Tablet or Laptop

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Still, while tablets are important, they don't fully replace laptops, at least not yet. There remains huge value in the portable, clamshell-shaped computer with a physical keyboard, lots of ports, plenty of storage and more horsepower than tablets offer. So, here is my annual spring laptop buyers' guide, a basic cheat sheet to the most important factors in the shopping process.

While I've focused on laptops, much of this advice also applies to desktop computers, a fading species. As always, these tips are for average consumers doing the most common tasks. This advice doesn't apply to businesses or to hard-core gamers or serious media producers.

The first thing to consider is that you may want to wait to replace your laptop. Apple's iPad, and the tablets coming in its wake, have put the computer industry in reset mode. If you own a tablet, you are likely to rely on your laptop less often, extending its useful life. And if you don't, you'll probably find over the next year or two that more interesting choices will appear as companies try to bring tablet qualities to laptops and laptop features to tablets.

Some new laptops offer tablet-like features like the PlayBook.

Mossberg's Mailbox

Deleting Emails on an iPad
Some early inklings: Apple's MacBook Air and the Windows-based Samsung Series 9 start almost instantly, like tablets, and use chips for file storage, like tablets do, instead of hard disks. Also, Apple will soon roll out a new Macintosh operating system, called Lion, that displays programs as if they were tablet apps, and it already has an iPad-like app store for the Mac. Microsoft is working on a version of Windows, likely to appear next year, that fuses tablet and PC concepts. This software will run on some current computers, but new hardware, more tailored to these systems, will be coming.

As for tablets, some companies are working on designs that go beyond the iPad template to somehow integrate physical keyboards and...
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