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If you’re torn between a notebook and a tablet for staying productive on the road, a hybrid device can offer the best of both worlds.

There was a time when you were stuck at your desk if you needed to get some work done, but that’s changed thanks to the explosion in portable gadgets that let you stay productive while you’re out and about. The challenge now is that we’re spoiled for choice, so you need to think carefully about which gadget is the best fit for your needs.

For many people, the keyboard is the make-or-break feature of a portable productivity tool. Touchscreens are fine for consuming content, and perhaps bashing out quick email replies, but when it comes to serious writing, most of us still prefer a real keyboard at our fingertips rather than stabbing away at a slab of glass.

Of course, not all supposedly ‘real’ keyboards are created equal. Many portable gadgets treat the keyboard as an afterthought — leaving you with a flimsy, squished keyboard sporting tiny keys and an awkward trackpad. If the keyboard is so cumbersome that work is slow-going, then perhaps you’re not really getting your money’s worth from your high-tech travel companion.

As a result, you might find yourself lugging around a heavy notebook and power supply in your travel bag, just for the decent keyboard, but there are alternatives. The slender MacBook Air and slim-line Ultrabook PCs are certainly easier on your shoulder, but these lightweight notebooks can take a considerable toll on your wallet.

If the keyboard is so cumbersome that work is slow-going, then perhaps you’re not really getting your money’s worth from your high-tech travel companion.

A more cost-effective travel option might be to match up an Apple or Android tablet with a decent Bluetooth keyboard. You’ll find tablet cases with built-in keyboards, but if they’re a little cramped for your liking, you might opt for a decent standalone Bluetooth keyboard. Give some thought as to how you’ll prop up your tablet while typing, as some portable keyboards have a built-in tablet stand.

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Of course, this is assuming that tablet-style productivity apps meet all your needs. Microsoft Office for iOS and Android has come a long way and there are plenty of slick alternatives. Yet, depending on what you need to get done, sometimes only a desktop operating system will do.

At this point, Apple lovers are out of luck — there’s no sign of a MacOS tablet to sit between a MacBook Air and an iPad. Apple’s new 12.9-inch iPad Pro still runs iOS like the smaller iPads. Meanwhile, the flexibility of Microsoft Windows offers a third choice that sits between a notebook PC and tablet; the ‘notebook replacement’.

Notebook replacements are basically Windows-powered tablets with detachable keyboards, such as Microsoft’s Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3, or rivals like Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 700. The keyboard attaches with magnets, while there’s a kickstand on the back of the tablet to hold it upright.

These slimline gadgets give you the choice of using the touch-friendly Windows tablet menus or pushing them aside for the traditional Windows desktop, which has regained the Start Menu under Windows 10. When you don’t need the keyboard, you can fold it back or tear it off. Unlike an Apple or Android tablet, Windows-powered notebook replacements feature PC-style connectors such as full-sized USB ports, SD card slots and video connectors.

Like all portable devices, notebook replacements demand compromise. They typically come with a 12-inch screen, which is larger than most tablets but smaller than most notebooks. Price-wise, you’re pushing up into high-end notebook territory but you’re often sacrificing some grunt compared to a traditional notebook. This might not matter if you’re just running Office apps, but could be frustrating if you need to do multimedia work on the run.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to getting things done while you’re on the road, so make sure you weigh up all the options when shopping for a high-tech travel companion.

First published October 2015.

Image: © Syda Productions / Dollar Photo Club