Should I Buy a Laptop or a Tablet?

Category: Gadgets , Mobile

'My old PC finally died, and I need to replace it with something portable. But it still needs to be powerful enough to handle email, web and typical office software. For someone with my requirements, would you suggest a laptop, an Ultrabook, the iPad or an Android-based tablet?'

Which Portable Device Should I Buy?

If you are in the market for a portable computer, you have four options: a traditional laptop/notebook, a tiny netbook, one of the new Ultrabooks, or a tablet. Which one you should choose depends on your mobile computing needs.

The great dividing line is whether you mainly consume or create content while on the go. Tablets netbooks and even smartphones are fine if you are primarily an information consumer. You can check email, watch movies, listen to music, read e-books, and so on. If you need to answer email briefly, you can. There are word processing and other business apps available for iPad and Android devices. But the cramped keyboard of a netbook, the touch screen of a tablet, and especially the tiny screen of a mobile phone are not the ideal input devices for serious writing, spreadsheeting, or precision drawing.

Sure, you can buy an optional keyboard for a tablet. But then you're walking around with what looks like a broken laptop. Better to just get a real laptop!
Ultrabook or Tablet?

For better or worse, netbooks are a dying breed. Worldwide unit sales fell from a peak of over 30 million in 2010, to an expected 4 million in 2013. That number is expected to drop to 250,000 in 2014, and zero by 2015. Tablets like the iPad, the Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus 7 & 10, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Note 10.1, and a flood of other currently available Android tablets have killed the netbook; they're cooler, lighter in weight, and don't pretend to be a typing platform.

A step up from the tablet is the laptop computer. Setting aside the nearly extinct netbook, there are several flavors of laptops. First, there are the Chromebooks at the low end of the price scale. See The $199 Acer C7 Chromebook to learn how Chromebooks differ from
traditional Windows-based notebook laptops, and the pros and cons of that platform.

In the Windows notebook category, prices start at around $300, but that'll get you a tiny screen and not much processing power. As screen sizes, hard drives, RAM and horsepower increase, prices rise into the $1000 range. With the advent of Windows 8, touchscreen laptops and hybrid tablet/laptop devices have entered the fray. PC Magazine's most recent Top 10 Laptops roundup is worth a look to get a handle on the range of prices and devices in this category.

The Ultrabook platform is a good choice for mobile pros who need to create content. Ultrabooks are lighter and thinner than traditional notebook laptops, but bigger and more typing-friendly than tablets. They offer longer battery life and enhanced security technologies. Ultrabooks may lack DVD drives and some of the ports found on notebooks, but that's the price of weight reduction. See Intel's Ultrabook Showcase to see examples and learn more about the unique features of the platform.

Price and Some Other Considerations

Ultrabooks were created to compete with the MacBook Air, Apple's super-thin, lightweight notebook computer. If you are an Apple fan, or you use other Apple products already, the MacBook Air may fit into your personal "ecosystem" better than an Ultrabook.

Price is going to be another factor, if you're considering whether to buy a Chromebook, tablet, notebook, or Ultrabook. You can get a low-end Chromebook for under $200. 10-inch tablets start at about $400. Windows laptops average around $600. Ultrabooks range from around $900 to $1200, and the Macbook Air ranges from $1000 to $1800.

But here's one more thing to consider. Maybe your needs are better met by a combination of devices. If you really do need the power of an Ultrabook or high-end laptop, but you also want the convenience of a smaller, lighter device for occasional email and web surfing, check out the Amazon Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus 7, and Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet. In addition to being ebook readers, these 7-inch devices also offer access to the Web, email, games, music and movies. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a combination smartphone and tablet, with a 5.9-inch screen. And of course there are lots of spiffy iPhone and Android smartphones which can do all of the above on a slight smaller screen.

What portable device meets your needs? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should I Buy a Laptop or a Tablet?"

