Should you buy a laptop or a tablet?

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When you’re looking for a new portable computer these days you have to ask yourself a very serious question, should you buy a laptop or should you buy a tablet? Both have their respective advantages and disadvantages, and while neither is really a bad choice in a general sense you need to be able to decide which one is right for you. Unlike most gadgets of this type, price isn’t really a factor, since a laptop with admirable hardware specifications can end up being a similar price to a high-end tablet. What you want to look at is what you’re going to be using the device for, and based on that you can work out whether it would be better for you to buy a laptop or to buy a tablet.


1. Will you be away from power sources most of the time?

If you’re planning on using your device while out and about the chances are you won’t be near power sockets the majority of the time, and you really want something that’s going to last without it needing to be plugged in every couple of hours. Likewise the opposite is true, if you’re going to be using your device near a steady power source then you really don’t have to worry about it.

If the former is true then a tablet is probably your best bet. Tablets tend to require a lot less power to function than laptops do, and many of them also include much larger batteries than the ones that come standard with your basic off-the-shelf laptop. This means that they can last a lot longer between charges, while performing many of the same tasks. That means being out and about without access to power would suit using a tablet better. If that’s not a situation you’ll find yourself in regularly, or if you can find one with a suitably high battery life, then a laptop is always still an option.

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2. Do you want something basic or capable of more complex functions?

The compact nature of the tablet means that they don’t have room, to house the same level of hardware that you can find in a laptop. In fact much of the space within a tablet is devoted to the display and battery. When you think about it like that, it makes sense that tablets are a lot less powerful than even mid-range laptops. That doesn’t mean they’re bad per-se, but it does mean that tablets have a somewhat limited functionality and can’t the same number of processes as a laptop.

Similarly the software available on tablets is far more restrictive. This is to ensure everything works with the hardware that’s available and because of the fact that they have to work with a closed operating system that requires all software and applications to be approved before they are made available to the public.

Because better and faster hardware is available on laptops for a not-unreasonable price, it means that they can do a hell of a lot more process than a tablet in the same amount of time. That might not affect you much, but it does mean if you try and do too much on your tablet it could seriously affect how well it functions until they’re all finished. Specific software requirements you might need also push the laptop up above the tablet in this instance. Creating software for a computer architecture, whether it be Windows, OS X, or Linux, is much easier for developers, and because it’s far more open than mobile software architecture it means a lot more software is available that can accomplish more complex tasks. For example, a lot of VPN software on tablets require you to use their networks and involve you using it to mask your online presence. They don’t allow you to connect to your own custom VPNs that you might use for work. Laptops have no such restrictions. Similarly you can’t access the full version of a lot of programmes on tablets, like Adobe’s Photoshop, which means you have to rely on cloud-based apps that are suddenly useless if you don’t have an internet connection.

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3. What is your main reason for buying one?

Think about why you want to buy a new device, what you plan on using it for is the main focus on which you should buy. If you plan on using it for basic software functions, like using a word processor or crafting presentations, then a tablet is a great choice, but a laptop also performs the same functions in virtually the same way. Laptops can also be used to play movies or TV, but the tablet’s compact nature and portability might make it a slightly better option for this.

Games and reading are a totally different story. If you’re someone who enjoys playing games like Angry Birds or 2048 then you might as well buy a tablet. Those small scale games are perfect on a mobile device. But if you’re into more advanced games like Battlefield, Civilization, or most of the games you might find in your local GAME then you’re going to need a laptop, and a good one at that. Tablets just can’t handle those kinds of games (neither can low-end laptops for that matter).

Reading is a good example of something where a tablet trumps the laptop in almost every way. Reading on a laptop is a pain because the screen isn’t suited for displaying pages in an easy to read format. Tablets, on the other hand, are ideal because they’re roughly the same size and shape as a number of books. Think about the e-readers that you can buy. Most of them are basically limited tablets right? Well pretty much all tablets have e-book readers like Kindle available for download, making them a worthy purchase for the avid reader.

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4. What level of portability is important for you?

