Many tablets can be less expensive, lighter and more portable than even the most ultra-portable laptop. Although the business software that's available for these devices is nowhere near as full-featured as what is found on a PC, it's still robust.
Considering the importance of being mobile while getting a business off the ground, you'll appreciate a device that allows you to quickly access your basic office functions--e-mail, calendar, word processing--on the road, without lugging a clunky laptop or squinting at your tiny smartphone.
Here are our top tablet picks for firms just getting off the starting block.
Starts at $500 for 16 GB
Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion got off to a terrible start with the PlayBook, but don't let the bad press and lack of direct e-mail support fool you. By using web-based e-mail, the PlayBook is a fast, multitasking business tool. BlackBerry smartphone users can easily work around the PlayBook's deficiencies using the unique BlackBerry Bridge feature, a Bluetooth connection that fetches the e-mail, calendar and address book from nearby BlackBerrys and puts them on the PlayBook. It's also handy as a second display. Mix the PlayBook's über-portability (it has a 7-inch screen) with its ability to run several apps simultaneously, its HDMI connector for PowerPoint and other applications with its speed, and you get the most portable business tablet bang for your buck.
ViewSonic ViewPad 10
Starts at about $600 for 16 GB, 2 GB RAM
The ViewPad won't win your startup any style points. It's nearly a foot across diagonally, a hefty half-inch thick and the screen is average. But get past the frumpy exterior and this dual-boot tablet is a small-business wonder. It runs in either Google's Android 2.2 or the Windows 7 operating system, so small businesses looking to replace pricey laptops with tablets for on-the-go computing will find that this machine truly offers the best of both worlds. In Android mode there are great apps for checking e-mail, video chatting and delivering presentations. For editing documents and viewing business-based web services, the Windows 7 mode provides PC-like efficiency. Two USB ports allow for a variety of useful peripherals and a Micro SD slot lets you add more than enough memory for whatever you're working on. The ViewPad may be ridiculously clunky, but it's also ridiculously useful.
$500 for 32 GB
Usually buying a tablet from a cell phone company is the best way to overpay. But for those road warriors who absolutely must stay connected, we really like the Motorola Xoom, sold via Verizon. The Xoom runs Android's Honeycomb operating system--which is specifically designed for tablets--and is intuitive and lightning-fast, boasting a solid connection to Verizon's cellular network. For cloud-based shops, assuming your data is sitting on a server, this could be the only mobile tool you need.
Apple iPad 2
Starts at $500 for 16 GB
For all the consumer branding, Apple has quietly aimed the iPad at small businesses with several nice hardware touches like excellent video tools and external volume control. The iTunes App Store is loaded with business apps. With the App Store Volume Purchase Program, you can buy these programs in bulk for use throughout your business. Other selling points include long battery life, beautiful two-way video conferencing and a slick, lightweight design. If you can get past the Apple connectors and nickel-and-dime nonsense (like $30 for a replacement charger), it's tough to beat the iPad 2.