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The PC's future has never been brighter--because tablets are PCs too

Brad Chacos | May 31, 2013
Don't let tales of plunging PC sales fool you. The rise of tablets and every hybrid in between show how PCs are evolving rather than dying.

Indeed, slates can already handle most casual computing chores--from basic productivity tasks to Web browsing to media streaming and beyond--with aplomb. That goes double if you slap on a Bluetooth keyboard or one of Microsoft's fancy Surface Touch Covers. No, tablets can't handle everything that desktop PCs excel at, but laptops and netbooks don't do it all, either.

Even if you're on the fence about whether Android- and Apple-based tablets are honest-to-goodness computers, we now have those pesky Windows tablets mucking things up further. A Windows 8 tablet powered by an Intel or AMD processor can perform any software-based task a full-blown computer can, though the experience may be more akin to using a netbook than to using an octa-core gaming rig.

"I've used four different [Intel Atom] Clover Trail devices, and while I love their 10-hour battery life and desktop capabilities, they don't multitask perfectly, especially for power users like me," says Moorhead. "They can't handle having a handful of programs running with ten-plus tabs open in Chrome."

PCWorld's lab testing of Clover Trail-based slates like Samsung's ATIV Smart PC shows similar results. Web browsing, basic document editing, and similarly lightweight tasks hold up just fine. High-definition video plays without a hitch, though multitasking slows things to a crawl and performance in any demanding application (such as photo editing) is abysmal.

Will tablets fit everyone's needs? Of course not. Neither do laptops. But there's no denying that today's tablets are perfectly capable personal computers, if not quite perfectly capable professional computers.

The line begins to blur
Need more persuading? Check out usage habits.

While most of the headlines go to flashy Ultrabooks and their ilk, most PC sales have long occurred in the sub-$500 space. People want simple, unassuming, cheap computers that just plain get the job done. (PCs are microwaves to the average user, remember.)

That used to mean Windows laptops. Now it means tablets (and increasingly, Chromebooks). And is it any wonder why, when the user experience that a $200 slate delivers shines in comparison to the frustrations inherent in a $200 laptop, assuming you can even find a $200 laptop?

Also, witness what's happening in the borderlands, where tablets and laptops collide. Synergy, mashup, amalgamation, convergence, whatever you want to call it, it's happening.

"Small form-factor laptops are essentially becoming tablets," says Moorhead. See: Microsoft's Surface Pro--an Ultrabook in spirit, if not in form--and hybrids like the IdeaPad Yoga 13. "Likewise, what you see in large tablets is that they're essentially becoming ultraportable PCs. Any tablet above $400 that doesn't seamlessly slide into a dock or keyboard simply isn't going to sell."

 

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