Year after year, with the release of a next generation iPad or a new generation Nexus 7 tablet, the debate rages on as to whether or not a tablet can replace the decades old laptop for being your only computer of choice. The differences between any tablet and a conventional laptop are vast and often times very different. For the sake of this comparison, I will focus on three of the most stark differences when selecting a tablet or a laptop; size, price and productivity. The purpose of this article will be to examine the key strengths and weaknesses of each device to help make purchases easier for people.
The ﬁrst and most notable difference that people look at when buying a new laptop or tablet is the size. While most conventional tablets range from 7-10 inches, laptops have far larger size dimensions. This can range from a small 11 inches, to a massive 16 inch in screen size. The size of the screen goes along with the overall portability of a device. Larger laptops often have rather large bulky builds with spacious keyboards. Tablets on the other hand, are relatively thinner, often minimalist in build when compared to normal laptops. However, the problem with size, is that people have different tastes, so there really is no “one size ﬁts all” solution to either device. Instead it’s important to look at how important portability is to you when it comes to looking at a device from the perspective of size. With laptops you sacrifice the portability of a tablet, for raw horsepower.
Although laptops are more powerful than tablets, devices like the iPad Air blur the line between portability and power with powerful next generation processors that can run 64-bit applications. These kind of advancements, often blur the line between these two device categories. While the processor difference between these two devices becomes even more skewed, when It comes to portability the tablet is more than the clear choice, but some laptops have characteristics of a tablet, like a prominent multitouch screen and run applications much in the same way. Computers in this category often have full keyboards, which although helpful in productivity, often have a detrimental effect on a devices overall size and weight. Devices like the IdeaPad Yoga 13 by Lenovo, offers the best of both categories. It has the power of a laptop with the ﬂuidity of a tablet. This of course presents a problem of device identity, is it a tablet or a laptop?
I’ve been able to come to a definitive answer. It is a PC with a touchscreen panel. A modern tablet does not or rather shouldn’t, come with a keyboard attached to its chassis. My ﬁnal criteria is that the device should be running an operating system that should be considered “mobile.” This is meant that the OS should be light, ﬂuid and should be app centric to compliment a “mobile lifestyle.” Operating systems such as BB10, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows RT are a few such OSes that compliment that idea. Windows (7, and 8 Pro) alongside Apple’s OSX are not that. They are far more complex and somewhat less user-friendly. They were built for a more complicated platform that does not have the same usability, and applications as mobile operating systems have. This is not to say one is better than another. Operating Systems are designed for different people, some are more powerful than others and have varying degrees of complexity. When deciding between a laptop and tablet, keep in mind that you can’t go wrong with either choice. It comes down to what you personally want in your device whether it be big or small, with a keyboard or not, and whether or not you want it to be slim or with a little junk in the trunk. It’s important to ﬁnd what works for you. When it comes to price, both tablets and laptops can often be found at really outstanding prices. Amazing tablets like the current generation Nexus 7, start at $229 and run a fully capable mobile operating system. The same can be said of the equally price friendly (although more expensive) iPad Mini, which retails for $299 and gets you an equally incredibly robust mobile operating system. The Microsoft Surface, which runs Windows RT or Windows 8 Professional, starts at $349 and runs a slimmed down version of Windows 8 which is app centric and lacks access to older legacy Windows software.
The prices for PC’s are often on the same price range as conventional tablets. There are of course some benefits to having laptop over a tablet when it comes to paying similar prices. Firstly, you often get more bang for your buck with a laptop. This includes hard drive space, which often eclipses even the most high-end tablets. As for software you have access to a more far-reaching software ecosystem on a personal computer than you have for a similarly priced tablet. Although there may be a huge difference in terms of storage space, performance is usually in favor of tablets. What I mean is ﬂash storage, what is used in modern smartphones and laptops; is far faster and more efficient at memory and storage allocation than typically hard drives. This allows them to perform better than traditional hard drives at least in terms of read and write operations. This includes having devices boot faster than laptops, which use older and less efficient hard drives. When it comes to pricing, laptops offer more in the way of storage and software choices, but tablets offer more efficient storage which overall is performance oriented. Ultimately though, when price is often the determining factor in the war for a place on your desk, remember that sometimes a spec race isn’t always the best determining factor in what you look for. It’s important to take into account that portability, power and pricing are all things that people look for when buying a new computer, but they are often not the most important. When buying a laptop, there is often one aspect that is the most critical for whether or not a purchase can be justified; that is productivity.
Productivity is the basis for both platforms, to get work done in an orderly and effective manner. Applications for both paradigms need to be powerful and robust, yet there is a stark difference between what sort of apps can work and on what device. The kinds of task that you perform on either device are going to be a key deciding factor for when you choose a new device. Is it going to be used as note taking device? Will it be used as a mobile workstation for getting documents written and edited? Will it be creating power points to show at a meeting or an exam? If any of these are what you plan on doing with either device, then you have powerful apps available to you on both platforms. Microsoft Office for starters, is available for the iPad and iOS through its Office Mobile application. This allows you to create documents, power points, and Excel spreadsheets on the go. Although, in order to gain access you will need to be on a subscription basis. When it comes free alternatives, Apple’s iLife suite offers Pages, Keynote, and Numbers for free with the purchase of a new iOS device, while Google offers Google Drive for free and has the exact same powerful editing suite for Android as well as iOS. IN addition, Microsoft now offers Microsoft Office Mobile free to Android users.
A key difference though between mobile and laptop quality applications, are the directness of how an app interacts with its user. It’s design interacts with your productivity and impacts the kind of work that can be done. Application design and functionality is paramount to getting any amount of work done. With tablet’s, the application is always in front of you, giving you a direct and more hand’s on approach with your work through direct touch and interaction. This runs parallel with application design. The design of an application is important, as it gives you the best way to express quality in your work. In this regard, apps should be very user-friendly and give the most direct feedback possible. It is here that I believe that tablets best laptops. It is that sense of expression, intimacy and directness that can be accomplished within an application, that I feel laptops lack. In addition to a strong uniform visual design aesthetic, laptop applications often lack a strong user-friendly design that can make learning apps and software for the ﬁrst time user, a time-consuming and even arduous process. There is one area though that laptops will have tablets beat, for years to come. That area, is in use of professional grade software. Laptops have far more powerful processors and RAM configurations that allow for the use of powerful editing and video rendering software. While tablets and their respective application stores, have similar applications available, they lack the degree of control, and editing power that a laptop can offer.
When it comes to choosing your next device, take into consideration price, design, weight, and what you plan you use the device for. If your more of a traditionalist who likes a lot of power under the hood and can’t bear to be removed from a keyboard and mouse, stick with a laptop. But if you’re looking for something, lightweight, minimalist, and can do basic editing and writing, buy a tablet. With either choice though, it’s important to understand that with any device you buy, research ahead and ask yourself “Does it serve my uses?.”
Ultimately, when it comes to deciding what device is really better, I think it is important to look at overall current device trends. Laptops and worldwide PC sales overall for the past several years have been in a steady decline, while tablets have been rising. I think it is safe to assume that tablets are overtaking the traditional PC market in terms of adaptability and usability, but do you see yourself with a tablet? Even with the comparisons I have listed, the answer is not so simple. The question of ﬁts for you, is something you will have to ask yourself at the checkout line.
What do you think is the better of the two? Do you think that a tablet is better a laptop? Do you think a laptop is the way to go? Sound off in the comments below.