Posted by:

Jim Guld
16 Jul 2013

I have been impressed with the Microsoft Surface Pro. Large touch tablet size for portability, and full Windows computer connected to large display and keyboard/mouse in the office.
The RT may be enough for travelers with a similar configuration. Good for creation of content and good for consumption. MS just lowered the price of RT in the market.

Posted by:

16 Jul 2013

I have a laptop 15 inches with 2 Go of Ram and a single core AMD processor and with Windows 8 I can even watch hidef video from the Internet or do picture editing. I Do the same thing I do with my 4 Go Ram and dual core laptop (this big one I use mainly to wath Bluray at 1080p).
For 400$ you can get a good machine that will do all the needed tasks unless you do video editing.

Posted by:

Bill L
16 Jul 2013

I think you kind of brushed over the Chromebooks. For the most part they will work for most people looking for a new device to get on the internet. The screen size is good, they are small but easy to read. If you're just looking for something to read email and do some word processing an Ultra-book is over kill. A Kindle Fire is fine if you want it mostly to read ebooks and watch movies on. I don't think a tablet is much good for anything but reading, it a pain typing without a keyboard. The Chromebook is less expensive has a bigger screen and has a keyboard. It is slightly heavier but 2.5 pounds isn't bad. I never could figure out what to do with a tablet, I do use my phone for a quick check of things, but it's almost as fast to boot up the Chromebook it only takes a few seconds to boot, and the battery lasts for over 7 hours on a charge.
If your looking for a device that you need to install software on then you need to make sure whatever you need to do can be done in the cloud or a Chromebook won't work, but more than likely a tablet won't work for you ether. I have a 15.5 in i5 core laptop, but I almost never turn it on since I got the Chromebook.
Even though Chromebooks are picking up a lot of steam(Amazon were sold out of them for quite awhile. They are still one of Amazons top sellers)I don't think they are being recommended to people looking for a device to read Facebook and email as often as they should. This is just my opinion.

Posted by:

Bob Jeffers
16 Jul 2013

Great article. I have a 13 inch HP Folio ultraboob that is fast, stable and has all the RAM and ports I need. The added advantage is that it is small enough to be used easily in an airliner even when the guy in front has his seat back. I had a 14 inch HP laptop for 5 years before it finally died. The size was great but the newer 13 inch models are near perfect. And the battery life on my Folio is about 10 hours.

Posted by:

16 Jul 2013

Because we travel in an RV, when my desktop computer died and I needed an immediate replacement I replaced it with a 17" HP laptop with 16 gig of memory, huge hard drive. It is now my primary computer and does an excellent job. I also use a 7" generic google device, which (if I put in a separate SIM card) could even work as a phone. I use it as a reader and to play games and look up info while watching TV. Great device for $189 I paid a year ago (cheaper) now. Only downfall: short battery life, only 4 hours. I won't buy another desktop computer.

Posted by:

Harold P. Morgan
16 Jul 2013

For my wife....her iPad 3 is just great for what she needs on a daily basis.

For me, much as I'd love to have a tablet, they just cannot do what I need. In May I purchased an HP Envy M6 laptop with the Intel 5 processor, 8gb of RAM, 750gb HDD and includes the DVD drive....4 USB ports (including 3 USB3)....HDMI port....and the SD flash memory slot. Ya see, my main hobby is my photography. A tablet just won't cut it, for many reasons. The price was $699.95.

Furthermore, I'm a touch typist and I need a good keyboard. No way I'm going back to one-finger-hunt-and-peck on a virtual keyboard or have to pack around a detachable keyboard that has to be recharged to work. SO it's the laptop for my desktop from where I do my image editing and printing.

Posted by:

16 Jul 2013

Pads and tablets are all very well if you are not doing much typing - I need to travel frequently by air (so weight is an issue) and will be working (as a translator) both on the plane, in the airport, in the bus/taxi and at my hotel.
I need to read what I am writing and have a keyboard big enough for my fingers, and a clamshell that sits on my lap. Sorry Apple, Samsung and co, only a netbook works for me.
Give the manufacturers a couple of years making their laptops thinner, lighter and smaller and we'll be back to a netbook lookalike.
What comes around, goes around - even flared trousers and platform shoes..........

