After years of shunning keyboards and other ungainly (but work-friendly) encumbrances, Apple finally caved and outfitted the latest iteration of the iPad with both a keyboard and a stylus. Somewhere, Steve Jobs is frowning.
While Apple’s “Smart Keyboard” and “Pencil” accessories are sold separately from the new iPad Pro, they’re an acknowledgment that lots of people want to use their tablets for more than surfing the web and watching movies. And that makes sense; despite their slim, compact lines, tablets are now powerful enough to perform many of the same functions as a notebook. Why have two devices when you could make do with one? That said, most tablets are still better suited to browsing and watching—not working.
Not so for the devices on this list. Apple has so thoroughly cornered the tablet market that your choices are somewhat limited. But if you need a tablet to pull double duty as both a work machine and a couch-surfer, there’s an option here to fit your needs.
FOR THE SMALL BUSINESS OWNER
Apple iPad Pro
$799 (and up), Keyboard and stylus not included, and tablet not available until November
At 12.9 inches, the iPad is larger than most tablets out there. That’s great if it’s never going to leave your home, but not so hot for its portability. While it’s still lighter than some of the other, smaller offerings on this list, the iPad Pro is probably ideal for the occasional work-from-home professional who needs a juiced-up tablet for both chores and entertainment.
FOR THE CEO
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
$799 (and up), microsoftstore.com
You can bitch and moan, but Microsoft still dominates the world of business software. When it comes to running Exchange email and calendar programs, working with PowerPoint presentations, and other core business apps, you can bet the device Microsoft itself makes is going to be your best ally in the fight to crunch through your weekend workload. If your duties extend to photo or video editing, you can step up to a Surface Pro 3 model with great processing capabilities. As of today, this is the closest you’ll get to full notebook functionality in a tablet.
FOR THE GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
At 9.7 inches, the Tab S2 is smaller and more portable than most of the other tablets on this list. While it still packs the capability to run Office software—as well as a multi-window feature that enables quick task flipping—the S2’s real talent may be for image capture and display. Its screen features “super AMOLED adaptive display” technology. We’re not sure what that means, but there’s no doubt this tablet offers canyon-deep contrast and amazing resolution. Its camera has an extra-wide aperture for brighter, clearer photos—a feature many tablet makers have thus far neglected.
FOR THE ENGINEER
Panasonic ToughPad FZ-G1
Based on price alone, few guys are going to be in the market for this Panasonic model. But if your business involves fieldwork—the kind where you get splashed, knocked down, or pushed around by Mother Nature—you may need a tablet that can handle its share of knocks. If that’s the case, Panasonic has the market cornered with this capable, unbreakable tablet.
FOR THE B-SCHOOLER
Google Nexus 9
$560 (including keyboard), amazon.com
You need more functionality—on a budget. While tablets that do notebook-y things tend to cost as much as (or more) than notebooks, the Nexus 9 is basically a less-expensive, more portable version of the Microsoft Surface. It gives you the capability to do your office or grad school chores on the go, while maintaining the portability and dynamic touchscreen interface of a tablet.
You probably don’t need yet another device cluttering up your place. (BTW, exactly when did we hyper-drive into The Future?) But if none of your current gadgets fits the work-play bill, any one of these will be an upgrade.