iPad Alternative for Academic (my sis-in-law)

In mid-August, my sister-in-law, who is a professor in political science, emailed me asking about iPad alternatives. Here's her query:

I'm thinking about getting an ipad or some equivalent and wanted to pick your brain re. non-Apple equivalents. What I want is an ultralight tablet that allows me to to read work and be on line while on the road, and it also needs to have a keyboard option. Are there non-Apple equivalents with Word that are comparable in quality and functionality?

To give some more background: Her work involves both teaching (e.g. PowerPoint presentations, reading/writing/commenting in Word) and research (lots of reading/writing, not much stats analysis). She already has a very portable and capable laptop (Thinkpad X2*0 series from 2012, I believe).

Here's my response (Aug 17th, 2013):

Hmm...it's a good question. The iPad is still definitely the tablet to beat at the moment---it doesn't have Word itself, but you can use Apple's Pages app or Google Docs to do word processing. There may also be a way to use Office 365 (the subscription version of Office) on the iPad, but I'm not sure about that.

The need for a keyboard option is potentially limiting, and may really be a red herring. The use case for the tablet is not really as a laptop replacement (since you already have a pretty good/thin/light laptop), but as a grab and go device---a sit on the couch and read for a while device. Quick replies to emails can be typed out on the on-screen keyboard; Amy does this quite a bit. When you really need to TYPE! then you probably want to switch over to a real laptop anyway.

And so, the conundrum is: do you get a large size tablet like the regular iPad, or do you go for some more portable like a 7-8" device like the iPad Mini or the Google Nexus 7. (or the Kindle Fire, but I think for your purposes the current Fire options wouldn't be a good choice.) For reading, I think having a smaller device is nicer, personally. Even though the iPad is light compared to even an ultraportable laptop, it still weighs almost a pound and a half (1.44 lbs.) and that can start to feel heavy if you are holding it up to read.

Non-Apple equivalents: The big forking decision would be whether you want to go with Android or Windows 8. Since I assume this is going to be a work device primarily, I think the Windows route makes sense, but there are some great options in the Android world too.

For Windows--- There's a lot of promise in Windows 8, but thus far the hardware options haven't quite lived up to that dream yet. The main options I'd consider are probably the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2, the Lenovo Miix (which just came out and hasn't been fully reviewed yet), or the Microsoft Surface Pro. There is also the Microsoft Surface RT, but that is quite different and is much more limited than the Surface Pro, as it runs Windows RT instead of the full Windows 8 operating system. All of those options have available keyboard attachments. The Surface is kind of neat because they have keyboard covers (which act as a keyboard and a cover). Supposedly a 2nd generation Surface will be coming out sometime before holidays--- I'd wait for that since the 1st generation got somewhat lukewarm reviews. Samsung, Asus, and Acer (and HP and Dell, for that matter) also make Windows 8 tablets, but I've always been partial to IBM/Lenovo.

The real answer, though, is: if you can wait 1-2 months, do so. The latest Intel processors are promising dramatically improved energy usage, which translate as less need for fans (thus thinner devices) and much battery life. I believe these are starting to find their way into high end tablets as well. From the end of August through October, I suspect there will be a lot of product announcements and launches that will give you better options, including a new iPad most likely. (The last iPad was released last October, so that is when I'd anticipate the next one to be released too).

Another consideration is whether you want to have a cellular connection. You mentioned wanting to get online when on the road, but unless you have access to wifi, you'd need a cellular connection to really get online. I think both [HER HUSBAND's] and [MY WIFE's] iPads have cellular connections--- it is definitely a nice thing to have, but of course you pay more for it, both upfront and over time if you use it regularly. Since I'm near wi-fi nearly everywhere I am (on campus, at work, or at home) and I don't travel often, I don't feel the need for it personally, but for someone like you who travels more frequently, it could be really helpful.

With today's Intel event and the release of Bay Trail and the myriad of tablets that will use it, it looks like I was right to suggest waiting.

I'd love to hear from other academics----what is the best set of devices for your use case? Among the new crop of devices, which ones stick out for you?

Also, I mentioned this in a comment about the new Asus T100 and got some great responses: http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/11/4720944/asus-transforming-t100-tablet-promises-11-hours-of-windows-8-for-just#183873327