Microsoft Surface: Validation for using tablets with keyboards

Microsoft Surface: Validation for using tablets with keyboards

Summary: I've been using tablets with keyboards for work activities for a long time which has often gotten a negative response from many. That has changed since the introduction of Windows 8 and Surface tablets.

10 Logitech Keyboard Folio 3
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Colleague Steve Ranger reports that a Forrester survey discovered that a majority of respondents want a keyboard to use with the tablet to get work done. This doesn't surprise me as I have long been using (and covering on ZDNet) various tablets with keyboards for my work. What I find significant about this survey is that the conversation has now shifted to using a tablet for work, even though a keyboard is required.

My coverage in the past about using tablet with keyboards regularly generated feedback that the tablet was not good enough for work. The regular feeling shared was that the tablet, whether the iPad or some Android tablet that was being covered, was useless for work purposes even with a keyboard. When it was pointed out how well the tablet worked with a keyboard, it was regularly met with skepticism.  If you have to use a tablet with a keyboard to get work done you might as well buy a laptop was a common response. Tablets don't cut it for work I was told over and over again, sometimes using very colorful language.

That knee-jerk reaction has been changing since the release of Windows 8, and particularly the launch of Surface tablets from Microsoft. I now hear from a lot of folks who are considering a tablet and a keyboard combination.

Tablets have an advantage over laptops in that they can be used without a keyboard as desired. It's like having a car with a trailer hitch; having the hitch doesn't mean you have to haul a trailer all the time.

Let's face it, no matter how popular tablets become keyboards are not going away any time soon, especially in the business world. Activities involving lots of text entry, e.g. writing reports and long email correspondence, are better served using a physical keyboard. Onscreen keyboards are good for very short text input but that's about it.

I've long used tablets such as the iPad and various Android tablets; I've also used more Windows 8 tablets than I can remember. With all of them a keyboard has been essential for me to use for work purposes. I find the keyboard necessary for writing and it's nice to see many others now willing to consider the tablet a viable alternative to the laptop. It's no surprise the aforementioned survey respondents would feel the same.

As for you holdouts who still believe you might as well get a laptop rather than use a tablet with keyboard, you're missing the point. Don't overlook that you can pick up the tablet without the keyboard for leisure activities, and even quick work things. It's like having a car with a trailer hitch; having the hitch doesn't mean you have to haul a trailer all the time. Using a tablet sitting in front the TV is a natural activity, and is far better than using a laptop.

Even though the tablet has been around for over a decade it's never been very popular with or without a keyboard. While the launch of the iPad from Apple is widely recognized as the birth of the tablet, in reality Microsoft started the whole tablet thing with the Tablet PC. Those never garnered big sales numbers while the iPad did, and that's why Apple gets credit for kicking off the tablet craze. 

While the iPad is now finding its way into the corporate world, it wasn't until Microsoft gave us Windows 8 and the Surface did I see conversations begin in earnest about tablets in the workplace. That conversation may center around using the tablet with keyboards, but as someone who's covered tablets for over a decade I find it refreshing to hear discussions about tablets at work. It's another choice besides laptops, and choice is always a good thing.

Speaking of choices, I should note that this entire article was input on a tablet using speech recognition. No keyboard was used for writing, although I did the editing with one as it was a better tool. When it comes to work, all of these are merely tools to help us get it done.

See related:

How I use the iPad as a serious writing system

5 best iPad mini keyboards

Definitive guide to keyboards for iPad and iPad mini

9 best iPad keyboards (hands on): March 2013

Coffee shop work etiquette

Top apps for the Nexus 7: Early 2013 edition

Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case review: Small keys for big fingers 

ThinkPad Tablet 2: Best Windows tablet

Acer W3 8-inch Windows 8 tablet: First impressions

Windows 8 tablets: A confusing world for buyers

iPad: Kicking Windows back to the office

Topics: Mobility, Android, iPad, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • I'm always puzzled when I see people straining to use tablets

    in the airport with the little keyboard docks, as they struggle to make a laptop-like use of it. Why I puzzle over this? Because a class of business computer perfectly designed for this use case has already been invented - a device known as "the laptop." Unlike these bluetooth docking keyboards, these have self powered keyboards, full pivoting screens, and a centre of balance designed to sit comfortably in the lap without falling towards the screen.

    Strikes me as far more practical and convenient for people who want full computing power in a mobile way.
    • As to the question of "switching to leisure"

      I carry a 7" tablet in my laptop bag. The two punch combination actually gives me the true no compromise scenario.
      • There are compromises in any choices

        In your case you have to carry two devices to meet your needs. From your point of view that is a great option. For others having one device that can serve as a tablet and a laptop is a better option.

        I agree with you that the clumbsy 3rd party Bluetooth keyboard docks are not a great experience, but they are the best option available for tablets that were not really designed for such activities.

        On the other hand, there new breed of devices that have been designed with integrated keyboard options are a much better solution for those wanting a unified device.

