Tablets are more portable and better for casual activities such as browsing the web, watching videos, or playing mobile games. Laptops are better when it comes to productivity due to the more powerful hardware and more feature-rich software that is not available on tablets. Furthermore, laptops can be great substitutes for desktops when it comes to PC gaming, although a desktop will always present better value when performance and cost-effectiveness are concerned.
If you are in need of a portable computer, then you are probably aware that both laptops and tablets are a sensible choice, although one inevitably fits certain purposes better than the other. In this article, we will compare the capabilities of laptops and the capabilities of tablets in order to help you decide which type of device is better suited for your needs.
First and foremost, there’s the question of portability. And in the majority of cases, tablets win hands down.
Size-wise, tablets generally range from 7 to 13 inches, not counting some larger tablet devices geared towards professional users. For the most part, 8-inch and 10-inch screens are the most popular in tablets because they manage to strike the perfect balance between screen size and ergonomics.
When it comes to weight, they tend to weigh anywhere from around 300 grams (about 10 oz) in the cases of the smallest and lightest devices, all the way up to around 700 grams (about 1.5 lb) in the cases of larger devices such as the 13-inch iPad Pro.
Laptop screens, on the other hand, cover a wider range. They can start as low as 12 inches and go as high as 21 inches. The majority of mainstream laptops stay in the 15 to 17-inch range, though.
In terms of weight, the average 15-inch laptop weighs about 2kg (around 5 lb). Obviously, this is quite a bit heavier than a tablet, but just like screen size, laptop weight varies more than tablet weight. Some notebooks and can easily weigh under 1kg, all the while some gaming laptops can go over 4kg and even over 8kg in some extreme cases.
In any case, tablets are definitely smaller and lighter than even the most compact laptops that are currently out there, so they win in the portability department.
While on the topic of size, we should mention the display, and there are two key factors to consider here: size and resolution.
In terms of sheer size, laptops will, naturally, always have the upper hand as their larger frames allow for larger screens. However, when the resolution is taken into consideration, the smaller tablet display would offer higher pixel density, meaning that the displayed image would be sharper and that individual pixels would not be as visible.
As with everything else, the quality of the display will depend on the price – a 1080p display in a $150 tablet is unlikely to be as good as a 1080p display in a $1000 laptop. In any case, what should be kept in mind is that tablets do actually tend to offer better visuals in the lower price ranges than similarly-priced laptops, mainly due to the aforementioned higher pixel density.
Storage is another highly important factor to consider, and here, laptops almost always have the lead. The cheapest laptops usually come with either a 500 GB HDD or a 128 GB SSD, both of which outclass the tablets which come with 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, or 512 GB of internal storage, although most of them stay in the 32-256 GB range.
However, the default storage capacity is not everything – we should also consider expandable storage. The storage capacity of many tablets (excluding Apple’s iPads) can be expanded easily with the help of relatively cheap microSD memory cards. The maximum supported memory card capacity tends to be 256 GB when it comes to the newer tablet models.
In the case of laptops, there are even more options. Many laptops have memory card readers, but memory cards are far from the most popular type of external storage for laptops. Rather, external hard drives are often used in tandem with internal SSDs, as they can offer a great deal of storage at a very low price per gigabyte. On top of that, it is quite easy to replace the internal storage drive on most mainstream laptops.
All in all, we’d definitely give the storage capacity to the laptop since the capacity and speed of an SSD can easily match the memory performance of a tablet, not to mention that there are cheap external storage solutions out there, as well as the option of upgrading the laptop’s internal storage in the future.
On the other hand, you should also keep in mind that you might not need much internal storage to begin with. Mobile operating systems and apps don’t take up much space, so unless you plan on filling up a tablet with multimedia files, 32-64 GB of internal storage combined with cloud storage might serve your needs just fine.
Both tablets and laptops are equipped with built-in cameras, although tablets generally tend to have the upper hand in this regard.
Namely, not only do tablets come with both a front and a rear camera, but the cameras themselves are often of a higher quality than those found in similarly-priced laptops. This only makes sense considering that they are the more portable of the two devices that borrows many features from smartphones.
In the case of laptops, rear cameras are a very rare sight. Indeed, while there are some laptop models that do include a rear camera, most laptops only have one: a front camera intended for video calls. As mentioned above, the quality of these cameras is not stellar in cheaper laptops.
In any case, tablets are definitely more versatile in this regard and offer better cameras at lower prices, although it should be kept in mind that only the more expensive tablets actually have cameras as good as those found in most mid-range and flagship phones.
What is a portable computer of any kind without a good battery? Now, we’ll take a look at the battery performance of tablets and laptops.
Tablets can generally endure roughly 8 to 12 hours of active use, while laptops tend to be more power hungry, usually lasting anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, based on what the laptop is being used for. Some notebooks, ultrabooks, and other high-end laptops, however, can often go toe-to-toe with tablets in this regard, as their batteries can last well over 12 hours in some cases.
Now, why do tablet batteries last longer?
Well, there are several reasons. First, there’s the fact that they use ARM CPUs that are simpler and less power-hungry than even the mobile versions of desktop CPUs found in laptops. These CPUs generate less heat, too, making them ideal for devices like phones and tablets which have no active cooling. On top of that, mobile operating systems tend to be fairly well optimized, especially iOS.
Laptops, while their hardware is generally more power-hungry and the operating systems are not as well optimized, have an extra trick of their own that can positively impact battery life – power-saving features that can be enabled at the user’s convenience, reducing the power drain at the cost of performance. This way, laptops can last much longer when they’re being used for non-intensive tasks.
