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A good, cheap laptop? Make it a tablet

Why your next PC could be a tablet

A 'good, budget laptop' is the device we're most often asked to recommend. But what's cheap for one person is out of the reach of another. And anyway, the best cheap laptops are... tablets.

The iPad smashed open the tablet market by transforming a clunky, utilitarian form factor into an object of desire. But tablets are useful as well as fun. And with screen sizes ranging from 5in to 10.1in and all points in between, there's a tablet to suit everyone. In fact, one of the portables in our tablet reviews section could be your one device to rule them all.

It is, of course, my privilege to be the editor of PC Advisor. As such, the question I'm most often asked is: “Can you get me free stuff?" (The answer's no. Deal with it.)

More interesting is the question I'm asked next: “What's a good, cheap laptop?" That's a tough call. What's inexpensive to one person is a king's ransom to another, and what constitutes a good personal computing device depends entirely on what that person requires it to do. A £250 netbook might suffice for a student away from home for the first time, but not if they're a gamer. And a MacBook Pro is expensive, of course, but if you're a photographer or a designer, it's an invaluable workhorse.

Recently, a reader told me that by defining a ‘budget' laptop as anything under £500 we'd priced him out of the market, since he was looking to spend nearer £250. I sympathise. Who wouldn't? Half a grand is a lot of money to find. I showed him a few cheaper laptop options, and we got chatting about what he needed a laptop for. Email, social media, web surfing, photos, office work. Sound familiar? Given that this reader carried a smartphone, the answer was simple: rather than shelling out for a bottom-of-the-range laptop to supplant his expensive phone, he could buy a good-quality tablet. And for the cost of the two devices he has one, portable gadget. A gadget that can do everything.

After all, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 I use is more powerful than a netbook, and it's also cooler. (A lot cooler.) And with a keyboard dock slung in my bag I have all the portable computer I need – plus a great music, movie and games player. And I'm not alone. I recently attended a conference with 300 colleagues. A show of hands proved that although plenty of people had travelled without a laptop, every single person had at least one smartphone or tablet.

In the nascent tablet era, the variety of form factors and platforms continues to expand as the market matures. And the ecosystem of apps that support each tablet gets more varied and inventive every month. There's never been a better time to take the plunge into the tablet world.

Update, 11/11/11: As there's been some confusion, I should clarify - for the price of a smartphone and a netbook combined, you can get a tablet such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1. If you have *only* £250 to spend, a netbook may be your best bet, although it's worth pointing out that a first generation iPad direct from Apple costs only £320 (just go to 'refurbished iPads' at http://store.apple.com/uk/browse/home/specialdeals/ipad.

See also: Best Android Apps

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