Posted September 5, 2012 by Jason Levy 

A Few More Thoughts on Portable Technology

A few months ago, I shared a post about moving from a laptop-centered portable existence to a more tablet-oriented model. I thought it would be of interest to share some follow up on the topic and provide some additional resources for those of you who might want to make the move.

So my travels were many this break. I went on personal trips, short outings for work, and even on one college visit for ACUI's College Unions and Student Activities Evaluation Program. In most cases, the tablet did the trick to check email, find a great spot for dinner, or as my digital or e-book companion. The problem is when I really needed to do something "work-like," it fell short. While on one trip, I needed to send a note to all my students, and the only format I had their emails was in an Excel document on a shared hard drive location at work. I couldn’t get to the shared drive (not the tablet’s fault, I know, but it would have been simpler on a laptop in every case), and when I asked one of my staff members to send me both the list in an email and as an excel attachment, I could not use my web email client to send the notice. Not sure why, but it wouldn’t check the names correctly or add enough names to the message without an error. What I ended up doing was remoting into my home computer from the tablet and using my home computer to send the note from my email client. Sure it got the job done, but it certainly was 30 minutes of clunky frustration that I didn’t need.

On a second trip, I wanted to use the tablet as a document editor and for some content review of a longer paper. Without a keyboard or stylus (again not the tablet’s fault necessarily), it was tough to make notations or highlight text in Word, and most tablet-based Office programs don’t have the “track changes” component. I ended up making a second document and sending it along with a note sharing why I didn’t edit the original. Again, not a terrible solution, but certainly not seamless or easy like in a full computing environment.

The last interesting experience was while on a trip for work with some professional colleagues. Both of the folks I was with brought beautiful Mac Pro laptops and iPads with them on this trip. I just had my tablet with its attached keyboard. We were scheduled to meet with several folks over the course of a couple of days and throughout the trip, the two of them, and in some cases even I, took notes with pen and paper. More often than not, I was the only person using my tablet for anything. When the three of us finally sat down to do some work as a team, out came the laptops. I asked about the iPads, and they both said they are great to travel with but aren’t really a great option to actually use for computing.

This leads me to the point of the process. Tablets aren’t quite ready for most people. They are a great way to be semi-portable, but when the rubber hits the road, most folks still rely on a rich computing experience to do real work. I certainly see the upside of the tablet as a form factor and will continue to find uses for it where appropriate. Light weight, long battery life, beautiful touch screens, and a variety of wonderful applications make the tablet a strong contender for secondary use, but as a primary choice, not just yet. I am looking forward to the new Microsoft Surface tablet due out “soon,” according the Surface website. With its Windows operating system, integrated Office suite, and smart keyboard cover, it looks to be a strong contender in the “laptop replacement at work” market. As a late to the game competitor to iPad and Android, I am hopeful that Microsoft has learned a few things along the way and hits a home run. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There is a wonderful blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education website called ProfHacker that I read nearly every day. I wanted to share a couple of quick links for you about this topic so you can see some other viewpoints. I encourage you to consider your use profile before making any shift away from a computer to a tablet and certainly talk to folks on your campus about their experiences related to using the tablet for real work. It’s a great, yet expensive option for portability, but make sure it fills a need.

Check out:

How are tablets useful or not useful for you?

Jason Levy

Jason Levy is the Director, Student Center at Temple University.


Thanks Jason. I'm hopeful the Microsoft project does the trick too as I am envious of iPad users but not sure it can do what I need it to do on my travels for ACUI. I look forward to comparing notes.
Michelle Smith
Comment posted 09/06/2012 8:05 PM
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