IT for donuts: what's the best mobile device for working on?

By: John McGarvey

Date: 29 November 2013

IT for donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT. This week, find out which sort of mobile device is best for working on the move.

There are lots of different ways to work on the move. But there are only three main types of mobile device that you can work on. Each is good in different situations, so here's our guide to when and where each is best.

1. A smart phone

Smart phone {{}}Smart phones are small but powerful. You can slip one in your pocket to get online anywhere.

Because they're always switched on and to hand, smart phones are great when you need to look up information in a hurry.

However, a small screen size makes them less-than-ideal for extended use or working on documents.

  • Good for: sending and receiving email, checking social media, viewing maps, looking up information online and getting on the internet when space is tight (like crowded trains).
  • Not so good for: working on documents or using for extended periods.
  • Use when: you're out and about and just can't wait to perform a task online. Smart phones are best carried at all times and used on the hoof.
  • Secret weapon: powerful smart phone apps enable you to extend the capabilities of your device. For instance, you may be able to send invoices on the go.

2. A tablet computer

Tablet - mobile working{{}}These touch screen devices have no keyboard, but are small enough to carry in your bag all day. They provide a good compromise between the portability of a smart phone and the power of a laptop.

  • Good for: sending and receiving email, social media, viewing websites, watching video and doing tasks that don't require much typing.
  • Not so good for: anything that requires lots of typing or precise mouse work (there's no keyboard or proper mouse).
  • Use when: you need to catch up on work between meetings or on a journey. Tablets can be used comfortably for a few hours at a time and have big, bright screens for reading and reviewing documents.
  • Secret weapon: connect a portable keyboard to make writing and editing documents much easier.

3. A laptop

Laptop - mobile working{{}}Nothing beats a laptop when it comes to capabilities, because it's a full-on computer that you can use to run all your usual software. Microsoft Word, Excel ... they're all there to use on the go.

However, laptops are heavier than other options and tend to have worse battery life.

  • Good for: doing everything you do in the office — like working on documents, presentations and spreadsheets.
  • Not so good for: instant internet access (you have to wait while it boots up), working in tight spaces, carrying on the off-chance you'll have ten minutes to fill with work.
  • Use when: you're going to be away from the office for a while and will have a desk or table to work on.
  • Secret weapon: you can use a laptop as your main business computer too. Just plug it into a separate screen, keyboard and mouse when you're at your desk.

Already have a laptop?

Many people already have laptops for business use — and companies are increasingly issuing them to employees as standard.

If you're happy carrying your laptop when you need to work on the move for extended periods, a smart phone should be your other device. It's ideal for getting online in a hurry to look up information or check your email.

In this sort of situation it's harder to justify a tablet computer too.

However, if you have a main desktop computer back at base then a tablet is a great mobile option — especially if you want a device you can carry 'just in case' you decide to get some work done.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.