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What is a Tablet Computer?

John Lister
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tablet computer is a portable device which is usually flat and rectangular, with a touchscreen rather than a separate keyboard. The name comes from it resembling a stone tablet, such as those used for the Ten Commandments, rather than tablet in the sense of a pill. The tablet computer is often referred to as a slate for similar visual reasons.

There are several variants on the basic tablet design. A booklet is a computer which folds out like pages in a book. Usually in this set-up, one "page" is used as a display and the other as a touchscreen keyboard. Though a booklet format usually makes the computer thicker, it has the advantage pf the screens not being exposed when folded away, meaning there is less chance of it being damaged in transit.

A convertible tablet, or convertible notebook, has a touchscreen which can also be swiveled around and stood up, revealing a traditional keyboard. This causes the machine to resemble a traditional notebook computer. The device can be used like a tablet when space is tight, while retaining the benefits of a notebook. The main drawback of such devices is that the connection between the screen and the keyboard is more vulnerable to breaking.

Most tablet computers run a customized version of widely used operating systems. These versions are specially designed to make best use of touchscreens and may include support for input devices such as a stylus or graphics pen. Generally, the computer will have lower specifications than a comparable notebook, so the operating system may be designed to reflect this.

The tablet computer became the main aim of a scheme dubbed One Laptop Per Child. This initially aimed to get low-cost laptops to children in developing nations. The scheme's management later decided it made more sense to work on a tablet computer, as this could be made with no movable parts or access to the inside of the machine, making it safer and more durable for a user base of children.

In 2010, Apple announced it was producing its own tablet computer, the iPad®. At the time, it was expected the release would attract many first-time tablet users and in turn help the entire market to grow as people became interested in the device but wanted a cheaper alternative from a rival company. Critics of Apple's device said it lacked several important features such as the ability to run more than one application at the same time.

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John Lister
By John Lister , Former Writer
John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With a relevant degree, John brings a keen eye for detail, a strong understanding of content strategy, and an ability to adapt to different writing styles and formats to ensure that his work meets the highest standards.

Discussion Comments

By everetra — On Dec 29, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - I love the One Laptop Per Child concept for kids in developing countries. I spent some time teaching in Asia and the schools over there were all gung ho about getting their kids “wired” so to speak.

This was before tablets came on the scene, but I think the tablet is the perfect blend of convenience and technology. Since it doesn’t have a keyboard it can easily be tailored to other cultures, by building culture specific “apps” for those countries. I think it’s a great idea and a boon for education.

By SkyWhisperer — On Dec 29, 2011

@NathanG - I think the best tablet computer by far is the iPad, at least if market share is any indication. I don’t own one myself and am not committing to just yet. The Android and Samsung models are worth looking at too.

The main consideration for me will be the price to performance ratio. Operating systems are important too. I am normally a Windows user so I will gravitate towards any tablet computer than run Windows software.

In either case I am going to wait until the prices come down some more. I’m a laggard when it comes to these things.

By NathanG — On Dec 28, 2011

@miriam98 - That’s great, I am glad that’s working out for her. I still don’t have a notebook tablet computer myself.

I’ve been bred on the old desktop workhorse with a monitor and keyboard. I do have a notebook computer, but I’ve never seen the need to go with the tablet PC.

If I did, I think I would go with the fold up model described in the article so that it can be tucked away safely. I don’t like the idea of an exposed computer screen.

By miriam98 — On Dec 27, 2011

My mom never worked with a computer in her life until the PC tablet computer came along. Somehow, the simple design of the computer and the fact that you could just point to things with your finger made it unintimidating for a beginner.

Soon she was using that thing all the time, writing letters, storing recipes, sending emails (after some training) – you name it. She takes it with her everywhere she goes and tells everyone how wonderful the tablet computer is.

You’d think it was sliced bread or something like that. I think accessibility is the main appeal of the tablet notebook computer in our family, more than all of the other bells and whistles that come with it.

John Lister

John Lister

Former Writer

John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With...
Learn more
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