Mobile laptop labs are the most common set-up. Light weight, mainstream, general purpose laptops are the best choice in most situations. No special hardware configurations or features are required for most uses and lab settings. Laptops with large screens (15 and 17 inch) are preferred by people challenged by poor or declining eyesight. Using a mouse rather than a trackpad is easier for many beginners.
The popularity of tablet computing is increasing. Tablets are computers that are contained in a single panel with a touch screen. An iPad is an example of a tablet computer. Other examples are Android tablets, Amazon Kindle Fire, and (coming soon, as of this writing) Windows 8 tablet.
Tablets come with an onscreen virtual keyboard that is not suitable for writing intensive applications; tablets can be connected with auxiliary keyboards to improve their typing capacity. Also, while tablets can access an online store with thousands of applications, full-featured, native versions of some common software programs, such as Microsoft Office, are not currently available on a tablet.
Tablet computers that can access the Internet using a cell phone signal in addition to a wireless Internet signal expand the areas where a mobile lab is able to travel. This option is more expensive and requires some research into the different subscription plans.
A third option seen in mobile labs is Netbooks. These computers are essentially a scaled down laptop, with a smaller screen, slower processor, and fewer features. They tend to have a relatively low price, and they can come in “ruggedized” form to withstand less-than-careful use. The biggest disadvantages of Netbooks are their relatively low resolution, smaller screens and their often cramped, hard to type on, keyboards that will frustrate some users.
So which computer hardware should you select for a mobile lab? If your audience is most interested in consuming web content (view web pages, videos, listen to music and other audio, email, store and look at photos, etc.) using the latest, sexiest devices and being able to explore an array of different apps, then a tablet lab makes good sense. However, if your audience is also interested in workshops that will train them to use professional office software or high-end technical software requiring lots of processing power, then a mainstream laptop lab is the best choice.