In addition to being a philosopher I am also nerdtastic because of my love for technology. Like most folks concerned with such matters, I am watching the rise of the tablets with great interest. In fact, I am a participant: I bought myself a Color Nook a while back. While I use the Nook to check on comments, I write my posts using my desktop. This nicely shows the difference between the two classes of devices.
Tablets (and smart phones) fall into the consumption category while desktops, laptops and netbooks fall into the consumption and creation category. While tablets (and even smart phones) are robust enough to run programs for creating content, their fatal flaw is their hardware interface. For writing anything substantial, nothing beats a standard keyboard. The same for data entry. Even though tablets would seem to be ideal for graphics, they actually are not as good as a traditional setup with keyboard, mouse, and a graphics tablet.
But, someone might say, the user can add a keyboard, mouse and so on to a tablet. This is, of course, true. But once that is done, the person is not really working on a tablet anymore. Rather, they have changed their tablet into an-all-in-one computer. Given that most tablets tend to cost as much as high end netbooks and low-mid range laptops, it would generally make more sense to just go with a netbook or laptop rather than lug around a tablet and input devices. Also, a netbook or laptop will be running a full operating system that can run standard programs (although there are Windows 7 tablets) while tablets run operating systems and apps that are generally less capable than standard programs.
Tablets do excel at devices for consumption. Unlike smart phones, they have decent sized screens and typically have more computing power and storage. Unlike laptops and desktops, they are highly portable and generally easy to hold. They also turn on almost instantly and generally have good battery life.
In my own case, I have found my Nook extremely useful. Rather than having to fire up my desktop to check my email or the news, I use my Nook. I never actually turn it off completely, so it is ready instantly and the screen is large enough to allow me to easily read my email. With Pulse (a free app) installed, I can see a range of the top news stories and get a quick picture of what is going on in the world. I can also use the browser to view files via my PogoPlug, in case I need to read a Word file of the latest book I am writing (or the adventure I am running). It is, roughly speaking, good enough to do the basics and far more convenient than my desktop for these functions. I can also check out my blog via the browser and catch up on the webcomics I read.
My Nook also (obviously enough) serves as book reader, as do all of the tablets (with free apps) and it can play music-either from a local source or via the internet. It can also play video.
In short, a tablet is a very convenient media portal. However, there are some limits to this magic portal.
First, there is the matter of Flash. Apple devices cannot handle Flash (well, without clumsy workarounds). While most Android tablets are supposed to be able to handle Flash, the actual results will vary. Some sites will not work and other sites (such as Hulu) ban Android devices from working. As such, do not count on your favorite Flash based amusements to work on a tablet.
Second, there is the matter of Netflix. If you have an Apple device, you are set. Download the free app and you are set. Android users are, however, generally out of luck-Netflix will not work via the browser nor is there a general Android Netflix app. There will be some devices that have a Netflix app, so if you must have Android and Netflix, you will have to buy one of them (or hack) or wait.
Third, there is the matter of the web. While the tablet browsers work quite well, they do not always deliver the same experience that you would have via a “real” computer. One easily fixable problem is that many sites will recognize the browser as being a mobile browser and take you to a mobile (usually inferior) version of the site. Fortunately, you can change the settings for most browsers so that they operate in desktop mode. However, this (as noted above) won’t solve all problems.
Fourth, tablets tend to relatively underpowered. As such, they can sometimes have problems with playing video. Some of the really cheap tablets really cannot handle video at all, while the high end ones have no problems. This lack of power can also impact viewing PDF files. For example, the PDF versions of the Pathfinder game books choke my Nook. Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu PDF is slow, but usable. The main problem seems to be that the Pathfinder books have extensive full color decorative background graphics on every page, while the CoC book has less excessive backgrounds and they are in gray. Less graphic intensive PDFs are not a problem.
Fifth, there is the matter of games. While there are many games for the Apple devices and Android devices (such as the insanely popular Angry Birds), there are not as many quality games as there are for the PC and dedicated gaming devices. Fortunately, there is an ever growing selection of games for tablets and they can be ideal for casual gamers. In fact, I know people who bought tablets just so they could play Angry Birds.