If you are in the market for a new computer, you may be considering a tablet PC over a traditional laptop. Many tech analysts predicted that tablets would phase out netbooks and that seems to be the case. A bigger question now is, would it kill off laptops? As an owner of a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computer, this is a legitimate scenario. What are the roles of these devices, where do tablets fit in, and which is better? To better aswer these questions, let’s go though the basics of these 2 and their pros and cons.
Filling the gap
Most people already have a smartphone in their pockets. With all major carriers pushing them over the past 10 years, it’s almost rare to find someone with a “dumb” phone. Even prepaid carriers like Virgin Mobile offer smartphones at an affordable price. Smartphones are filling the communications gap not just with calling, but with email and social networking. You can do a lot with a smartphone but the primary role is still communications whether it’s call or text messages.
Desktop PCs have been the workhorse for consumers and professionals since the invention of the personal computer. That title isn’t likely to change any time soon. A desktop computer can do nearly everything you can imagine from editing videos, browsing the web, or simply chatting with friends. A desktop is best suited for graphic designers, musicians, or gamers. There’s one disadvantage of desktops that will likely remain. Portability. While you have production power with a desktop, you can’t take it with you on the road. Laptops and tablets fill this gap but which is best?
Are laptops dying?
Laptops solved this problem by offering portability without sacrificing much power. Over the years, laptops evolved and specialized into different niches from gaming laptops, ultraportables, to the very small netbook. For the average consumer, a laptop could fulfill about 95% of their needs. Some of the best laptops on the market are advertised as “desktop replacements.” Laptops can connect to most hardware devices from all-in-one printers, portable hard drives, PMP(Portable Music Players), smartphones, and third-party peripherals such as keyboards/mice.
Pros: Portable yet still relatively powerful. Cheap. Price has drop considerably. Hardware keyboard. Full desktop OS. Connectivity
Cons: Not portable enough to take everywhere. Heat.
Tablet PCs are newcomers to the game but they’ve proven over the years that they are not just a fad. These touchscreen computers have been criticized for being no more than oversized smartphones yet they’ve proven to be capable consumer devices that are more portable than laptops, and in some cases, more practical. An unavoidable example is Apple and the iPad.
All play and no work?
The iPad is more portable than a laptop and can be used to consume media easier as well. There have been internal reports from Apple that the iPad is cannibalizing their laptops(macbooks). This points us to a trend that most consumers are more aimed at consuming media rather than being productive. The iPad has gone through 3 generations(so far) and has shown staying power. Other tablets(Android and RIM) have entered the market to claim their piece of the pie. I use my tablet to listen to internet radio, read magazines, books, and do quick web browsing. All of which seems easier compared to a laptop while taking up less space. One inherent flaw of tablets is the proprietary nature. They don’t have to be compatible with all printers, keyboards/mice, etc like their laptop rivals. This initial flaw looks like it will be phased out with time as newer printers and accessories adopt standard technologies like WiFi printing and Bluetooth 4.
Pros: More portable than laptops. Great for consuming media. Easier to pick up and use.
Cons: No hardware keyboard. Poor for production work. Hardware connectivity.
Needs and preferences
One of the biggest factor in determining which is better is recognizing your needs. Do you need a tablet or a laptop? Do you already have a Desktop? If so, then a laptop wouldn’t be a good choice. A tablet would be a better choice that fills a larger gap. In that scenario, a laptop would just be a less powerful, slightly more portable desktop replacement. The next question you should ask yourself is what do you plan to use it for? If you just want a new gadget and don’t critically need it, then a tablet is the likely choice. On the other hand, if you were starting university and had a choice between a laptop or a tablet, get a laptop without question. That would fit your needs better.
Another factor is portability. When you are out, do you find yourself hunting for a computer? Is your smartphone not cutting it for extending web browsing? Laptops revolutionized computing because they offered mobility. Tablets take it a step further. Laptops, although portable, are still too big. Tablets take up the same footprint as a textbook and are relatively lighter in comparison. Now, trendy hipsters can pretend to do work in coffee shops instead of being cooped up in homes. I kid.
If you are debating between a laptop and a tablet, consider portability. If you find yourself in need to do quick tasks like checking your bank account online or just killing time, then a tablet would be a better choice. If you find yourself trying to edit office documents or doing more critical tasks on the go, then a laptop would be a better choice.
If you look at the size of these devices, there seems to be a correlation between size and function. The smaller touchscreen devices tend to be more popular for media consumption and leisure gaming while the larger laptops and desktops are more geared towards work, production, and serious gaming. This doesn’t equal causation but it’s interesting to point out.
So which is better? A tablet or a laptop? The final answer is, it depends. For pure capability and power, a tablet cannot match a laptop. There’s just no comparison. A laptop with a true desktop OS can do more than a tablet which is highly dependant on apps. For most consumers, this isn’t a major issue. Most people spend their computing time browsing the web, not editing images/video. The trend for a more capable mobile PC is growing and the tablet does a noble job fulfilling this role. Though not nearly as capable as laptops(yet), tablets definitely wins in terms of portability. The touchscreen interface not only adds novelty to the experience, but it also opens the door to some interesting and refreshing UI changes. Some professionals are critical of tablets calling them “toys” and “distractions”. Is the tablet craze a result of marketing or is it a practical tool in today’s tech world? Personally, I have to agree with the critics. You can use tablets for work but every time I see someone using them, 99% of the time, they’re using it to consume media or playing games. Not saying that’s a bad thing, it just doesn’t seem useful. I already own a desktop and I love my tablet. If I didn’t have a “main” computer, I wouldn’t buy a tablet. I’d probably opt for a laptop instead. Most people do own a main computer so buying a tablet as a supplementary device may make sense but to say that they’re better than laptops is a stretch. Are they portable? Yes. Are they powerful? Yes. Are they useful? Productive? Meh. But it has a touchscreen and that’s cool right?!
It will be interesting to see how tablets evolve. As it stands, tablets are luxury electronics and laptops are tools. When technology became status symbols, keeping up with the Joneses means spending half a grand on an electronic slate that runs Angry Birds. They’ll sell regardless.