You may want a tablet that does plenty, yet not rely on it to do everything. That’s more than a reasonable expectation, and when it comes to having a tablet that can step in to help make you more productive, the options vary.

This is what can be described as a “situational substitute” — a term that kind of falls into two camps that do the same thing. One is a tablet that can provide some of the same type of functionality, like a keyboard and trackpad, or even a desktop operating system. The other is a tablet that can’t fully replace or replicate a laptop, but can act as an effective support tool to get things done.

So what does that mean? Laptops and tablets aren’t the same. That much, most can agree on. Laptops have always been productivity tools first, consumption devices second. Tablets are generally the reverse. These tablets aren’t going to replace a laptop outright because they simply don’t have the hardware or software performance to match up. So, instead, they are best suited to be there when you need them to help out.

While I explained the different nuances between replacements and substitutes in a previous post, the general idea here is to fill a supporting need, rather than a primary one.


Standalone tablets


These are easy because they are the most recognizable. The iPad kicked off this category six years ago, and ever since, it has been driven by apps and mobility. The smartphone experience enlarged, only with more screen real estate to work with. Manufacturers are trying to tilt that focus to reflect what they believe are more balanced use cases, meaning that they are versatile enough to help with productivity tasks.

Naturally, the iPad is a talking point in that conversation. Apple has the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 9.7 to offer as its best tablets. They are the same size, but not made the same. The Air 2 sticks to the incremental upgrades the iPad has gone through since the original launched. The Pro 9.7 follows in the footsteps of the larger Pro 12.9, offering the same power, more or less, than its larger sibling.

The extra horsepower isn’t anything to scoff at. Robust video and photo-editing apps work smoothly on both devices. Word processing takes nothing out of the processor to do. While neither can run macOS or desktop apps, anything the Apple Store has can run on these with few problems. If you want something that is to complement a newer laptop, the Air 2 is probably the better bet, while the Pro 9.7 can help take some of the load off an older laptop because it can do more than the Air 2 can.

Then there’s Samsung and its Tab S2. I reviewed this tablet before, and found it serviceable, despite the not-so-good battery life. Under 10 hours was standard with this device, which is fine if you don’t mind the trade-off for its better performance than previous models. If Android is your preference, this is one of the most powerful tablets running that operating system, and it is getting updated to 6.0 Marshmallow. You do also get a choice between the 8-inch and 9.7-inch models, in case size matters.

Lugging around two devices isn’t ideal in most cases, but if a tablet can stand in for a laptop or desktop, especially during class, then it becomes much easier to carry it around. Plus, battery life tends to be better all-around on a tablet than on a laptop, though that gap has been closing.


Convertible and other tablets


These devices are exactly as they sound. Pieced together, they are like laptops. Separated, you have a tablet you can carry around without anything else in tow. Either way, the group I’m about to outline are not to be confused for full-on laptop replacements. There is another group that better fits that bill.

Let’s start with the HP x2 10-inch. This is basically a less-powerful version of the 12-inch model. The design is the same, save for the smaller display and different processor under the hood. It does still run on Windows 10, so the software is the same, but it won’t be as efficient as its more formidable sibling.

Then there’s the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3. You could go with the Pro model if you want more performance and double the storage (32GB). Otherwise, the regular model, which also comes in both 10- and 8-inch designs, could be fine if you don’t plan on pushing it too hard. The 16GB of internal storage on those is low, so a microSD card or cloud storage would be necessary. The cylindrical battery that gives it its unique design makes the device last well over 12 hours with heavy usage. Again, if you have the need, go with the Pro version because it outclasses the regular one by a long shot.

Next, there’s the Acer 2-in-1 10.1”. This one has a lower-resolution screen at 1280 x 800, so it’s not even 1080p. The use cases here are basic, so your needs would have to fall under those pretenses. This is certainly not going to ever be a laptop replacement, but it can fill in for a computer in certain situations. Typing notes in class, or creating a document are two examples. Surfing the web should be fine, and even watching some online video shouldn’t be a major problem.

The 32GB of internal storage is not very high for a machine like this (the microSD card slot can only support cards up to 32GB), and the Intel Atom processor with 2GB of RAM means the unit isn’t going to blast through every task. There are two USB 2.0 ports for external hard drives and peripherals, plus an HDMI port to connect directly to a TV or projector. That can be very useful for watching something on TV or doing a presentation in class.

With up to 10 hours of battery life, which is probably closer to seven with heavy usage, this is the kind of product that will be a good sidekick in certain circumstances, or for very basic needs.


Getting it done

It’s important to truly assess what it is you need to do to get your work done. Figuring that out makes it easier to figure out what tool will be enough. You may already have a laptop, but not a tablet. Or you may have a tablet, and not really want a laptop. Whether it’s an outright replacement, or a substitute for specific situations, these devices may be good places to start in finding the right fit.

Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada,, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.