It’s hard to imagine a world without tablets, yet this decade began without a real alternative to desktop and laptop computers.
When Apple’s iPad debuted in April 2010, the heavy and cumbersome nature of many contemporary laptops was thrown into sharp relief.
Tablets have always prioritised modern preferences for passive content consumption and creative utilities over more prosaic functions like programming or corporate software tools.
For a while, laptops looked like an endangered species – some industry observers predicted their imminent demise in the face of lightweight and tactile tablets.
Yet history has proved the doom-mongers wrong.
Laptop sales actually rose in 2018, reaching a three-year high of 162 million units worldwide.
By comparison, the global tablet market experienced 15 successive quarterly declines in sales up to last summer; even market leader Apple only sold 43 million iPads in 2018.
Debate rages about whether a laptop or tablet represents a better purchase, though in truth, their target markets tend to be subtly different.
Any decision between laptop or tablet depends on personal preferences, but some clear demarcations can still be drawn:
Advantages of a laptop
- Display. A tablet’s touch keyboard occupies almost half of a typical nine-inch screen, but laptops can display far more information on screens usually measuring 13 to 15 inches.
- Comfort. Typing on a glass screen while peering down soon leads to muscular aches and fatigue, whereas laptops are more ergonomically comfortable for ongoing use.
- Versatility. Larger laptop screens support multitasking and multiple windows, whereas having two windows open simultaneously on a tablet is rarely practical.
- Processing power. Tablets are designed for streaming and browsing, but laptops have superior graphics processing chips for advanced gaming and workplace applications.
- Storage. While cloud storage is growing in popularity, being able to save files locally is still important. Laptops host far larger SSD hard drives for storing programs and files.
- Peripherals. Laptops have ports and software support for printers, scanners, SD cards and USB devices. Docking stations add to their versatility, replicating desktop computers.
Advantages of a tablet
- Affordability. Condensing computing power into a laptop case has historically proved expensive, whereas budget tablets are on sale for less than £100.
- Portability. A laptop might weigh as much as six pounds, but tablets often weigh around one pound. That’s invaluable for regular travellers, or people with limited space.
- Simplicity. Tablet operating systems are so intuitive, babies and toddlers can use them. The lack of malware is another benefit, especially compared to Windows computers.
- Battery life. If the time between charges is important, energy-efficient tablets will always outperform laptops with their cooling fans and multiple processor chips.
- Robustness. A tablet will survive the rigours of daily life better than a laptop – being thrown around in a handbag, having water spilled on it, and so forth.
- 4G connectivity. Many tablets automatically connect to cellular networks in public, whereas laptops tend to be dependent on WiFi or dongles.
If you want an educational device for a toddler, the choice between laptop or tablet is as clear-cut as it would be for anyone wanting to use their new purchase for video editing.
There are also hybrid devices which negate the laptop or tablet debate, like Microsoft’s Surface Pro – a large tablet with a detachable keyboard and stand, plus fairly beefy specs.
Conversely, a Chromebook is a stripped-down laptop, whose speed and functionality is reminiscent of tablets running parent company Google’s Android operating system.
Ultimately, your decision will depend on budgetary constraints and hardware requirements.