Microsoft Surface: Validation for using tablets with keyboards

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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

Editorial standards