Tablets vs. Laptops: What Should You Buy?

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It was only a year ago when the iPad was considered a netbook killer—remember netbooks?—but now many people are wondering whether tablets are good enough to replace a full-fledged laptop. The answer is simple: maybe. It really depends on your computing needs. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you should consider before deciding to buy either type of device for yourself or as a gift.

Tablet Pros & Cons

Led by Apple’s iPad 2, tablets are ideal for consuming content. They’re great tools for surfing the web, checking e-mail and Facebook, playing games, reading digital magazines and books, and enjoying movies and music. But that’s not all slates have going for them.

These devices turn on instantly and tend to last longer on a charge than your typical notebook. The best models offer 8 or more hours of unplugged use. That battery life advantage also extends to standby time. With tablets’ phone-like operating systems, you can set them aside for days and they will likely still have plenty of juice left.

The most popular tablet size is 9 to 10 inches, which is similar in dimensions to a magazine, but you’ll also find plenty of devices with 7- or 8-inch screens. These models are more portable, and can more easily fit inside a purse or jacket pocket. The iPad and similarly sized competitors tend to weigh 1.6 pounds or less, while 7- to 8-inch models weigh about a pound or less. Regardless of the size, tablets are lighter and easier to carry than laptops.

Tablets are particularly attractive as gifts because they’re more affordable than most laptops. The iPad 2 starts at $499, and there are several slates that start as low as $199. We haven’t seen many quality devices at that lower price, but it looks like the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire changes that with a great screen, a turbo-charged browser, and easy access to Amazon content. A good notebook costs $200 to $300 more.

As far as productivity goes, tablets are becoming increasingly versatile as more business-friendly apps proliferate. There’s the versatile iWork suite for the iPad, as well as robust third-party options such as Documents to Go and Quickoffice. Similar options are available for Android-based slates. Thanks to such cloud-based services as Dropbox and iCloud, the limited storage capacity of tablets is less of an issue than you might think, though tablets are not very useful without Internet connectivity.

Some tablets are designed to either pinch-hit for or replace a notebook. The ASUS Eee Pad Slider has a slide-out keyboard built in (pictured), while the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet lets you take notes with a pen right on its display and comes with an optional keyboard case. Nevertheless, the keyboards on traditional laptops are bigger and more comfortable, and notebooks are simply better at some things, including word processing and video editing.

Laptop Pros & Cons

If the person on your list is looking to get real work done, a laptop continues to be your best bet. For one, they offer a superior text input experience, especially for those who touch type. Laptops also offer better viewing comfort, as they tend to feature larger and sharper screens. For example, the average notebook has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which fits a lot more information on the display than the 1024 x 768-pixel iPad.

You also shouldn’t overlook the fact that notebooks make it easier to multitask. That’s because you can more quickly switch between applications and see all of your open apps at once. The taskbar in Windows and the Dock on Mac OS X make it a cinch to toggle between programs. And Windows 7 goes one step further with Snap, which allows you to compare open windows side by side. Mission Control in Mac OS X Lion presents your open apps and Spaces on a single screen.








In terms of weight, notebooks are heavier than tablets, but their clamshell design makes outfitting them with a case less necessary. You just toss them in your bag and go.

Another area where notebooks excel is software. Yes, tablets offer access to lots of apps, but laptops pull ahead with the wealth of available productivity programs. Microsoft Office Starter Edition comes pre-loaded on many notebooks. Then there are free apps such as (which goes deeper than Office Starter) and Paint.NET for editing photos. And let’s not forget the desktop apps, such as Photoshop, that offer more precision and power than anything you’ll find on a tablet.

Then again, security software is popular for a reason. For now, at least, the vast majority of viruses, Trojans, and other malware live on notebooks. Windows machines are the most popular target by far, but some threats have popped here and there on Macs, too.

So what about price? The average selling price of a laptop is less than $600, and you can get a well-equipped model for an even lower price. For instance, the HP Pavilion g6x features an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive for $449. This notebook sports a 15.6-inch screen. The sleekest full-power laptops tend to cost more. Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air starts at $999.

New so-called Ultrabooks follow the Air’s lead with fast boot times and super-slim designs. But the starting price for those machines is about $900. So if that person on your list wants a notebook that behaves more like a tablet, you’re going to pay more.


It’s not really a matter of whether tablets are better than laptops or vice versa. It’s about what type of device is right for the job at hand, which is why plenty of people own a laptop and a tablet. But if you’re wondering whether a slate or a notebook is the better gift--or you only have the budget to choose one device or the other--it comes down to what the user plans to do with it. Tablets are better for play and some work, and laptops are better for work and some play.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • excuzzzeme Says:

    I use some intense working apps and there isn't a tablet out there that can do what I need. I cannot rely on WiFi for networking problems and have the ability to hard-wire on the laptop. Overall speed is also an issue as is storage. Tablets are fun and easier to transport but just don't have the ability for serious fast work. Converting a laptop to touch screen is possible if you need it.

    If you need a workhorse, stay with a laptop. If you have no real production needs other than note taking or reading, go tablet. I have but yet to find a tablet that has the versatility of a notebook. A Netbook is just a notebook styled tablet.

    Evaluate your NEEDS (not wants) and it will be an easy decision.

  • Paola Says:

    I'm allll in to buy a tablet for my university's work. Read, write, check email, etc. Also people are leaving the computers behind although people will want to keep them after all. It depends on what you need, I don't need sofisticated programs since I study Political Science, so reading and writing basically. I'm used to write on touchscreens and I want a device that can finish the job and still be small enough so I can go around with it, let's face it Notebooks are still too heavy..
    More than once had happened to me that when I need to go to the pc I still can't get rid of my phone, I need it 24/7! On a pc you have to check manually everything but on your phone or tablet you have notifications.