Posted by:

Oliver Joy
16 Jul 2013

I agree, I have a laptop for writing and spreadsheets and answering most e mail.
The iPad (a wonderful item is great for reading e mail, checking the weather, the market and Facebook. But writing on it is TEDIOUS! Typo central!!

Posted by:

17 Jul 2013

My laptop hard drive was dying, so I invested in a new laptop on sale which didn't cost too much. So much for the Windows 8 learning curve. Then I got the bug to replace the ailing HDD with a Solid State Drive. I did just that and amazed myself that I could do it alone. The SSD came with a cloning CD and viola; I now have two operating laptops.

Posted by:

17 Jul 2013

One key is using the right tool for the job. Right now I have a desktop at home that has all the "big stuff" I need like CD/DVD read/write (I recently encountered a newer desktop that only had read only!), large screen, multi format-card reader, USB ports, and a wide range of I/O ports including a parallel printer port (which yes, I use). Otherwise it's a moderate-sized laptop for my "remote" office where I work, and a netbook for on the go. That netbook is a great addition, as it gives me a decent keyboard, will run everything I need from Google Docs/email, to Libre Office, to Wizard 101, and up to 8+ hour battery life (my laptop gets maybe 2 hours...). Like has been said, by you and Consumer Reports amongst others, tablets are for consumers, not us creators.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2013

This is a difficult subject. There is one big thing that was not part of the given info, was price range. Without that bit of information, this is an issue.

For me, as far as tablets are concerned, i have Nook Tablet that I created an N2A card, and it boots right into Android Jelly Bean. I can also "return" it to a Nook without taking the card out. For the larger size I have Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (currently ICS). However, I am mainly an Apply guy, so I also have an iPad. After a while, my iPad "understands" me so I don't have to type much, I use dictation. Sure I have to do some corrections, but it just gets better and batter as time goes on. The same is true of my iPhone. I use the iPad at work all the time. For people who call meetings and send an agenda, and/or last meeting minutes, I just take my iPad to the meeting.

Having said that, there are times when I need a laptop. For that I have a Mac Book Pro, with Fusion and run Windows 7 Pro, with full Visual Studio for when I need to program. I've recently picked up a Mac Book Air (with an i7 and 8GB RAM, 512GB flash drive. So my main two items for work are the Mac Book Air and the iPad.

Posted by:

Geoff Greig
04 Aug 2013

I use Computer Technology most of the time. I have not owned a desktop PC for the last 10 years. I find a low priced (A$470) Toshiba laptop does all I need. However compared to my android smart phone it does not start up fast enough and is not portable enough.

The advantage of my phone is that it is on all the time and therefore does not need to be started and provides mobile functionality out of my pocket that my a laptop cannot provide, such as for GPS recording of were for I am, web browsing relative to my location, portable music, portable book reading, diary update and augmented reality. The latest android speech recognition is much faster, even with corrections, than using the touch keyboard.

However, I find my Toshiba laptop ideal for content creation, which I do a lot of the time. But the keyboard is still far slower, for me, than speech recognition.

The combination of my android phone, using portable WiFi hot spot and my a laptop is ideal. Therefore I have no need for a tablet computer

Posted by:

BallyIrish Bob
24 Feb 2014

Hi Bob, Thanks for the informative article. Now I know the difference between all these strange things!

Desktops don't appear at all in your article. Are they dead and buried? Obsolete?

Every business I walk into here in Cape Town, South Africa, is still using desktops, a multitude with Old Lady XP installed. It seems to me the desktop remains the most useful of all computer types for businesses. And for the older generation...

What's your take on the future of desktops? How about an article on the desktop?

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