As computers have become smaller and more powerful, many users are opting for a mobile computing solution to assist them in their personal and professional lives. As of spring 2011, there are three main types of portable computers — laptops, netbooks and tablets — as well as ultra-portable personal computers (PCs), personal digital assistants (PDAs) and so-called smart phones. Laptops are the most powerful of the three main portable computers and are intended for users who need high-performance applications on the go. Netbooks are designed for people who need portability and low cost more than power, while tablet computers are an emerging product category best suited for users who are looking to consume rather than produce content. PDAs typically are about the size of a cell phone and have limited capabilities, while ultra portable PCs are similar to the PDA in size but with more complete functionality.
Laptop, or notebook, computers first appeared in the late 1970s. Laptops can run Windows®, Linux® or Macintosh® operating systems. These devices represent the most powerful mobile computing solution and can be used for processor-intensive tasks such as video encoding and photo editing. Generally, laptops are also the most expensive and least portable mobile computers. Users typically carry an additional laptop bag or case with them for the computer and its accessories.
Netbooks are essentially smaller, lower-cost versions of a laptop. They usually run a Windows® or Linux® operating system. Netbooks generally do not have much hard drive space and cannot run intensive programs. They are more useful for light applications such as web browsing and word processing. The low cost of netbooks makes them a good mobile computing solution for students, and many of these devices are small enough to fit into a purse or briefcase.
Tablet computers are a recent trend in computer technology, and the features of these devices are still developing. Tablets are highly portable computers with touch screen interfaces. Their price range generally falls in between laptops and netbooks. The tablet’s main drawback is the lack of a physical keyboard, although these devices are good for web browsing, streaming video and other light tasks. The tablet usually offers excellent battery life, and users do not need to worry about running out of power midway through a cross-country flight.
Smart phones are cell phones with Internet and other computing capabilities, making it possible for a person to browse the Internet, use global positioning system (GPS) technology and run assorted other applications from the handheld devices. Ultra portable PCs are similar in size and offer access to a complete computer operating system. PDAs also are about the same size but are intended for use as a computer accessory rather than a stand-alone computer.
Anyone considering a new mobile computing solution should be sure the solution of choice has an internal WiFi® antenna, which can allow Internet access through any open hotspot. Some portable computers also feature wireless cards that allow users to connect to the Internet from anywhere inside a coverage area. Users typically pay a monthly fee to access this service and may receive a subsidized device in return for signing up for an extended contract.