The key purpose for both laptops and tablets are their inherent portability. If you aren’t going to be using a computer on the go (even if that’s just taking it into the kitchen) then you might as well just buy a desktop computer that isn’t supposed to move. You do need to ask yourself the question, “just how portable do I want it to be?”

Laptops are fairly large, and at this stage they’re a little too large because the biggest ones available won’t fit into a lot of bags. Not that it’s difficult to find a bag that can house a 15-inch laptop, it’s just a  bit of a pain if it doesn’t fit in the bag you already have. Laptops also tend to be a lot heavier, which means carrying them around all day is going to be tiresome on your arms and shoulders.

But tablets don’t have this issue because they are a lot more portable. They’re smaller for starters, which means that they fit in a better selection of bags, and they’re quite a bit lighter which makes them much less of a burden when you’re carrying them around. Of course this means that they do sacrifice advanced functionality — as discussed before.

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5. Are you happy with touchscreen input, or would you prefer a mouse?

The thing about tablets is that their input system is almost completely reliant on the touch screen, and that’s a system that’ still relatively new and unfamiliar. Laptops rely on the more traditional system of using a keyboard and mouse — a system that has been around for decades, and one that the vast majority of people are familiar with.

Keyboards and mice might differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they still offer a simple, easy, and familiar way for system for people to control their machines. lick, right click, scroll, type, and so on. A touch screen is a little bit less reliable since different systems, and even different apps in the same system, treat commands differently. A double tap in one system might register as a the equivalent of a right click on a mouse, but in another it might open a link in a new tab, or possible something completely different. You just don’t have the same standardised commands that you do with a simple keyboard and mouse. It is possible to plug a USB mouse into a tablet using an adaptor, but they’re not always as reliable and requires the software to be compatible with mouse input in the first place.

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6. Are you planning on doing multiple things at once?

Chances are that the answer to this question is yes, and that gives the tablet somewhat of a disadvantage. Multi-tasking is the staple part of any work you’ll have to do on a computer, as is switching between multiple windows and programmes. It’s also something that tablets are not that great at yet.

Multi-tasking does exist on tablets, but it’s not as seamless and fluid as it is on a laptop. A number of systems (like iOS 8) have introduced systems that allow you to work on two different apps on the same screen, but it’s likely that you’ll need to do a lot more than that. You will probably need to switch between two apps at any given time, and that’s where the problem lies. Switching on a tablet takes a lot longer because it requires a number of finger taps and possible even some scrolling to get to where you want to go. To make matters worse, depending on what system you’re using, you could even lose some of your work by leaving the original app to find something elsewhere.

Laptops have no such problems, and in fact it’s actually what they’re built for. A couple of clicks of the mouse will usually get you where you want to go, and that fact that everything is moveable you can even arrange it so it doesn’t take you very long to navigate. Plus the better hardware means you can be running a lot more software than any tablet could.

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7. Do you need something more durable and hardy?

If you’re going to be using something out and about then it’s going to get a few knocks and dents here and there, that’s a given. How much punishment it can take is definitely something that you want to consider.

Tablets are essential devices with a large glass panel on the front, which means they’re not particularly hardy devices. Sure you can buy a case to keep them safe, but that’s hardly the point. Considering the fact that the tablet’s most fragile piece is also one of the most important it’s not really something you want if you’re device is going to get knocked about a bit.

That’s not to say that laptops are indestructible, far from it, but the design does offer them a bit more protection. For starters the fact that it closes and unfolds means that the screen gets a lot more protection from external forces when it’s not in use. The chassis is also thicker and sturdier, so bumps and dents won’t have that much of an effect. Plus, many laptops have systems in place that will shut the whole thing down if you drop it or hit it against something too hard. All to protect the hard drive you see.

Chances are that you won’t be taking your device into any environment where it’s guaranteed to break, but it’s always nice to consider how much torture it can take before you buy it.

Tom Pritchard


  • My Acer laptop will easily run for 8 hours on the battery and I carry a spare, that’s 16 hours of use on the go.

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