• The ultimate guide to buying a mobile computing device

Everything you need to know about the current mobile computing device market and how to select the right devices for you.

Breaking the shackles of the desktop

As ways of working evolve, office workers are becoming increasingly mobile. People are no longer shackled to a desktop. Mobile computing has turned office workers into information workers who can conduct business anywhere.

This growth in flexible working has led IDC to predict that almost three quarters of the workforce (72%) will be ‘mobile workers’ by the end of the decade.

This desire for mobility is not new; the notebook form of computing device has been consistently outselling the desktop for several years. Mobile computing, however, is changing. The emergence of tablet computers means notebooks are no longer the only option for workers on the go.

A desire for greater portability, improved presenting capabilities and rapid access to apps or the internet has seen this form of device become a serious option for many mobile workers. The analyst Forrester claims over half of information workers are already using a tablet at least once a week for work.

The mobile computer market refuses to sit still though. In recent years, we have seen new forms of device entering the mobile computing market. This includes the emergence of Ultrabooks and perhaps more significantly the convertible 2-in-1.

As these new entrants develop and improve, the options for mobile workers are ever expanding. Almost half (44%) of employees in the UK believe it is ‘very important’ they have access to the ‘latest/greatest’ technology and devices, according to research by market analyst TNS Global. But with so many options available, what ‘latest/greatest’ option is best?

The market may seem more complex than ever, but by understanding the needs of your users combined with the requirements of your business and systems, it is now easier to find a device that meets those specific needs. The Probrand Guide to Mobile Computing aims to help IT buyers evaluate those requirements before making a purchase.

Register or log-in to the Probrand Marketplace now, to see best price on all mobile computing.

In this guide we review the current state of the market and evaluate the pros and cons of the most popular devices currently available. We will also examine the other major factors that can significantly impact the mobile computing experience, such as software tools and the supporting infrastructure that help mobile computers remain connected.

State of the market

For all the recent developments in mobile computing, the business notebook remains the dominant device in the market. It is seen as a safe bet, the trusted all-rounder, and according to device market analysts GfK, it still accounts for 55% of all sales. The notebook’s dominance, however, has been curtailed by the emergence of tablets during the last five years. Media tablets now constitute 40.2% of mobile computing sales. But as new innovations emerge, the market is continuing to diversify beyond these two main categories. Most notably there has been significant growth from convertible 2-in-1s, which can operate as both a notebook and tablet.


Convertible 2-in-1s

Although the earliest forms of the convertible 2-in-1 may not have proved hugely popular for a number of reasons – such as being too heavy to operate comfortably in tablet mode – this is not the case with the latest generation. Lighter and more portable, the devices now have more appeal.

In the last year, the B2B notebook market has actually declined by 15.4%. This is in part due to strong sales in 2014, dictated by the end-of-life of Windows XP. Kit Lewin, account manager at analyst GfK, claims, however, that the increase in 2-in-1 sales – up 88.5% year-on-year – is also a contributing factor.

He adds: “Erosion of (B2B notebook) sales volumes can be linked to the increased take up of 2-in-1 convertible laptops which is a strong area of growth within the B2B market. Volume growth in the 2-in-1s has been aided by reduced prices which have led to a -5.6% reduction in average selling price down to £596.”

 Computer tablets

Mobile computing is also witnessing the emergence of new tablet variants dubbed ‘computer tablets’, which have the ability to run a full operating system.

Standard B2B tablets have actually seen sales decline 6.5% in the last year. This has been attributed to various factors such as the emergence of larger screen smartphones and the increased life expectancy for existing tablet devices. Yet, despite these pressures, the computing tablet sub-category has performed impressively with triple digit growth of 158.9% in 2015.

Lewin says: “The growth of the computing tablet business market has been driven by the increasing awareness of the business benefits of these devices. This includes their ability to run full operating systems, making them a good alternative to notebooks, whilst also aiding improved productivity due to their increased portability. The growth of computing tablets within the business sector is expected to continue for the rest of the year.”

Choosing the right mobile computing device

With an ever-expanding range of mobile computing products, choosing the right device in an evolving market can be a real challenge.

