Phone, Tablet, Computer: When You Need Each One

Phone, Tablet, Computer: When You Need Each One

We know it’s possible to be very productive with nothing except a smartphone, but for most business travellers, hitting the road is a multi-device experience, with phones, tablets and notebook PCs all playing a part. As our Business Travel Week coverage continues, we look at which scenarios make sense for which device.

Picture by dorena-wm

Given the size and weight of notebooks, phones and tablets these days, carrying all three in your hand luggage isn’t a massive burden, especially if you can share a charger between the phone and tablet. And while all three devices can perform similar functions, there’s no doubt that some suit particular tasks better than others. Here are some common scenarios and our recommendations.

Writing and creating stuff: computer While it is possible to do some kinds of work on either a tablet or a phone, for major-league productivity having a keyboard and a mouse still represents the best use of your time. Indeed, the main reason for not taking the computer on a trip will be if you’re confident you’ll never need to do this kind of work.

Keeping up with email, schedules and RSS: tablet This is a close-run battle, since most smartphones also handle this pretty well. However, for what amounts to work-related content consumption, the larger screen size gives the tablet the edge. Exception if your device does a bad job of keeping track of read and unread mail (yes, we’re looking at you sometimes Apple), you might choose a different platform.

Waiting in a queue: mobile phone Easier to hold in one hand while you wait. Whether you work or play a game, at least you can stave off boredom.

In a meeting: tablet However, this should be for taking notes — not distracting yourself by doing anything else. Yes, that’s useful in boring compulsory office meetings, but if you’ve bothered to go on the trip, you should be paying attention, shouldn’t you?

Making calls: mobile phone. OK, uber-obvious, but we’re mainly mentioning it because of the one potential exception: if you’re overseas, it will usually be cheaper to use Skype or something similar on your PC, since you’ll probably want to pay for a hotel room wireless connection anyway. Calling rates in that scenario from your PC will be much lower.

Taking pictures: mobile phone. Because you look ludicrous holding up a tablet, and utterly ludicrous holding up a webcam-equipped computer.

Entertaining yourself on the plane: tablet While your notebook might be able to play DVDs if it has an optical drive, tablets win out here because of the longer battery life: just prepopulate with media before you take off. (That said, battery life is not an issue if you can justify business class or are on an A380, and the computer could work here too.)

Additional ideas on where you’d use what? Let’s hear ’em in the comments!

Throughout Business Travel Week, we’re looking at strategies to make business travel more productive.


  • I’d say the tablet in a meeting one is tricky. You’re gonna want to take notes, and even the best onscreen touch keyboard isn’t gonna hold up to a hardware keyboard.

    That said, it’s possibly faster than pen and paper.

    Is ‘computer’ desktop, or also laptop?

  • This article seems to be trying a bit too hard to justify the existance of tablets?

    Imo, smartphone should win keeping up with emails, rss & schedules, simply because I have my phone on me at all times. The smartphone is also more convenient for managing schedule, as again, it’s always on me.

    I agree with olearymo on meetings as well. For me default would be printed agenda + pen. If I was to do it digitally, I’d go laptop first, smartphone second (can type faster on smartphone then tablet), and lastly tablet. A tablet with a keyboard would skew results, but once you attach a keyboard it’s no more portable then a laptop so whats the point?

    The only one I think a tablet is a clear winner for is inflight entertainment. Thou personally I would carry an e-reader if anything. I usually just read on my phone.

    I think with thin/light laptops becoming powerful enough to be proper work tools, I would be happy to have just my smartphone and a laptop. I think a dock like the vaio z at my primary workplace would be the icing on the cake, what I don’t understand is why sony didn’t just throw a full sized gfx card into it, instead of some neutered mobile chip.

  • You should consider netbooks as well. I love my netbook for lectures at uni, as you have the portability and and battery life of a tablet with a keyboard and a much bigger HDD. Although I also like how my Galaxy Tab is always connected to the internet, allowing for seamless moving between devices thanks to Quick office and Dropbox. I kind of want an Asus Tranformer as well, because of the dock and cheap price from the US.

  • I need a computer for any significant form of photo-processing – including getting the photos off my camera and making them available to other devices.
    Skype from a smartphone over wifi is perfectly acceptable, and often easier than dealing with its clunky PC interface.

  • Yep, that seems to be a pretty fair breakdown to me. Doing the schedule/email/etc is a huge amount easier on the tablet than a phone, and with a good keyboard (Swiftkey) is a good notetaker as well, not to mention some light gaming for the flight, where it’s a way better form factor than even a netbook.

    I’d also take my Kindle – small and light enough to justify, I reckon, and will also share the same charger (not that I’d need it) as the phone and tablet.

  • Recon you guys could do something like this for students? I was tossing up whether i really needed a new laptop for uni or if a tablet would have done the job, and i could use a school computer for any typing. (doing electrical engineering most assignments etc.. are hand written calculations and notes are handwritten from copies available on the internet and lectures) but after i found i would be doing a few more programming/computing units in the near future i went for a laptop, but if it wasn’t for this a tablet would probably been fine to read lectures/tutorials etc.

  • There is a saying from an unknown author which goes:

    “I like my new telephone, my computer works just fine, my calculator is perfect, but Lord, I miss my mind!

    However, all joking apart, you might have noticed a theme all through this article: the best gadget isn’t an arbitrary decision based on the quantity of functions, the price tag, or even probably the most impressive specs.

    It all comes down to what you will use it for.

    Sadly, you’re the only one who can make the right choice for you!

    • I have just finished a year where I consciously made the decision not to travel with my MBP. I have the camera attachments for my iPad to offloading pics was easy. Since the iPad and iPhone share a charger it’s a bonus. Took some planning but it was great.

  • I only just discovered this article so sorry for the late comment that probably nobody will read.
    Last time i went on holiday I took a tablet and connected a USB keyboard to it when i needed to type anything lengthy. That worked well and i’ll do it again.
    Even if you can’t fit the keyboard in your luggage, you can pick them up for under $10 in most parts of the world these days.

  • Everyone needs a laptop + if you can afford a desktop, although that’s becoming decreasing important. A smartphone is the next step because it’s always with you, checking your email, taking pictures, and playing games you can do it anywhere. There is really no reason for a tablet because it’s hopelessly impracticable and it doesn’t offer the computing power of a laptop.

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