Tablet computers boast better compactness, battery life, and arguably, more style than their laptop counterparts. These thin, touch screen based computers have been around in one form or another for more than 20 years, but the tablet game really started to heat up after Apple released the iPad in 2010. Now, a wide variety of competitors have shown up, expanding the tablet market into new territories and making them more prominent than ever.
Benefits to tablets include their ease of use, speed, their ability to display books and notes, and gaming potential. However, they also have their shortcomings, including the difficulty typing on them and limited hardware.
For this reason, investing in accessories is a great way to get the maximum potential out of your tablet PC. From cases to battery boosters and external hard drives, there are many ways you can turn your tablet into the ultimate computer on the go.
In this article we'll look at some of the most popular tablet accessories and learn about how they can make your computing life a little easier.
So, you've just bought yourself an expensive, fancy new tablet computer. But you're not going to just walk around carrying it out in the open, are you? It could get scratched or broken! That's why every tablet computer needs a good, protective case.
Cases are among the most tablet diverse accessories available. There are cases that are made of leather and fold open, or vinyl ones with plastic windows that leave the screen exposed. If your tablet is going to be seeing some heavy duty, there are hard plastic cases that offer lots of durability. Some even include straps so that your device can be transported easily over your shoulder, like a messenger bag.
There are some truly innovative cases on the market. Take, for example, Apple's iPad Smart Cover. It comes in colorful flavors and has magnets that snap it onto the side of the iPad to cover its screen. In addition, the cover has folding sections that let you turn it into a stand for easy typing or movie watching.
Next, let's talk about ways to extend your tablet's battery life.
What's worse than running out of power on your tablet, or any other device? Nothing, that's what. Suddenly, your cool new piece of technology has become an expensive paperweight. Fortunately, there are ways to boost your battery life so you can keep working as long as you need to.
Some tablets, like those made by Toshiba, have batteries that can be replaced by the user. One way to go is to buy an aftermarket battery pack that you can keep fully charged, and then swap it out for the old battery when yours runs out of juice.
Other tablets have attachments or docking stations that attach to the USB port or some other access point and provide an extra battery boost. There are a lot of options here; it's all about what you're willing to carry around with you.
Next: What happens if you have to do some heavy-duty typing, but you're finding the tablet screen inadequate?
As we've already discussed, tablets have a lot of great advantages. However, typing isn't typically one of them.
While many tablets have excellent screen-based keyboards, they still lack the response time and tactile feel of an actual, physical keyboard. This can make typing lengthy reports and e-mails on your tablet a time consuming endeavor.
Fortunately, many tablets have external keyboards available. Some operate with an external connection to the tablet, while others use Bluetooth connectivity. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer has an available keyboard and dock accessory that effectively turns the tablet into a netbook all for just $150.
Next, let's talk about hard drives for your tablet.
Tablet Hard Drives
Another shortcoming of tablet computers is their lack of space relative to desktop and laptop machines. Most tablets use flash memory instead of hard disks. This means that while some tablets have more than adequate storage capabilities -- the top of the line iPad 2 has 64 GB -- they pale in comparison to hard disks, which can offer hundreds of gigs worth of space.
How do you get around this? Give your tablet an external hard drive. Hard drives for the Sahara Slate Tablet range from 80 GB for $70 to 250 GB for over $400. There's something here for every budget.
While most tablets aren't designed to be total replacements for your main computer, some of us do need to have everything at our fingertips. Tablet hard drives make that job a little easier.
Next up: Your tablet is great, but what if you don't just want it to lie flat? Tablet stands are the way to go.
Most tablets now have incredible, high-resolution screens that are great for watching movies. However, this is hard to do if the tablet is always lying flat. That's why it's a great idea to invest in a tablet stand -- it keeps the device upright so you can watch movies, or maybe just operate in a more comfortable position.
There are a wide variety of stands available for the iPad, from simple tripods to flexible lamp-like props. Some of them even stand as tall as a person and can help replace a TV or computer monitor. There's even a retro stand shaped like a 1980s Macintosh computer, where you can put your iPad into the screen.
Next up, let's talk about how to listen to music on your tablet computer.
