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Hold the half-baked hardware

How reliable do you expect your computing kit to be?

How much should you pay for a laptop? And how much do you want to fork out? The latter is probably a lot less than the figure you mentally answered in response to my first question, but the correlation between the two is important.

It’s often true that you get what you pay for, but it’s also the case that you get what trends dictate is available, at a price the market will bear. One of the most remarkable success stories we’ve heard comes from Australian e-tailer Kogan. It’s been using Google to track search trends for products and then offering the fruits of those results to bargain-hunting customers. It sells laptops for less than £200 and a high-specification Android tablet for £99.

Kogan has an interesting business model and some of the big brands, which spend a lot of money on product development and marketing for their Android tablets, ought to take a closer look.

Focus groups can tell you a lot, but web trends tell you even more. One of the best illustrations of adding features for the sake of it is the move to multi-megapixel cameras on hardware that just doesn’t lend itself to taking photos. You might be able to claim your tablet has an 8x digital zoom and a 5Mp camera, but operating it in the first place is a challenge, given its placement in the middle of a 10in screen. Try holding that steady while someone says “cheese”.

We've reviewed all the latest-and-greatest tablet PCs on the market, and it’s fair to say there’s a lot of work to be done before we can wholeheartedly fall for most products that bear the ‘tablet’ tag.

We reached an inescapable conclusion: the Apple iPad 2 doesn’t have much to fear, despite some noticeable performance advances from its rivals. But nor does the humble laptop either. We’ve gone so far as to jot down our thoughts on why laptops still rule the portable PC roost.

One of the main drawbacks about tablets is their price. They offer little to distinguish themselves from a laptop or a smartphone, as we argue in Smartphones, tablets and the search for technology's Holy Grail, but they still command a premium as an embryonic product type.

You’ll see this Steve Jobs quote time and again, but it’s increasingly clear that Apple managed an impressive feat in producing the iPad. “A magical product at a magical price” is how Apple’s revered CEO put it. So far, it’s turned out to be true.

The iPad launched to much acclaim and has been a roaring success due to its impressive build quality, its fitness for purpose and its flawless performance. Consumer electronics that just work are virtually unheard of.

Toshiba recently told us that official third-party figures for laptop reliability across the industry show a consistent failure rate of 15 percent. Naturally, Toshiba was keen to illustrate that its own hardware is significantly more reliable, but it was more telling that the figure for product recalls and returns was so consistently high. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the BlackBerry PlayBook and Motorola Xoom are already being reported as having faults - the same thing happened when netbook makers tried to sell us Linux-based laptops. Without Windows, many consumers professed themselves lost.

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be how much you are prepared to pay for a laptop, but how long you are prepared to wait for makers to get them right.

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