Laptops versus tablets, which one is better?

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Over the last two years or so, and especially with the introduction of the Apple’s iPad last year, computing tablets have been growing in popularity. They are often depicted as a hybrid of a smartphone and a laptop (or notebook), but increasingly, people are reportedly replacing their laptop with a tablet. Below, we examine the pros and cons of tablets and laptops, and conclude by providing some final considerations should you be in the market for one of those devices.

Benefits of tablets over laptops

Tablets generally offer three key benefits over laptops: portability, battery life and versatility.

1.  Portability. Tablets are by far more portable that laptops, especially with respect to weight. On average, tablets weigh under 0.8 kg (1.75 lbs), whilst laptops tend to weigh 2.3 kg (about 5 lbs) and up. Most laptop manufacturers include lightweight versions in their offering, which tend to weigh between 1 kg and 2.7 kg (2 lb and 6 lbs). However, to reduce a laptop’s size and/or weight, built-in functionality is reduced when compared with standard laptops.

2.  Battery life. Typically, the battery life of the standard laptop ranges between 3 and 6 hours, but can be significantly lower depending on the processing power of device and the applications that are being used. On the other hand, a tablet on battery can last up 10 hrs.

3.  Versatility. With tablets being all the rage, professional and amateur programmers are developing a multitude of applications. Many of the applications are designed to capitalise on the device’s portability (over laptops), which in turn makes tablets extremely versatile.

Benefits of laptops over tablets

Today’s laptops offer a number of advantages over tablets, but this will most likely change as tablet technology continues to evolve and as manufacturers find more innovative ways to improve their tablet offerings. Below are five benefits laptops currently have over tablets.

1.  Processing power. The average laptop. by far, has greater processing power than a tablet. Currently, the processor speed of the typical laptop is in the region of 2.5 GHz, whilst that for a tablet is less than half that – around 1 GHz.

2.  Keyboard interface. Laptops have built-in keyboard interfaces, which make intensive data and text entry activities quite efficient. On the other hand, tablets use a touch screen – a fully tactile interface that requires little or no skill to use competently. They also offer a graphical keyboard, but at the heart of it, tablets are not designed for lots of typing. However, some manufacturers are increasing the flexibility and functionality of tablets, by allowing them to seamlessly connect to a keyboard. For an example of this trend, see Asus Eee Pad: The tablet that thinks it’s a netbook.

3.  Hard disk size. Generally, laptops have significantly larger hard disks than tablets. Tablets usually have between 30 GB and 60 GB of space, whilst the hard disk storage on new laptops start at about 320 GB, and could be up to 1 TB (TeraByte). However, laptops may have lower than average hard disk storage when the overall size and weight of the device are being optimised.

4.  External ports. Unlike tablets, laptops usually have a variety of ports and connectors through which external devices can be connected. Generally, tablets have no ports, and are dependent on wireless technologies (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G) for connectivity. On the other hand, laptops, depending on physical size and built-in functionality, tend to have, in addition to some wireless connectivity options:

  • USB ports – usually between 2 and 4
  • Audio connectors – for a mic and speaker
  • an Ethernet port – to connect to a network hub or router
  • a serial port – to connect a monitor.

5.  Price. Although laptops generally have greater processing power, larger hard drives, etc, the average laptop can be cheaper than the average tablet. Moreover, if two similarly priced laptop and tablet were compared, the general consensus would likely be that a laptop gives “more bang for the buck” than a tablet.

Final considerations

From the above discourse, the reader might inherently conclude that “laptops are better than tablets”, but this is not necessarily the case. If you are considering making a purchase, is critical to consider the sorts of activities you plan to engage in and then decide the extent to which each device is best suited to meet those needs.

When compared with tablets, laptops are workhorses that have the processing power and a broad range of built-in functionality to execute a number of diverse functions and tasks. On the other hand, tablets are well suited for tasks that have simple tactile and visual requirements, hence they are good for Internet browsing and movie watching. Nevertheless, tablets are gaining in popularity – the market is growing at exponential rates. It therefore means that there is an incentive for tablet manufacturers to improve their capability and functionality, and to offer viable alternatives for the serious laptop user.