Tech hacks love the idea of that all-in-one holy grail of gadgets. A phone that's also your camera and music player, a speaker that's also a phone charger and wall hanging... It almost doesn't matter that I couldn't possibly have a use for a USB drive that can also get me out of a tricky situation involving bears and/or kidnappers – the point is that I have such a USB drive.
I own a reasonably capable desktop PC with 27-inch monitor – because it also doubles as my TV – a MacBook Air for computing while travelling and a first-gen iPad whose exclusive function is as a control pad for the PC. And of course a phone, which basically does all of the above.
If I had to kick one off the rota, it'd probably be the iPad. Tablets = luxury; laptops = if you could only choose one.
Except then I reviewed the Asus Transformer Prime and it quite changed my mind on how necessary my mac-top is. The Prime is the first quad-core tablet and when the optimised software launches, it's going to be a major power up on what the 'average' tablet now does. But more crucially for me, because it comes with a detachable keyboard dock, I could also actually write emails and other lengthy sagas such as this column.
Dude looks like a laptop...
Despite my easy dismissal of the ol' iPad, I like it (and other tabs) for more than its sexy face. Tablets run more like smartphones than laptops - with app stores and a central notifications system that corrals alerts from Facebook, Twitter, emails and more. Tech hacks love all-in-one inboxes.
Then there's the touch factor. Jabbing at the app you want to launch or prodding the link you want to visit is so intuitive it's practically a primordial urge. Tablets possess a touchy-feely charm that even the slinkiest, airiest laptop doesn't quite muster.
Gaming is terribly tactile on tablet as well (she asserted alliteratively). For hardcore gamers, computers will rule the roost awhiles longer. But if you're more Fruit Ninja than deadly assassin, you'll find a growing bevy of games developed specifically for tablet, sporting high-def visuals and touch-optimised interaction. And hey, if you insist on human slice and dice, RPGs like Assassin's Creed are now out on Android tabs and iPad.
Sling a blade, save an innocent
Maybe best of all though, is that the keyboard is optional. If you just need to type that saga right this second, you can grab a specially-built keyboard for tablets like the iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The keyboards connect over Bluetooth, so not only do you have an efficient new board, you can do it sans wires. Laptop keyboards, on the other hand, are compulsory even when you don't want them.
The idea of an attachable keyboard wasn't born with the Prime of course. But by bundling a good-quality, comfortable keyboard that even has tablet-specific operation keys, Asus is placing the Prime head to head with traditional laptops - and for a lot of users, it'll make more sense, particularly as more tablets follow its lead with quad-core processors, and the correspondingly beefy software launches.
Like the dinosaur it sounds like, and the Autobot it was named after, the Prime should be massive. Unless you're a graphic designer, sound engineer or an otherwise heavy duty user, the keyboard bridges the last gap between tablets and laptops; with increasingly capable hardware and powerful apps, it solves the last issue with using a tablet as my only portable computer. Now to find it a protective case slash Swiss Army implement...