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Laptop vs. Tablet: Which is Right for You?

You're considering buying a new computer, but can’t decide whether a tablet or a laptop is the better choice? That's no surprise, as today's ultraportable, highly functional tablet PCs have the capabilities of a full-fledged laptop.

Tablets and laptops each have comparative advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you intend to use your new system. This guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of buying a laptop vs. tablet, considering factors like performance and application.

Is a Laptop or Tablet better?

Tablets can perform similarly to laptops. Advanced mobile apps allow you to surf the web, run spreadsheet or word processing applications, play interactive games, and all of the basic day-to-day tasks.

Nonetheless, there are some key differences between tablets and laptops – some of which are deal-breakers for go-to laptop users, and vice-versa for tablet fans. For instance, some users find the tablet touch screen to be limiting compared to a physical keyboard, while others prefer the mobility and flexibility offered by virtual tablet keyboard.

2-in-1 Tablets

This article compares laptops to the traditional, "slate" tablet – a thin, one-sided device without a physical keyboard – and does not discuss combination tablet-laptop devices, called 2-in-1s.

When deciding on whether to buy a tablet or laptop, if you’re finding that a laptop gains the advantage due to its keyboard, faster processor, or other laptop-specific feature, then a 2-in-1 that has the capability of being used in both laptop and tablet mode might be the best option for you.

Learn more about the functionality that 2-in-1s provide: What is a 2-in-1 Tablet?

Comparing Pros and Cons of Laptops vs. Tablets

The following compares the top factors in performance and the pros and cons of a laptop vs. tablet in each use scenario.

Performance

Processor

Ultrathin tablets don't have internal fans found in laptops, and rely on different, lower-performing processors that generate less heat and use less battery power. Tablet CPUs are still highly capable, just less so than most laptops.

Advantage: Laptop

Operating System

The earliest tablets relied exclusively on mobile operating systems, similar to those that power smartphones. But today, you can buy tablets that run on essentially the same, full-fledged PC operating systems like Microsoft Windows 10.

Advantage: None

Portability

Thin, ultralight tablets are by definition more portable than laptops, which have thicker superstructures, heavier batteries, and so on. Sure, a laptop can fit in a carrying case or on your lap, but a tablet can fit in a purse or even a large pocket. In addition, the absence of a physical keyboard makes maneuvering a tablet on-the-go a synch.

Advantage: Tablet

Display

Tablets with up to Full HD (1080p) resolution are sufficient for viewability, given the comparatively smaller screen size. Models with Quad HD (1440p) or greater displays are rarer (though, now popular on laptops), due to the high processor demands and because high-res displays can make precise touch-commands more difficult.

Advantage: Laptop

Battery Life

An advanced laptop with dual-batteries and multiple energy-conservation features can promise anywhere from ten to twenty hours of battery life. Pound for pound, the much lighter tablet – in which the battery often consumes over half of the interior space – offers longer time unplugged.

Advantage: Tablet

Wireless Connectivity

In terms of wireless (WiFi) speeds and capabilities, standard tablets and laptops are both equal in this respect. Tablets with optional cellular data connectivity features built-in provide an added bonus.

Advantage: Tablet

Storage

Tablets are designed for ultimate portability and use solid state drives (SSD) with less capacity than the older, spinning hard drives found in many laptops. High-end laptops also offer SSDs – which means better performance and less weight – that have greater storage capacity than the drives in tablets.

Advantage: Laptop

Popular Applications

For Business Use

Different business users have different needs:

In the office

Along with the benefits of a full keyboard, the faster processors in most laptops make them better for typical office work (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.). Still, a tablet can be a useful auxiliary device for some users.

Advantage: Laptop

On the road

For salespeople and other road warriors, a tablet is much easier to travel with (no backpack needed!). A tablet also may be less obtrusive at meetings, and easier to manage for presenting quick product demos. However, an ultralight laptop with a quiet keyboard and specs designed for this application is not much different, at the end of the day.

Advantage: None

Industrial and Field Use

More and more industrial uses for tablets, including so-called "ruggedized" models, seem to emerge every day. Whether they're in the hands of a waiter at a restaurant, a service technician making house calls, or a quality inspector on a factory floor. Laptops are larger and more challenging to work with in these industry settings.

Advantage: Tablet

Casual

Compared to a laptop, a tablet's superior all-around portability, long battery life, and capacity for entertainment (i.e. surfing the web, streaming movies, playing games) make it an ideal choice for the casual user.

Advantage: Tablet

All-purpose or Family Use

For families that need one device that does it all, a laptop for home use is the likely choice, thanks to its wider range of uses. Particularly, typing-oriented business programs that may prove difficult on a tablet touch screen.

Advantage: Laptop

For Students

Given high school and college students’ comfort with technology, students heading back to school might use a tablet almost as productively as a laptop. For all-around educational use, such as taking notes, working on coursework requiring specific programs, and lightweight options for carrying to and from class, a laptop for students may be the better choice, as it’s more powerful and keyboard-equipped.

Advantage: Laptop

Multimedia

For creating and viewing media like pictures and video, a tablet's hand-held nature and smartphone-like camera options make it superior. For advanced photo editing or video production, the greater processing power of something like a Lenovo Flex multimedia laptop is required.

Advantage: None

Overall Convenience

If for you, "convenience" means easy carrying, fast boot-ups, and smartphone-like camera features, then a tablet likely meets your needs. If having multiple USB or HDMI ports, a full keyboard, and using complex apps is your definition of “convenience,” then you'll want a laptop.

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