        My HP Envy x2 is a good example. No center of gravity issues while docked and it serves as a completely functional tablet and laptop with upwards of 15 hours batter and all under 3lbs. The clamshell design means I never need a carry case and it was less than a 10 inch 64gb iPad.

        The best part is I never have to worry if I have the right device to get something done.
      • Surface's Keyboards are not Bluetooth

        You realize that Bluetooth "cumbersomeness" (hope the word exist) is on other platforms and solutions, while MS Surface keyboard is docked (thru pretty convenient magnets) to the actual tablet? don't need it, just pull it out. want to be very efficient, dock it back in.

        MS Surface Pro and RT, are the best laptop/tablet replacement now a days in the market. IMHO.
        • I've tried the Surface

          It doesn't balance like a laptop. The best laptop? Still a laptop.
    • +1

      Couldn't agree more, it's a solution trying to find a problem.
      Alan Smithie
      • I'm away from home

        Have a smartphone a tablet and a ultralight laptop - for 1 week never used the laptop.
        Yes sometimes a laptop is the best, but not always.
        • Same here...

          I stopped using both of my laptops when I got my iPad years ago. They've been gathering dust on a shelf ever since. I do have a keyboard for my iPad but rarely carry it with me, unless I know I'm going to be typing long documents. I just like having a device which is compact, super slim, light weight, and easy to carry. Most of the time you're carrying your device from place to place, anyway. I guess I asked myself, why suffer carrying all of that crap around most of the time just to make the little time you actually use it easier? Sure, I can't type as fast on the screen as I can on a keyboard, but that only adds a few minutes, at most. To me, not having to lug around a laptop, charger, and case is worth it.
      • Perhaps the solutions being offered are just not that great?

        Just looking at the rate which people are buying kickstand cases and keyboards shows there is a desire from people that want more out of their tablets.
    • Laptops on Laps

      That may work for those with long legs. There's always too much slope for anything to stay on my lap unless I am sitting cross-legged on a flat surface. More comfortable is prone with an iPad on a smart cover.
  • Lots of innovation

    Many Windows OEMs (Dell, Lenovo, Asus, etc.) also are experimenting with hybrid tablet/notebooks running Windows 8 or even Windows RT. Some of the designs are ridiculous and some are intriguing, but it's all possible because Windows 8 is a real computer OS designed for real business tasks. It's too soon to tell which of these designs are the worthwhile ones.
    • Indeed

      I've tried a lot of them and keep coming back to my ThinkPad Tablet 2. It's a real tablet in form and function with the keyboard that opens it up for "real" work. Can't wait for Lenovo to refresh this with either Bay Trail or even better Haswell.
      • waiting

        I want something with a much smaller bezel. We have a Surface. I like the Tablet 2 but am waiting to see what comes out for the next processor. I'd prefer a real laptop for a travel computer but no one is making one that competes size wise with my 5 year old netbook. The newest ones I can find are bigger and heavier than this old device. There has to be a high end Sony, Toshiba, NEC, that will work for me. I liked the Samsung 9 until I found that it does not come with a touch screen. If the 11 inch Air had a touch screen and weighed half as much it would be close to the mark.

        How is the HP on the question of the tablet being heavy enough that it rocks a bit with screen taps? I returned an Asus because of that. The kickstand on the Surface eliminated that problem.
        • HP Envy x2 may work for you

          The Envy x2 is a real laptop when docked and a tablet a little bigger than the iPad when detached. It is a great hybrid.
    • Re: Many Windows OEMs

      For "many" read "fewer and fewer". With vanishing Windows margins, none of the Windows OEMs can afford to take expensive risks on new devices which will only profit Microsoft anyway.

      Look at Lenovo's recent quarterly report: the only Windows OEM still profitable is now making even more profit from Android.
      • This one is a joker

        The joke of the day 'making more money from Android' by selling Nexus 7?
        • Re: 'making more money from Android' by selling Nexus 7?

          The Nexus 7 is from Asus, not Lenovo. And they're doing rather better from Android than Windows, too.
      • So you're equating bad business management with what?

        Since Lenovo is making far more money from Windows then they do Android, and companies like Asus that lost 30% of their Android sales, which was still less then their Windows sales, you're equating bad business management with what?

        The thing is, the smart people understand what they're talking about, while at teh same time, you're always so 180 degrees from the truth, I think it's cleaer to everbody by now that you're fake.

        Yup, your phoney comments are always so inaccurate, we know where you're comming from.

        The real question that remains - do you honestly believe it? If you do, you really should sit back and ask yourself "why".
        William Farrel
        • Re: So you're equating bad business management with what?

          If you're considering Lenovo, the only Windows OEM still making money from Windows, to have "bad business management", what does that say about the rest?
  • About to do the same

    Great piece James.

    I have managed to get a Latitude 10 Windows 8 Pro tablet cheap and about to start seriously testing it's worth but just wanted to ask if you might do a Top X folio cases / mini keyboards list specifically for Windows 8 based tablets as a lot of the iPad ones despite being bluetooth don't apparently work 100% on Windows tablets?