  • tapan Says:

    whats shoud i buy laptop or tablet for study purpose ?

  • nonye Says:

    plz i need help here i am confuse on what to buy laptop or ipad i am a graphice designer and also like to travel and chat on facebook alot but dont no which to buy plz can some one help me here.

  • michael Says:

    i get both ideas behind the laptop vs tablets

    but im sorry laptop but the touch screen keyboard on the table just blows the old fashion keyboard away
    im a big gamer i have an itouch for games on the go but every other time i need to game or get some work done i go to my laptop and over the years iv spent some money and now iv modified my laptop to be touch screen top and botton and by merging the two together i seem to get the best results true it wud have been cheaper to buy both but i love the versitily of the laptop

    so my final verdict is the laptops are by far the better option though and though software and hareware wise

  • tasneem badat Says:

    hey :) i just want to find out from you experts what would be best for me. I am a sales representative and i go around the country promoting my products. I need todo presentations and such so that i can show and convince my clients to purchase our goods. What do you think would be best as well as the easiest for me? A laptop or tablet? Thank you so much. :)

  • ricky Says:

    Better than nothing my friend

  • Snowanjill Says:

    I personally love them both I have a newer laptop that I can do my work with and play games, and everything you can do on a laptop I also have the Ipad2 which I love dearly I use that for surfing, playing games , email and such. I tried doing my work on the Ipad2 which I have an external keyboard and still found it difficult to properly see and type at the same time. I believe its up to the consumer and what they really want. I bring my Ipad2 to appointments and it's wonderful for that or bringing it out on the porch to read, etc. I would go for both if possible, but if I had to chose 1 I would chose the Ipad2 there is something about that I love just a little bit better.

  • mary Says:

    thank you. now its clear to me, i will get a laptop.

  • liz Says:

    I'd go with a laptop because it is most useful I mean, that's what you have a smart phone to play games and such. A laptop you can do actual work and its great for students. What happened to keyboards and how fast and accurate you can type know you have auto-correct and slang words. Damn!

  • Mehul Patel Says:

    Which is better laptop or tablet

  • Reena Says:

    Can someone pls tell me, if External Hard disks, pen drives etc can be used on tablets. Also, i would like to know if Wifi is the only mode of connectivity or are there other choices as well. If yes, please mention what would those be.

  • Jordan Hughes Says:

    Personally i like the tablet because of the portability and i love love love the touch screen but i really want to play games and watch movies that are on discs.

    So im kinda stumped over what to buy.

    I also like the cameras on the tablets.

    Can someone please help me to decide on what to buy!!!!!!

  • Xaras Says:

    The tablet is underpowered hardware wise compared to most laptops & overpriced when you stand them like for like against laptops.

    You cannot seriously work with the onscreen keyboards. They take up half the screen so you cannot properly see what you are doint, half way through a sentence you have to flip that keyboard off to bring up a seperate keyboard for numbers or symbols, The screen is tiny so you have to work hard to read properly or scroll left right up down to see the entire documents.

    No DVD drive, so you cannot watch DVDs on the go, to install things you have to download them - or buy an external drive (which negates the only advantage they have over laptops, that of being more portable).

    Hard drives tend to be very small - 32GB SSD is not a lot of storage space if you are into your movies, photos, music. It fills up very fast.

    The statement "tablets are better for play and some work" is not true - I have yet to see a tablet I can play Battlefield 3, Skyrim or World of Warcraft on. If all you do is play Laptop is the way to go .... if all you do is work Laptop is the way to go. If you want to look hip, trendy and "in" with the young crowd tablet is the way to go.

    Pretty much anything you can do on a tablet you can do on a laptop - visa versa you cannot do everything on a tablet that you can do on a laptop.

    The whole craze for tablets was down to some very smart advertising campaigns from Apple, which everybody bought into. It looks cool, and its fast becoming more a fashion accessory than a serious work tool.

  • Kalyan Says:

    I' have 900$, & i want to take a device for my study proposal,
    I m still confusing that for what should I go for'

    Plz help me for choosing a best utlise for me...!!!

  • Anthony Says:

    I still have no idea what makes a tablet so appealing. Sure, it's a toy for adults... but what about that makes it useful? Never, have I seen someone do work on it. For me, at least, it makes more sense to use a laptop. A tablet seems to limit both features of a smart phone and laptop. I know that it's a socially acceptable toy for adults. Thats the psychology around it. But why do these technology guys enjoy them? What do they supply that laptops or smart phones can't do to the full extent?

    I wish that people wouldn't buy into the tablet craze and realize how pointless these things are. Having social acceptance to use a toy shouldn't make you race out to the store and need to buy the latest iPad or Galaxy Tab. And this is coming from a 15 year-old that according to some adult authority figures say I have proper conceptions of society.

    I say, it's time for the world to smarten up and realize the marketing scheme the tablet industry is.

  • crachor Says:

    i disagree with the last sentence.
    "Tablets are better for play and some work, and laptops are better for work and some play."
    Almost every single person i've ever seen with a tablet is only playing, or consuming information on it. Rarely are they working and creating on it. Laptops on the other hand, are better for work, and "serious work," even mentioned in the article, and they're better for any kind of actual games. angry birds does NOT count as an "actual game" in my book, it counts more as a distraction for kids.

  • Geek Says:

    For occasional surfing the web on the couch a tablet is fine.
    On a plane or in a hotel a smaller 7" tablet is highly appealing, I ordered a Fire however it will go in my case with my netbook.
    Reading a book the Kindle is super.
    I can afford a variety of devices but the lack of a real keyboard with a tablet (I-pad) makes it of limited utility.

    If I could only chose 1 device for travel it would be a netbook. The Kindle (e-ink) is in a class of its own like a book.

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