they can't do on the tablet or phone. When I show them that these things are possible, they are over the moon.
- When your laptop breaks it's a treat to realise you don't have to replace it, you can just use the kit you already have.
- When you have spent all your technology budget on a tablet or phone it's nice to not have to buy a laptop as well.
Two things aren't perfect: Which screen to point at and screen resolution.
When you first start using a rig like this you keep pointing at the big screen and wondering why nothing happens. You have to point at the tablet/phone, the big screen is not touch sensitive. That's counter intuitive because you'll be looking at the big screen. Either that or because you are pointing at the small screen you will keep looking at the small screen and forget about the big one. It's like any skill in life, you acquire it with practice. After a while you look at the main screen to read a document or webpage and then look down to click on the next thing you want. It becomes second nature after a little while.
That clicking on the small screen is more fiddly when it's a smartphone. It wouldn't be much fun for serious spreadsheet work, for example. You would spend all your time zooming in to make the thing you want to click on big enough to point to. I would not recommend it for that use (check out a Chromebase instead), but for normal home use of writing emails, surfing the web and writing letters, it's fine. You are mainly reading text or writing it and a little formatting to finish off.
The screen resolution is a little niggle. A rig like this does not output at the native resolution of the big screen. That's techno speak for saying the image on the big screen does not look as high quality as it should. It's irritating if you are into technology and no doubt the manufacturers will up their game in time, but for now, it could be better. Would this make any difference to normal people doing normal things, probably not. It's just a geeky concern.
What about all the things I believe you can't do with this rig?
You're right I did promise to answer those points that the people who know about computers say you cannot do with a rig like this. Here goes:
The Screen's too Small
I think I pretty much covered that in the text above. The output of these systems is an HDMI cable. You can plug that in to a screen of any size including the monster screen at your local sports stadium! The largest screen I have a customer using is a 55" TV for a blind guy whose story I have told elsewhere on this site. If you want to plug yours into a protector and go to 120" no problem.
So no, the screen is not too small.
I need a real keyboard!
Go on to Amazon, search for "Bluetooth Keyboard" and stand back as page after page of fancy keyboards appear. There's a huge range of sizes, types, colours, the lot and they work with every tablet and smartphone on the market. If you need a real keyboard it's really not a problem.
There is a supplemental question to this when people insist they need a mouse (you will notice the absence of a mouse in the example picture) . Some people who have always used a mouse find it difficult to imagine being without one.
However, you can't use a mouse on a tablet/phone, but think for a moment about what a mouse is. It's a proxy for your finger. It's a way of you pointing at the screen and saying "I want that one". In the old days someone had to invent the mouse because you could stab at the screen as much as you like and the computer would have no idea what was going on (there were no touch sensitive screens back then). The mouse had to be created to pretend to be a finger and you had to learn how to use it. Now there's nothing to learn, you just point at what you want. You just have to unlearn the mouse, which is surprisingly easy (watch someone who normally uses a iPad try using a laptop, they keep poking the screen and looking confused. I heard a story of a 2 year old handing a magazine back to her mum saying it was broken because nothing happened when she pointed at the pictures [grown up with a tablet!]).
Admittedly a finger is not as precise as a mouse because it's big and stubby, but software for a tablet/phone has been designed with that in mind.
There are gazillions of smartphones and tablets in the world, they're all touch screens without a mouse and people love them. Jump in, give it a try. If you are determined not to like it, grab a Chromebase, or Chromebook. You can have a mouse on those and they are very good machines with great security and excellent backups.
How can you print from a tablet/smartphone?
Apple have a standard called Air Print and Google (who make Chromebooks and Android devices) have a standard called Google Cloud Print. You need a printer that needs to know how to talk this language, but along with the page for each device recommended on this website I also tell you which printers will work with it.
It's an urban myth that you cannot print from a Tablet/Smartphone and it's one that people tell me every day. The last call I did today was yet another one. Chap told me point blank his iPhone couldn't print. So I pressed a few keys and his printer fired up and printed his latest email (a demonstration is way much more powerful that a refutation).
What about Word, Excel and PowerPoint?
The short answer is "yes you can!". I did a whole article with the long answer. You can create and edit these files on just about anything with a chip in it (except things that come out of a chip shop and have fish included).
When people tell you that it's impossible to do things with your tablet or smartphone what they mean is they don't know how to do it. To be fair, sometimes they are right. There are things that these devices won't do, but they are far fewer than you might think. If you have something that you know you need and you think your tablet/phone won't do it, post a question in the Forums here. We can have some fun figuring it out.
But this is all Nonsense!
The slaying of myths and misunderstandings
There's a staggering amount of misinformation and urban myth doing the rounds on the subject of home computers, often nonsense that is most definitely against your best interests. So let's prepare you for when someone "who knows about computers" comes knocking by covering the popular hogwash in advance.
WINDOWS OR MAC ARE THE ONLY ANSWERS!
For the last 30 years you either had Windows or Mac and that was that. Now we have all the options above, there are plenty of people who have not lifted themselves out of the old rut (Windows/Mac, Mac/Windows). Remember, technology moves at a far faster rate than public perception. All this stuff has moved on. The sales of Windows PC is in sharp decline. The sales of Macs have grown, but not anywhere near enough to make up the gap. Something else is happening here. People are turning to the alternatives (tablets, Chromebooks etc). You can see it in the sales figures.
Sometimes Windows is the correct answer, sometimes Mac is the right answer and sometimes it's one of the newer systems.
Don't be shy, say what you think. The comment system below is there for anyone to ask a question or make a point. Especially don't hold back if you are a normal person just trying to make sense of it all. It's easy to get the opinions of geeks on geeky matters. Much more interesting to hear how this works out for you or what bits need more explanation. No such thing as a silly question, jump in.