All these products offer exciting new features which sound compelling but, instead of becoming too focused on the latest innovations, IT buyers should look at the end use. What are the urgent requirements – portability, connectivity, raw computing power? When using a device, how much moving around is really needed? Is there a requirement to hook up devices such as projectors and monitors? Is there a need for lots of storage or just access to cloud services?

To help IT buyers make purchasing decisions, we’ve taken a look at four of the main mobile computing categories and assessed their pros and cons.


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Business Notebook

Packed with power and performance this computing device could be viewed as the ideal desktop replacement. They are suitable for the occasional mobile user who may take their laptop to a meeting room or occasionally visit a customer off-site. Specifically designed to be a great all-rounder, they should be able to cope with whatever the user throws at it. It should take connectivity issues in its stride and accommodate projectors, printers and other peripherals.

Top 5 tips

  • How much moving around is needed? If this is more than occasional it might be worth looking at a lightweight alternative.
  • Don’t overestimate how much storage is needed, especially if your company uses cloud storage services.
  • Don’t underestimate computing power requirements. Upgrading later may be costly or even impossible.
  • Optical drives are increasingly being removed from these devices, so if burning or reading files on disc is necessary, make sure the notebook has this capability.
  • Make certain the notebook can easily connect to other devices.


Coined by Intel in 2011, the term ‘ultrabook’ describes high-end notebooks that have removed bulk without compromising battery life. Using low-power Intel Core processors, these devices have axed optical drives and utilised solid-state drives within a unibody chassis to reduce size. The laptop of choice for those who want power and portability, they are best suited to the worker who spends most of their time on the move. An expensive option, they often use premium materials to create a sleek design suited to those who value style in their tech.

Top 5 tips

  • If the end user is not going to be on the move often, a standard business notebook could provide the same functionality for a lower price.
  • Make sure there are enough USB ports and appropriate connection cables for peripheral devices.
  • Cutting down on size may compromise keyboard ergonomics – it’s best to test typing before buying.
  • If the end user is always on the move you’ll need to ensure suitable Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • While Intel has a set limit for thickness, weight isn’t regulated. Make sure the ultrabook is as light as possible.

Convertible 2-in-1

Offering the best of both worlds, the convertible allows users to change their notebook into a tablet and adapt to working needs. Benefitting from the weight savings and increased battery life of the ultrabook, this 2-in-1 has added versatility. It is ideal for anyone who wants to sit and work but also needs to stand up and deliver presentations.

Top 5 tips

  • Depending on price, users could find compromises are made, often in regards to the ability to fully twist and rotate the screen, hide or protect the keyboard, and with the weight.
  • Make sure the power and storage requirements are enough – it can be difficult or impossible to upgrade after purchase.
  • Is the OS tailored for tablet or notebook mode? This has previously impacted usability when switching – although the release of Windows 10 should provide greater comfort in both forms.
  • If typing is a priority, make sure the keyboard ergonomics have not been compromised.
  • If the primary use will be in tablet mode, the extra weight of the keyboard could prove an inconvenience. Would a tablet be better?


This highly portable device takes its inspiration from the smartphone market by utilising touchscreens. Originally designed for the consumer market, the lack of a physical keyboard may well compromise productivity but manufacturers have bolstered security and the ability to pair with peripheral devices to add more business functionality.

Top 5 tips

  • Decide on whether you need 4G connectivity (and research price plans) before the purchase, as this won’t be an add-on option later.
  • Consider storage carefully. Cloud services are an option but, in the event of connectivity issues, how much storage is required?
  • Although Bluetooth keyboards can be purchased separately, if there is a lot of typing to be done would a convertible ultrabook be better?
  • File management, access to VPNs and critical business applications are often limited – consider whether these will be required regularly.
  • Unlike the notebook equivalents, the screen will always be exposed. Buying a case is an option, as are other peripheral accessories, but they come at additional cost.

Software considerations

The ability to step away from the desktop is reliant on an information worker having the tools they need to stay productive, to collaborate with disparate team members and access business critical information securely.