In any case, we are inclined to give this one to the tablets, as they can last longer on average with no additional throttling involved. Of course, there are some things that tablets cannot do that laptops can, but more on that below.
The matter of performance depends largely on the price point and what the device is being used for. In the lower price ranges, tablets do tend to be roughly on par with similarly-priced laptops when it comes to performance, but the gap widens as the prices increase.
So, if we’re talking a device that would be used primarily for web surfing, multimedia, and casual gaming, a tablet would probably outperform a low-end laptop. However, due to the fact that laptops offer better performance than most tablets in the mid-range and up, the win in this category would have to go to them, and that’s not even accounting for the operating system constraints.
Operating Systems and Software
While laptops and tablets are very different devices in hardware terms alone, there’s also the software to consider.
Today, most tablets use either iOS or Android, although Amazon’s Android-based Fire OS is quite popular in their low-end Fire tablets. Laptops use the same operating systems as desktop computers do: Windows, macOS, and Linux, with Windows being very popular among hybrid devices as well.
Without going too deep into the differences between individual operating systems, we’ll focus on the key differences between mobile and desktop operating systems instead. If we had to put it in one sentence: mobile operating systems are streamlined and easy to use but desktop operating systems have more features and access to a wider array of software.
Indeed, a major reason why many people find tablets to be poor substitutes for laptops or desktops is just how limiting mobile operating systems can be. If there is a mobile app version of a desktop program available, that app is bound to be missing some features that are available in the desktop version. As such, the win in this regard would have to go to the vastly more powerful desktop operating systems.
Next up, there’s the way that you interact with the device i.e. the interface, and this is a very simple matter.
Laptops rely mainly on an integrated physical keyboard and a touchpad for input, although they also support all the peripherals that desktops do, meaning that you are free to use external keyboards and mice with a laptop as long as it has the necessary connectors. It goes without saying that wireless keyboards and mice are supported, too, if the laptop supports whatever type of wireless technology is being used by said peripherals.
Tablets, on the other hand, rely entirely on their touchscreen for input and utilize a virtual keyboard. Fortunately for those who have trouble typing on virtual keyboards, most (if not all) tablets support Bluetooth keyboards, although mouse support can be a bit trickier.
In any case, when it comes to productivity, the mouse and keyboard controls are definitely unmatched, but there can be no winner in this category since both KB&M controls and touchscreen controls have their merits and flaws based on what the device is used for. We’ll just say that the former is more precise but the latter is more intuitive.
Now, we’ll take a look at tablet and laptop connectivity options, both when it comes to physical ports and to wireless connectivity.
All modern laptops are equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, while there are relatively few that also support cellular connectivity. In regard to ports, the situation varies greatly. Bulkier laptops generally include all ports that you’d usually find in a modern desktop motherboard: USB 3.0, Ethernet, analog audio connectors, HDMI, etc. The more compact laptops tend to scrap the larger ports in favor of smaller USB-C ports.
Tablets, too, are all equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, although manufacturers often offer models with cellular connectivity as well, something that is much rarer among laptops. As for wired connections, they use either Micro USB or USB-C connectors, all the while Apple uses the same Lightning connector for both iPhones and iPads.
Once again, there is no definite winner, as the need for a variety of different ports or cellular connectivity largely depends on the user.
And finally, when it comes to the pricing, tablets tend to start at much lower prices than laptops do, going for as little as $50, while the cheapest laptops start at about $150.
As for the other end of the price spectrum, tablets tend to go as high as $800, excluding certain high-end tablet and hybrid devices geared towards professionals.
When it comes to laptops, mainstream ones also go up to about $800, but high-end laptops, notebooks, and gaming laptops can go for anywhere from $1000 to $5000, even reaching ludicrous five-digit price tags on rare occasions.
In any case, not only are tablets cheaper in general, but a cheap tablet usually works better than a cheap laptop.
Conclusion – Which Should You Choose?
As you can see, tablets and laptops are very different devices, which is no wonder considering that they were designed for very different things. After all, as Steve Jobs said when he introduced the original iPad, tablets are intended to fill the space between smartphones and laptops and they are supposed to do certain things better than either of the two.
So, what are those things that tablets do better than laptops and which type of device is ultimately the better choice for you?
If you only need a device for browsing the web, watching videos, listening to music, and playing casual games, then a tablet would probably be the best match for your needs – compact, light, portable, boasting excellent battery life, and probably a better display than what you’d get with a laptop in the lower price ranges. If this is the case, check out our selection of the best tablets available right now.
If you also plan on using the device for work or just generally need to do a lot of typing, we’d suggest a laptop instead. Sure, if you pair a tablet up with a Bluetooth keyboard, typing gets much easier, but having a larger device with a larger screen would definitely help with overall productivity and multitasking.
Now, if you’re really into gaming and want a device that can serve as your main gaming computer, then a proper gaming laptop would be in order. If this is the case, be sure to check out our selection of the best gaming laptops currently available.
And finally, if you’re a professional who is in need of a proper workstation, then a laptop would be your best choice again. As mentioned before, professional software such as Adobe Photoshop is quite limited on mobile devices, so a high-end laptop such as a MacBook or a Surface Book should be your first choice, if desktop workstations are out of the question.
That would be it for this article. Hopefully, it helped you decide which type of device is the right choice for your needs, and if you feel that we’ve skipped any important points or made any errors, feel free to let us know in the comments!
Samuel is GamingScan’s editor-in-chief. He describes himself as a hardcore gamer & programmer and he enjoys getting more people into gaming and answering people’s questions. He closely follows the latest trends in the gaming industry in order to keep you all up-to-date with the latest news.