Tablets in the workplace: not so fast

I sucked it up this week and hit the road with only my iPad, leaving the four-pound ThinkPad (T410s) on my desk for the first time. I resolved to be productive using my HTC EVO as a 4G (Sprint/Clear) hotspot and work out of the cloud via Google Docs and Gmail. The cloud part is easy – I’ve been there for two years. The hardware failed.

So I’d grade the experiment a C –

What worked:

  • My briefcase was lighter and I didn’t have the usual worries about cracking a screen. Lighter is good as years of backpacking and shoulder strapping a laptop around has trashed my right shoulder.
  • I generally had decent access to my files
  • The Sprint/Clear 4G is decent as long as I’m in a major airport or urban center
  • It was much easier to roam around an office with an iPad, with instant on and off and constant connectivity as long as the phone was in my pocket

What failed:

  • The iPad is horrible for typing — on screen keyboards are an ergonomic disaster. I was tempted — for a few minutes — to seek out a local Apple Store and invest in an external $69 keyboard, but thought ¬†better of it.
  • Note taking on an iPad is a miserable experience and I suspect one looks like a douchebag when one tries to. See Mark Cahill’s comment regarding a wave of iPads in meetings that have reverted to good old laptops.
  • Google Docs are barely usable on an iPad (see previous post on why my next tablet will be Android-based). The Google app for iPad presents a mobile, stripped down version, with none of the essential tools such as the ability to download documents to the device and then send them as attachments via Gmail, or share them through the usual Google Docs collaboration capabilities
  • I was able to “free” docs and share them by resorting to the QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite, using that to access Google Docs, and then mailing stuff to people from within QuickOffice. It felt very kludgey.

Bottom line: I’m going to buy a ThinkPad X120e for $500 and go ultraportable. The first ThinkPad “netbook” — the X100 — was terribly under powered with some weak AMD Atom-like wannabe processor knock-off. I’m banking (need to check the reviews) that the processor refresh in the newly introduced X120e will make it a half-way decent cloud PC for road work. I’ll park the T410s on the home office desk, continue to love its classic ThinkPad keyboard, but use the X120e as my grab-and-go and save a pound of weight in the bag. Yes, I am tempted to go with a new MacAir — but the price tag stinks at $999 for 64 gb and I am not ready to completely bail out to the goofy but-oh-so-chic world of the Apple OS.