Most tablets include ways to upload your music files onto them. So if your tablet is going to be a replacement for your other computers, why settle for lousy speakers? A good set of external speakers makes sure you can create a dance party anywhere you take your tablet.
Speakers can work in a variety of ways. Some plug into the tablet's audio outlet (if there is one), while others work with Bluetooth connectivity. Others work by docking the tablet into a speaker set, which in some cases keeps them propped up.
There's a wide range of speakers to choose from. Speaker company Altec Lansing makes everything from $30 plug-in speakers to $200 Bluetooth ones that offer superior audio quality.
Want to put your tablet on the wall? We'll cover that in the next section.
Tablet Wall Mounts
As we learned earlier, tablets' excellent battery life and high-res screens are great for watching movies and videos. So why not attach it to your wall? Tablet wall mounts are a great option for your home theater system or for presentations at work.
Wall mounts can range from small, discreet plastic mounts to large, flexible docking stations that are built in. One popular option is Vogel's RingO mounting system, which has a hard case with a circle-shaped opening and a circular, wall-mounted peg it fits into. That one is sleek and doesn't take up much space.
The same company also makes tablet car mounts. These secure the tablet to a car's headrest, giving the passengers in the back seat something to watch during long road trips. Try not to be on your tablet when you're driving, though!
Next up, we'll discuss a more specialized tablet accessory that could be helpful to business owners.
Tablet Point of Sale
If you run a business, you may be required to do credit card transactions at some point. Computers do most of those transactions at restaurants and other merchants now, but there's a burgeoning market for tablet accessories that can run credit cards.
This is what's called a point of sale device. You may know it as the thing you swipe a credit or debit card through. Tablet Kiosk makes an affordable one for Windows-based tablets that uses USB port input. And for the iPad, there are several point of sale systems available.
Many also include special apps that help with retail checkout and tracking sales. It's just another great example of how a powerful mobile device can revolutionize a business.
Next up, let's look at accessories that help protect your tablet's delicate screen.
Tablet Screen Protectors
Much like a touch-screen smartphone, tablets use touch as their primary means of input. And just like a smartphone, that screen is something you will want to protect. Scratches not only look unsightly, they can damage the tablet's functionality.
A great, inexpensive option is the clear plastic film that fits over the screen and protects it from scratches. Some of these screens also reduce the glare on the screen so they're more usable outside. These can range in price from $5 to $20.
If your tablet is going to be seeing some heavy-duty work, a case with a clear plastic screen might be the way to go. Many of these will also let you use the touch pad screen without removing the cover.
In our next and final section: Should you add a pen to your tablet computer?
Many of the older tablet computers like the Apple Newton and Palm PDAs used a pen, or stylus, as an interface. These offered features like handwriting and gesture recognition. But with the advanced touch screen features available today, is a tablet pen still necessary?
In some applications, having a pen can be extremely helpful. Some apps allow you to take handwritten notes on your tablet, so a pen would be the best tool to use for that. In addition, a pen is extremely useful for drawing, sketching and other artistic applications.
Most tablets today require capacitative input -- meaning, some kind of electrical current must interact with the touch screen. That's why your fingers won't work if you're wearing gloves. Tablet pens have a magnetic charge with lets them be used on a touch screen. If your work (or fun) involves precision movements, a pen might be a great addition to your collection of accessories.
Tablets can be used to shop online or to compare prices while you're shopping in physical stores. Find out how tablets have changed the retail world.
- Altec Lansing. "Tablet Speakers." AltecLansing.com. http://www.alteclansing.com/ae/us/tablet-speakers/icat/tabletspeakers/
- Apple. "iPad Smart Cover." Apple.com. (Aug. 23, 2011) http://www.apple.com/ipad/smart-cover/
- Franklin, Eric. "CNET Reviews: Asus Eee Pad Transformer." CNET.com. April 21, 2011. (Aug. 23, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/tablets/asus-eee-pad-transformer/4505-3126_7-34467853.html#reviewPage1
- Hines, Michael. "Terrific Tablet Stands." TrendHunter. Jan. 20, 2011. (Aug. 24, 2011) http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/terrific-tablet-stands#2
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- Vogel's. "Tablet on the Wall." (Aug. 24, 2011) http://www.ipadonthewall.com/wallmount/