Choosing a Mobile Device
Going mobile with a computer is easier than ever. Today’s mobile devices are far more powerful than they were just a year or two ago, and the growing number of new types means that there is almost certainly a device closely tailored to your specific needs. If the mobile world is new to you, choosing the device that is right for you can be daunting. So we’re here to offer a bit of friendly advice. We’ve rounded up the various types of mobile computing devices, and we'll walk you through the selection process to help you make sense of it all.
Defining What You Need
To get started, think about how you want to use your mobile device. Are you going to use it to do serious work or will it be used for fun? Will you be watching movies on it, or do you want to just stay connected on the run? Once you’ve honed in on your needs, here are some additional questions to think about:
- Need standard software? Do you need to use productivity software like a word processor on the device? (See our article "Choosing Software for Common Tasks.") If so, you’ll need a standard operating system, rather than one specialized for mobile devices.
- How small do you want to go? Is the device you have in mind pocket-sized, purse-sized or backpack-sized? Smaller devices are more portable, but the tradeoff is that their smaller screens make doing serious work or watching videos hard.
- Want to be fully connected? Depending on what kind of device you choose, you may be able to have full wireless connectivity to home networks and public hotspots or you might be limited to the less than stellar data connection from your cell phone provider.
- Is a full keyboard a necessity? If you plan to use your device to write the great American blog, you will probably want a standard keyboard. On the other hand, if you have flying thumbs of fury, a phone keypad or one of those tiny thumb keyboards may be just fine.
Knowing the Key Choices
Now let’s see what is out there. The following types of devices, listed in order from largest to smallest, are all readily available. There’s something here for every need.
If you want portability with lots of capability, these types of devices may be a good choice:
- Laptop — Also called a notebook. Featuring screens that are up to 17 inches diagonally and processing power to rival that of most desktop computers, laptops are the standard choice for productivity on the go, letting you take work or play almost anywhere.
- Tablet PC — Similar to laptops but with touch-sensitive screens, tablet PCs are popular with people, including teachers and salespeople, who make a lot of presentations.
If you want a portable device with a bigger screen than a pocket-sized device, have a look at these choices:
- Subnotebook — Like a miniature version of a laptop, a subnotebook has similar capabilities but is much smaller in size. Subnotebooks are also typically somewhat less powerful than laptops, making them less suited to some applications (like games.)
- Ultramobile PC (UMPC) and Netbooks — Like a small tablet PC with a seven inch diagonal screen, a UMPC improves on portability and has similar capabilities (though with more limited performance). Instead of making you wait while you power up (like most PCs), UMPCs have the ability to turn on and off almost instantly.
Small (and Very Small) Devices
If you like your gizmos tiny, you now have more options for devices that pack a lot of punch into a very small package. Look for performance-packed devices powered by Intel® Atom™ processors like the following:
- Mobile Internet Device — An even smaller version of a UMPC with a five-inch diagonal screen, the Mobile Internet Device is all about entertainment and connectivity, with the same fast on-and-off capability as the UMPC and with an emphasis on features to keep you in touch.
- Internet tablet — The latest industry offer, the internet tablet is a mobile media and entertainment powerhouse in a tiny package (with a four-inch diagonal screen).
- Personal data assistant (PDA) — The old guard of handheld devices, PDAs (including email devices like the Blackberry) are focused on productivity for business people, with scaled-down versions of popular software and features that let them work smoothly with corporate networks.
- Handheld gaming device — These are dedicated to playing games and they typically don’t do much more, though some come with built-in wireless access that will allow you to connect to the internet at a hotspot .
- Smartphone — A cell phone with added features like the ability to run software. A smartphone is a great choice if you want to stay in touch through email or have instant access to your calendar and address book.
Comparing the Capabilities
Now that you know how you want to use your mobile device and you’ve considered some of the device types that might be a good fit for you, check out the following table to help you see at a glance how the various devices we’ve talked about stack up.
Note: The categories used in this article are just overviews of the growing choices of devices available. Not all products and devices are covered. Before considering an actual purchase, always research the specific device to be sure that it meets your needs and expectations.
Full (and touch screen)
Full but small
Mobile Internet Device
Touch screen or keypad
Full but small
Personal Data Assistant
Touch screen or thumb keypad
Handheld Gaming Device
Limited or none
Numeric or qwerty keypad
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