Significant steps have been made by software vendors and cloud service providers to improve these capabilities when workers are mobile. Some of these developments are having a significant impact on mobile computer specifications.



Following huge growth in Wi-Fi and 4G networks, it is now relatively easy to find a reliable internet connection that will provide access to critical information and applications.

This is providing workers with easy access to documents through share and sync services like Dropbox or OneDrive. This development is now affecting purchasing decisions as buyers question how much storage they really need on their device.

The availability of cloud productivity suites, such as Office 365 or Google Docs, is also allowing us to move easily between devices, from desktop to the laptop or tablet, and pick up where we left off. This is also means workers can start new projects and amend their work wherever they may be.

Collaboration tools

Another significant factor to consider when working away from the office is how easy it can be to work closely with colleagues.

Disparate team members can keep track of colleagues and remain responsive to customers by syncing their inboxes and calendars. They can also use instant messaging and video conferencing to discuss projects when not in the same room. To improve the level of collaboration, vendors are also continuing to improve their productivity tools.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Office client applications and services team, explains: “People often start and end their work in Office, but there is often that messy middle that involves a lot of discussion – by phone or via various tools – as well as multiple (sometimes conflicting) inputs. This has resulted in us delivering a set of experiences built for making teamwork seamless.”

We're committed to expanding real-time co-authoring to each of our native apps and you should expect to see more over time. Office 365 Planner also helps teams organise their work, with the ability to create new plans, organise and assign tasks, set due dates and update status.
Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft


Securing accessing data

The ability to access key enterprise applications, such as CRM systems and business intelligence tools, is another crucial consideration. Providing access to business critical information on mobile computers, however, has raised fears that sensitive data could leak out of organisations.

A general acceptance of bring your own device in the workplace has only increased these concerns. Security experts have warned the use of personal devices for work could open the door to cyber criminality – as employees don’t exercise the same level of caution when downloading material onto their own computers. This has led software vendors to introduce a number of safeguards to prevent data loss.

Koenigsbauer says: “Office 2016 apps with Office 365 provide the most secure Office yet. We are adding built-in Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to significantly reduce the risk of leaking sensitive data by giving IT admins tools to centrally create, manage and enforce policies for content authoring and document sharing.

We are enabling Enterprise Data Protection (EDP) in Windows 10, with support in Office Mobile, which allows more secure corporate content sharing across corporate managed apps and network/cloud locations, preventing inadvertent content sharing outside corporate boundaries.
Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft

Find out more about how Office 365 enables secure, collaborative mobile working

Supporting your mobile estate

Such has been the growth of mobile computers, modern businesses are now reliant on wireless connections to keep staff fully functional.

Employees looking to access cloud services, store data or collaborate with colleagues expect the corporate network to cope with these activities without restrictions. This requires organisations to install intelligent enterprise grade wireless solutions. These networks need the ability to overcome challenges such as interference and high-density working areas.

The latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, released in late 2013, has been designed to address many these wireless issues and improve connectivity speeds. A mobile computer buyer should check whether their next purchase is compatible with 802.11ac.

Infrastructure is vital

You can’t build a house without laying foundations, and improving wireless connectivity requires the same thinking. If a company is planning to invest in computing devices on the 802.11ac standard, they will need their wireless network to be on the same standard to realise the benefits.

Before installing a new network, however, it is advisable to first conduct an onsite wireless survey. This will determine if there is any likely environmental interference, identify the best location for access points and what the most suitable equipment is likely to be.


Is your wireless up to the test? Claim a free wireless site survey and find out!

Plan for growth

It is unlikely that the pressure on wireless networks is going to decrease in the future, as users are increasingly working from numerous different devices, often at the same time. Businesses, regardless of their size, need to plan for this. New wireless networks should have the ability to scale up the number of users and devices easily without the need to replace the system altogether.

'Buy cheap, buy twice'

It is unlikely that the pressure on wireless networks is going to decrease in the future, as users are increasingly working from numerous different devices, often at the same time. Businesses, regardless of their size, need to plan for this. New wireless networks should have the ability to scale up the number of users and devices easily without the need to replace the system altogether.

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