Ah, the heated debate of which gadget is the reigning champion roars on. You may hear folks on one end talking about how fun and easy tablets are to use and that you should buy one.
You might also capture quibbles from friends or family on the other side who are pure laptop loyalists. Those who would never give up their clam-shell companion for a flimsy vertical panel.
Advertisements from big tech companies don’t seem to make the buying decision any easier either. There are lots of bold marketing statements these days from brands that their tablets are “laptop killers”, and can replace them altogether.
So which should you buy?
Tablets are generally smaller, lighter, have longer battery life, and are best suited for passive media consumption needs like video streaming, social media, and reading ebooks. Laptops are made for productivity, like typing documents, video editing, gaming, and 3D graphic design.
There are also hybrid 2-in-1 laptops that have touchscreens so that they mimic tablets, but are generally less powerful and cost more than a tablet or laptop alone.
I lay out the pros and cons of whether you should buy a tablet or laptop blow, and provide important considerations depending on your specific needs.
Keyboard Interface: Touch vs. Physical
We still live in a world where many prefer to type anything longer than a paragraph on a physical keyboard rather than touchscreen keys due to its overall comfort, speed, and ergonomics.
I realize that there may be a day where younger tech users born with touchscreens in their hands will forget about physical keyboards.
But there is nothing that matches the fluidity and smoothness of the trusty physical keyboard.
Anyways, laptops very much feature a physical keyboard layout which is preferred by many to be better for typing emails, articles, and college papers.
Tablets also have keyboards, but they are built into the touchscreen and can impede part of the overall picture when being typed on, making long-worded pieces harder to accomplish.
You can purchase a keyboard case, like this highly-rated one I found on Amazon for the iPad Pro (aff. link). This helps relieve some of the touch key woes that limit tablets from outperforming laptops in this arena, but the key layout is generally more compact and can add cost and bulk to the light, airy tablets.
This will mainly boil down to your preference as to which type of interface you like to type on better, but should be considered in your decision to buy a tablet or laptop.
Size: Tablets are Lighter and Smaller
This is probably the tablet’s strongest buying feature today. Even when compared to ultra-light laptop models, they are still considerably thinner and lightweight.
Tablets mainly have smaller screen sizes too, and when added to their slim body structure, can make slipping into a backpack, purse, or briefcase much easier than a laptop.
You will also notice that tablets have a smaller footprint than laptops, so when they sit on a desk, an airplane table, or your lap, it takes up much less space.
Keep in mind that adding a case, pen, or keyboard will add size and weight to a tablet, making it closer in dimension to a laptop. But its flat design gives it a huge advantage in portability for travel and office commutes.
Battery Life: Tablets Last Longer
Although tablets are lighter and smaller than laptops, their batteries tend to have a longer lifespan.
Since laptops are designed to handle tougher workloads, the moving parts that are in them and the higher power pull more energy from their batteries.
This results in less battery life even when the same type of tasks are being performed as a tablet.
Tablets are optimized for mobility, and so are the apps that are downloaded on them. So even games, video streaming, and social media use less battery than laptops.
This can reduce huge headaches in constantly needing an outlet to recharge the battery, and bring piece of mind knowing that tablets can run almost all day while unplugged.
Tablets Have Similar Apps as Smartphones
Tablets and smartphones share similar operating systems, especially when it comes to tablets that run on Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android structure.
Therefore, apps that are downloaded from a smartphone running on the same operating system and signed in to the same account can transfer app downloads seamlessly between one another.
So if you are on a certain level of a game on your iPhone and you want to pickup where you left off on your iPad tablet, you can do that with a simple cloud backup.
Likewise, if you have a favorite app that you use on a smartphone, you can download that same app on the tablet since they are both on similar platforms.
Laptops do not share applications with tablets because they have different operating systems that they run on.
In most cases the information that is accessed via an app on a smartphone will have to be pulled up by using the web browser on a laptop.
The reverse is also true: If you are touching up a movie file on a video editing software on a laptop, you probably won’t be able to have the same capabilities on a tablet.
Technology is vastly improving so that information will be accessed seamlessly among laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but smartphones are still more similar to tablets than they are laptops.
Storage: Laptops Have More Space
Since tablets are smaller and lighter than laptops, they also have to rely on parts that are more compact as well.
In order to keep cost and size at a minimum, most tablets are built with solid state storage that range from 16 to 128GB in memory.
On the other hand, there are budget and mid-tier laptops for the same price that have upwards of 256GB (and even 500GB) of storage space.
This is because many laptops still use hard drives, which have become much less expensive to develop and can hold substantially more memory per dollar than solid state units.
Therefore, if you need a computer that stores a lot of documents and still falls below your budget, a laptop should be worth looking at.
Performance: Laptops Run Faster
It is great that tablets have better battery life and portability, but these benefits are a limitation when it comes to performance.
Tablets are built with processing chips that are lower-power, and thus slower, than comparable laptops.
Since space is limited, tablets also usually have less RAM than laptops, so multi-tasking can become a burden at a certain point.
Laptops have beefier graphics cards, higher-powered processing units, and more RAM out of the box than tablets do. So accomplishing activities that are geared more towards productivity are handled more efficient and smooth.
If you are a graphics designer, serious gamer, or music producer, you will enjoy the extra power that a laptop provides, and your wallet will thank you too.
Ports: Laptops Have More Connections
Do you have a camera that you need to plug in to transfer photos? How about documents from an external memory unit?
If these questions sound like those you are asking in this buying decision, then a laptop is definitely for you.
Laptops come with a myriad of ports so that you can connect any accessory of your choosing with ease.
They also allow you to upgrade your existing storage space via an external hard drive so that you can have even more memory at your disposal, something that a tablet cannot do.
Laptops also allow you to connect gaming controllers, speakers, external displays, and mouses so that you can customize your accessory experience any way you want.
Some tablets have ports, but they are more limited in nature, and their mobile operating system may prevent some external files or accessory from pulling up properly or working altogether.
Software: Laptops Offer More
Laptops and tablets have software that differ in that, their capabilities have varying levels of use.
For instance, laptops have full-suites of software that, when combines with hardware and accessories, can accomplish anything that a fully loaded desktop can handle.
Tablets, on the other hand, have applications that are restrictive to their mobile optimized operating systems, so tasks that can be accomplished on desktop computers are more limited on tablets.
Their lack of hardware and accessory support also makes it more difficult to unlock the power of desktop software that laptops have access to.
If you work in a business that uses a certain software that can only work on a laptop, chances are that software is not the same on a tablet, or it only shows more basic information.
Price: Consider Your Budget
There are many tablets on the market that are below $200 that have the thin and lightweight portability that they are best known for. These are mainly suited for less taxing activities like ebook reading and emails.
Many budget laptops start above $200 and go into mid-tier pricing above $400. At this range laptops offer more value for performance and capability then tablets.
These laptops tend to be quite bulkier than tablets, but their storage space and screen size tend to be more superior and more worth the money.
High-end tablets start above $500 and can eclipse $1000+. Although display and performance starts to pick up, laptops offer greater speed and storage for the same price.
If you had the money to pick only one today, I would recommend buying a laptop because they offer desktop-class software, performance, storage space and flexibility that is similar to tablets.
If budget is not that much of a concern to you and you like the convenience, premium tablets and 2-in-1s offer near-laptop-like speed and storage. They are also offer the extra portability that is preferred for use during cramped flights or road trips, and won’t weigh a ton when carrying across town.