Mobile Computing Devices

The laptop is no longer king of mobile computing devices

MacBook Air ultraportable laptop
MacBook Air ultraportable laptop.

Apple

With so many kinds of mobile devices available, it's no wonder that many people are less location-dependent for both work and play than ever before. Mobile computing has come a long way, from the first laptop to today's proliferation of smartphones and tablets. Here's what you need to know about the mobile devices that can help you get things done, wherever you are.

Laptops

Laptops are still the de facto portable computing device because they are designed to do everything a desktop PC can do, just from different locations. The smallest and most portable laptops weigh only about 2.5 pounds and have screen sizes of 13 inches or smaller. While laptops have the most computing power of the mobile devices, and they are travel-friendly, they are the least portable of the mobile device options. Many people are starting to replace or supplement using regular laptops with smaller, more mobile devices. If you're in the market for something even smaller, though, there are several ultraportable laptops on the market. Better yet, Netbooks may be the way to go

Netbooks

For some people, even small laptops are too big. Netbooks have a more compact form factor, with 10-inch screen sizes or smaller and a weight of only 2 pounds. Netbooks are inexpensive, usually have long battery lives, and do the most common tasks—those that are least processor-intensive—that most of us use our computers for, like surfing the web, checking email, and using office productivity programs. They trade these benefits, however, for less robust performance. Using your netbook for work is possible, depending on your tasks.

Smartphones

No matter what type of other mobile devices you have, it is almost certain that you have a smartphone. With their combination of internet and Wi-Fi access as well as cellular communication capabilities, smartphones are the devices driving mobility for both professional and consumer purposes. Android smartphones and iPhones in particular show rapid growth. With their small screen size and lack of hardware keyboards, smartphones are difficult to work from for extended periods. They are great communication devices, however, and for internet surfing on the go, mobile business apps enable "anytime, anywhere" productivity.

Tablets

The tablet is less dependent on size or weight than on input. Tablets are computing devices that take input from a stylus, touch-screen or keyboard. Early tablet PCs championed by Microsoft used pen-based computing and ran a tablet-customized version of Windows XP. More recently, especially after Apple's introduction of the iPad, tablets are moving away from running the same operating systems as desktop and laptop PCs, running instead mobile operating systems like iOS and Android. As a result, tablets don't run traditional desktop software, though they excel at cloud computing and offer a wealth of mobile apps that give the tablet many of the capabilities of desktop software. Touch-screen tablets come in all sizes, mostly from 8 inches to 13 inches.

Ultra-Mobile PCs

For traditional computing in the smallest package, ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) may be the answer. UMPCs are mini computers or, to be more precise, mini tablets with touch-screen, stylus, and keyboard input options. With displays that are 7 inches and smaller and weighing less than 2 pounds, UMPCs are truly pocketable devices and offer traditional or full-fledged operating systems like Windows and Linux. UMPCs offer broader traditional or general-purpose application support than smartphones, and a much smaller form factor than laptops or netbooks. They also have less battery life and smaller screen real estate, however, and demand premium prices due to their small size and lower market demand.

PDAs

Lastly, there's the venerable PDA. Though PDAs are going out of favor because smartphones can do what PDAs do plus add telephony and data, PDA users still abound. Using a PDA has some advantages over smartphones. Many smartphones require, for example, a monthly data plan, whereas you can use a PDA at a Wi-Fi hotspot for free data connectivity. There's also a lot of business-oriented PDA software still available because the earliest PDA adopters were business users. The downside, however, is that PDA development has come to a halt, and the demise of the standalone PDA may be only a matter of time. As the earliest type of pocket-sized mobile computing device, though, PDAs have earned their place in the mobile device hall of fame.