Enterprise Buyers Guide for Tablets: Shopping Checklist

Following is a 12-point checklist outlining some of the features that should be assessed when shopping for your tablet PC. Gartner advises organisations to ascertain the appropriate screen size for the task at hand.

If workers use tablets outdoors, consider ruggedness and sunlight readability features. For staff on their feet all day, for example a retail environment, portability and weight are relevant characteristics.

1. Resistive touchscreen

Most tablets come with capacitive touchscreens that rely on a small electrical current generated when a finger is on the screen. For applications in which gloves may be worn, capacitive screens will not operate.

Gartner analyst, Ken Delaney, said resistive screens that rely on a pressure-sensitive screen overlay will solve this issue. However, he said they are not as accurate and can slightly degrade visibility. “Combination screens are in development and may become available in the future, “Delaney said.

2. Sunlight readable screen

These screens provide good indoor and outdoor readability. Some use polarizers that permit light hitting the screen to activate the LCD layer, illuminating it for outdoor use. Others block this layer, allowing the backlight to power the display for indoor use.

Delaney said the outdoor feature has improved during the past two years, but it still works best when sunlight hits perpendicular to the screen.

He advises conducting off-angle testing to ascertain optimal performance. “Some sunlight readable screens do not work well with interior lighting,” he said. “It is important to understand the use scenarios for the screen and to test readability under all required lighting conditions.”

3. Front/Back cameras

Tablets are starting to incorporate dual cameras. The rear-facing camera is for picture taking and video recording, and the front-facing camera is for conferencing. Usually, the rear-facing camera offers higher resolution and an optional flash, while the front-facing camera is of lower resolution.

4. Multi-touch

Multi-touch permits input from multiple points on a screen, enabling gestures such as swipe or pinch/zoom. These gestures allow more-intuitive navigation and permit users to expand text size (with a zoom gesture) on smaller screens.

5. Handwriting recognition

In many applications, handwriting capture (a graphic representation of handwritten text) is sufficient. However, some vertical forms applications require full handwriting recognition.

Delaney said this is native and mature in tablet PC forms, where users input a limited number of characters. He said it does not work well for freehand writing.

“Tablets do not have native handwriting recognition support, but require third-party applications,” he said. “Front end forms generating applications for tablets are still immature.”

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6. Onscreen keyboard

Most tablets can display an onscreen keyboard. Depending on the screen size, the keyboard may be finger-typeable or touch-typeable (two hands).

When used for composition, 10-inch screens permit a keyboard that is highly usable.

If users employ virtual desktop software, Windows applications will be reduced to the screen area not occupied by the keyboard, making the application more difficult to use.

Delaney said multi-touch can mitigate this problem, but it may require the user to constantly go back and forth between keyboard and multi-touch functions.

7. Port replication

Port replicators are useful for cable management, providing additional ports for connecting peripherals and for providing stands to prop up slates. Delaney says port replication is also useful for charging large numbers of tablets, in larger, vertical application deployments.

8. Removable battery

Non-removable batteries make tablets thinner and lighter, but users cannot extend daily life with a battery swap. Aging batteries are not user-replaceable.

9. Weight

Two of the major differences among tablets is weight and portability. Traditional tablet PCs (even slates) are often at the high end/acceptable weight for a user carrying the device throughout the workday.

10. Ruggedization

Tablets that are subject to unusual environmental conditions (such as extreme outdoor weather conditions or mounted inside trucks) may be required to meet more stringent specifications for drop and vibration. Usually, the guidelines are MIL-STD-810G.

This standard contains multiple specifications, not all of which may be met by any given product. Therefore, it is important to consider exactly which standards are used for a given product.

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11. IP54 water resistance/sanitization capable

Tablets that can be subjected to unusual environmental conditions may be required to meet more stringent specifications, such as IP54 for water and dust resistance.

In medical environments, tablets may need to be sanitized by swabbing with various chemicals. Special seals and testing are required to ensure that the tablet won’t be harmed by the chemicals in use.

12. Instant-On

This is an important feature that makes the tablet more attractive than a notebook. By activating instantly, tablets allow the user to get right to what he or she needs, without long and frustrating start up times.

Checklist Summary

Another factor that needs to be considered is the use of active digitizers. They are used in most tablet PC screens to enable pen input.

The digitizer translates the touch input at any point on the screen into X and Y coordinates that software drivers can send to the operating system.

Finally, there is the issue of document fidelity. Delaney warns that documents created in desktop PC-based applications can lose critical details when sent to mobile devices.

This can occur even if the device uses a mobile version of the same application. The fidelity is lost when moving across platforms, which can result from application compatibility issues and/or from moving to different screen sizes.

“Fidelity issues can range from a minor annoyance, for example when a font is changed, to extremely serious, such as the case when multiple formatting elements are lost in a document template for production use,” Delaney said.

“Taking unstructured meeting notes on a mobile device for upload to a PC for later use is unlikely to cause fidelity problems.”

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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