Help Me, Laptop: Should I Get a Notebook or a Tablet?

As 2-in-1s — which can convert from clamshell to tablet mode — have become more common, stand-alone slates have become less popular. However, many shoppers still wonder whether they need a tablet, a laptop or one of each.

Forum user jchristempleton asks whether tablets will soon become obsolete, writing, "When do we get to the point where there is no point in buying a tablet because laptops have the power and programs to beat the consideration of a tablet?"

Jchristempleton's question is focused a bit on the future, but the answer is the same now as it will be for as long as we can foresee. There will always be a need for stand-alone tablets for media consumption, but the line between productivity slates like the iPad Pro and laptops is quickly disappearing.

Here's some advice for today's shoppers who are trying to decide between a laptop and a tablet.

Reasons You Need to Buy a Tablet

  • Child's first device: Tablets are the gadget of choice for younger children, because they are easy-to-use, have the best kid-friendly software and don't require you to read. Amazon's Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 for kids are particularly great first devices because they come with a ton of age-appropriate content, fantastic parental controls and two years of accidental-damage protection.
  • Reading / video watching: If you want to curl up on the couch with a favorite movie or book, a tablet makes a lot of sense, particularly one that's 8 inches or smaller. Yes, you can watch a movie on a 2-in-1 laptop, but even on a detachable, the device is much bulkier than a simple slate.

Of course, you could consume media on a large-screen phone as easily as you would on a tablet. But tablets are much larger, and most people wouldn't give a smart phone to a young child.

Reasons You Need to Buy a Laptop

  • Productivity: If you're doing any kind of work, whether it's planning a bake sale or number crunching in Microsoft Office, having a laptop with a keyboard, ports and a full computer operating system is important. I have a friend who does all his productivity work on an iPad with a keyboard, but that's not the most comfortable scenario for most people.
  • Education: There's a reason why most schools give their students Chromebooks instead of tablets. To do research and create content such as term papers, kids need a real keyboard and full desktop software.
  • Shopping / transactions: Yes, you can visit websites and make online purchases from a tablet or phone, but when you're buying many items or making a major purchase, you benefit from being able to view the full desktop versions of websites on a large display.

People Who Could Buy Either a Laptop or a Tablet

  • Artists: If you like to draw, you can do that on either a large-screen tablet such as an iPad Pro or on a 2-in-1 like the Surface Pro. However, if you're going for a drawing laptop, a detachable is a much better idea than a convertible with a bend-back lid. You want to be able to hold the slate in your hand, without the added bulk of the keyboard and touchpad on the back.

Bottom Line

Every household should have at least one laptop, so if this is going to be your main or only computing device, a laptop is the way to go. However, if you're looking for a child's first gadget or a media-consumption system, a tablet still makes sense.

Laptop Guide

Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.