In our time of powerful computing, high demand programs and mobile offices, (and in light of certain recent unveilings,) another evergreen forum topic caught our interest: the Jack-Of-All-Trades device. Designers tend to wear many hats, but whether we're talking about a tablet, computer, phone or hoverboard, many of us aren't at leisure to spring for a different single-purpose machine for each task we require.
Looking for a powerful but portable tablet? Affordable laptop that won't lag with Photoshop? For new designers, broke designers and freelancers, the prospect of investing in the right thing with a range of capabilities (at the right price point) can be frustrating. In addition to your common sense and Consumer Reports, here are a few considerations for cost-benefit analysis, gleaned from the forums.
User Jakebot's example of using SolidWorks on a Surface Pro 3
It obviously pays to do your homework about which device offers what, but you might also take time to listen to trolls. If you're looking at a version of a device that's been out for a while, it's not a bad idea to look through negative reviews for trends that might not be addressed in early adopter articles and tech reviews. Does the battery life take a nose dive under reasonable conditions? Does the charging port crap out after six months? Is there a new version/driver/plug-in/OS due out soon that might improve or change the viability of this version for the type of work you're doing? Look at where the discontent is, and see if there are solutions yet.
Weigh your current needs vs. speculative needs vs. desires. How long do you want to have this thing? If your need is spurred by a case of "Sweet Jesus I just need to finish this project," you can probably buy the first thing with the minimum technical capabilities you need and resell it later. If you’re set for the time being, use your patience skills and automatic alerts to wait out deals on your dream machine. Auto-bidding programs for Ebay are a boon.
Carefully consider your most essential end goals. As Cyberdemon pointed out, some niceties are noticeable and some truly aren't that important:
IMO the ability to draw on the screen always outweighs the subtle details of line weight and parallax, which most of your non-artist clients won't care about.
Take your pet peeves seriously. If you can get by on a slower system that opens up a lot of possibilities, but if lag destroys your workflow and makes you want to kill...scrutinize those reviews. As such, go Full Nerd with your research. Not everybody loves deep research on gear, but it's almost always helpful to learn about the opinions and experiences of similar users. In message boards like ours you’re likely to find blow by blow accounts of how different devices and programs respond and hold up. In the case of tablets and common software many users are happy to submit examples of work for comparison.
Helpful examples from Jakebot, pre- and post-install of a Wintab driver
New or used, don't necessarily trust what you demo. As Jakebot points out, some pre-installed programs give a poor impression of what a tablet or computer is capable of:
I tried out freshpaint when I first got it out of the box and it was terrible. The pressure sensitivity forced you to really jam on the screen to get anything to show up. They should really just preload sketchbook express on the surface if they want to sell people on its drawing capabilities.
Be reasonable about how much can you really cram into a single device at a certain price point. As this OP found, we may have many options but there's still often no silver bullet.
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This article is part of the Core77 Tech-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technologies are shaping the future of design.