Are Tablets Still a Good Business Tool?

As smartphones increase in size, it may be time to reconsider which devices are necessary to lug around on the job. Here’s how some real estate professionals are prioritizing their technology needs.

Tablets became a popular tool for busy professionals who preferred working on a larger screen while out in the field. But now that smartphones are getting bigger, do tablets still make the most sense? It depends on your preference, of course: Some real estate practitioners who invested in a tablet just a few years ago have left them behind for new, larger smartphone models with 5.5-inch screens, while others remain loyal to a tablet or “phablet”—a smartphone-tablet hybrid.

“If I can do everything I need on my phone, I prefer to keep things simple and just carry it,” says Teresa Penner, associate broker at ReeceNichols Real Estate in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She owns an iPad but has almost entirely replaced it with the iPhone 7 Plus, which has the biggest screen of any iPhone model. “Over time, I found I haven’t used the iPad as much as I anticipated, while I am using the iPhone a lot more. I no longer take the tablet with me unless I am going to do a listing presentation.”

But the versatility of a tablet makes it the preferred tool at Better Homes and Gardens Prosperity in Rochester, N.Y., says broker-owner Danielle Riley, e-PRO. She opened her 14-agent office in August 2016 and equipped it entirely with Apple products. Every agent who closes 10 transactions with the company is awarded an iPad Pro loaded with BH&G apps, a case with built-in keyboard, and a free data plan. So far, two have reached that milestone and two more are closing in.

Riley chose the largest iPad for its 10-inch screen and processing power. “It’s not too big yet not too small,” she says. “You can use a pen on the screen. [My agents] can use it to look up listings, access all our documents, and sign contracts—everything they need to run their business from anywhere.” Riley also carries an iPhone 6 Plus, but for her, anything larger is too much phone. “Some of the bigger phones can be just too big. I want something that slips into a purse or pocket. It’s OK for texting and email, but when you want to share your screen with a client, you need something larger.”

How to Choose Between the Two

Praful Thakkar, e-PRO, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Andover, Mass., says his clients prefer the convenience of scanning listing photos on their phones. So he relies most heavily on his Galaxy Note 5 to share photos with clients, among other items. “The only time I carry a tablet with me anymore is when I know we’ll be signing documents,” Thakkar says.

But he didn’t always envision it that way. In 2014, Thakkar was introduced to Toshiba’s Windows 10 tablet, which was eventually replaced by the Asus Transformer Pad, an Android tablet. “When I bought the Asus tablet, I thought that’s what I needed for real estate,” he recalls. “Now my use of it is limited to very few tasks when I need the bigger screen, like signing documents.”

Thakkar says he sees his smartphone being his primary tool for the foreseeable future. “I’ll always have a laptop, but I don’t think I’ll get another tablet,” he says. “I can do the same things on my phone as a tablet, and it’s loaded with the same apps.”

That may be the emerging trend, but it could take some time to be fully realized. For now, Tammie White, SFR, broker-owner of Franklin Homes Realty in Franklin, Tenn., says she will carry both a smartphone and tablet. Her iPhone serves as her communications hub and her tablet as a mobile computer. She has used her iPad Air 2 with a companion keyboard to “write offers while standing in the kitchen of a house I’ve just shown,” she says. “It would take me forever to type out an offer on my iPhone. And whether I’m sharing documents or photos of homes with my clients, it’s much easier and more convenient to do that on the larger screen of my iPad.”

She’s also used the iPad to conduct showings over FaceTime, search the MLS, and document sign-ins at open houses. “It’s become my portable office.”

Tablet or Smartphone: What’s the Big Difference?

Tablets and smartphones that run on the same operating system, whether it’s Android or iOS, will have the same apps available. So your choice will be driven more by screen size and cost. Tablets are still more cost-effective, with prices for entry-level models starting under $300. If you want something more compact that also serves as a full-featured phone, then stick with a smartphone. But prices for the latest models are roughly twice that of an entry tablet.