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 thanks to their more powerful hardware and more feature-rich software.
Furthermore, laptops can be good 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 need a portable computer, you’re probably aware that both laptops and tablets are a viable choice, although one inevitably fits specific purposes better than the other.
In this guide, we will compare the capabilities of laptops and tablets to help you decide which type of device better suits your needs.
So, if you’re indecisive about which one to buy, keep reading to get your answer.
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First and foremost, there’s the question of portability. In the majority of cases, tablets win hands down.
Size-wise, tablets generally range from 7 to 13 inches, not including 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, the smallest and lightest tablets tend to weigh around 300 grams (about 10 oz). In the case of larger devices, such as the 13-inch iPad Pro, they go all the way up to approximately 700 grams (about 1.5 lb).
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 heavier than a tablet, but just like with screen size, laptops cover a wide range when weight is concerned. Some notebooks and can easily weigh under 1kg, while some gaming laptops can go over 4kg, and even over 8kg in some extreme cases.
Anyhow, tablets are smaller and lighter than even the most compact laptops currently available, so they definitely win in the portability department.
While we’re at the subject of size, we should mention the display. Basically, there are two key factors to consider here: size and resolution. In terms of sheer volume, laptops naturally allow for larger screens thanks to their larger frames, so they will always have the upper hand here.
However, when resolution is taken into consideration, the smaller tablet display would offer higher pixel density, meaning that the displayed image would be sharper and 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 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 crucial factor to consider. In this case, laptops almost always have the lead. Currently, the cheapest laptops usually come with either a 500 GB HDD or a 128 GB SSD, both of which outclass most tablets.
Generally, tablets in 2023 range from 8 GB to 256 GB in terms of internal storage, though some pricier high-end models can also have as much as 512 GB or 1 TB of storage. However, the default storage capacity is not everything — expandable storage should also be taken into account.
The storage capacity of many tablets (excluding Apple’s iPads) can be expanded easily with the help of relatively cheap microSD memory cards. These start from as low as 1 GB but can currently go as high as 1 TB, though the maximum support memory card capacity varies from device to device.
In the case of laptops, there are more options. Many laptops have memory card readers, but memory cards are far from the most popular type of external storage for laptops.
Instead, external hard drives are often used in tandem with internal SSDs, as they can offer a ton of storage at a meager price per gigabyte. Meanwhile, for those who want high-performance external storage, external SSDs are a thing, too. On top of that, you can upgrade the internal storage drive on most mainstream laptops, something that isn’t an option with tablets.
All in all, we’d give the storage capacity to laptops since the capacity and speed of an SSD can easily match the memory performance of a tablet. Plus, there are cheap external storage solutions out there, as well as the option to upgrade the laptop’s internal storage at any point 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, for example, don’t take up much space. So, unless you plan on filling up a tablet with media 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, in addition to tablets coming with both a front and rear camera, the cameras themselves are also often of a higher quality than those you’d find in similarly priced laptops. This only makes sense when we consider the fact that they’re more portable than laptops and borrow many features from smartphones.
In the case of laptops, rear cameras are a rare sight. Indeed, while some laptop models 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, especially on cheaper laptops.
Anyhow, tablets are more versatile in this regard and offer better cameras at lower prices. However, it should be kept in mind that only the more expensive tablets have cameras as good as those found in most mid-range and flagship phones.
What is a portable computer without a good battery? Let’s take a look at the battery performance of tablets and laptops.
Tablets can generally endure roughly 8 to 12 hours of active use. Laptops, on the contrary, tend to be more power-hungry, usually lasting anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, depending on what they’re being used for.
Some notebooks and 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? There are a few 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 that have no active cooling. On top of that, mobile operating systems tend to be relatively well optimized, especially iOS.
It’s possible to squeeze some extra battery life out of a laptop by turning on the power-saving mode. This is a good trick that allows you to keep the laptop running longer by limiting its performance and screen brightness.
In any case, we’re inclined to give this one to 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 mainly on the price point and what the device is being used for. In the lower price ranges, tablets 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 about a device that would be used primarily for web surfing, multimedia and casual gaming, a tablet would probably outperform a low-end laptop.
However, since 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 broader range of powerful software.
Indeed, a significant reason why many people find tablets to be poor substitutes for laptops or desktops is just how limiting mobile operating systems can be.
If a mobile app version of a desktop program is 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 you interact with the device, especially the interface, and it’s quite a straightforward matter.
Laptops rely mainly on an integrated physical keyboard and a touchpad for input. However, 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.
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 use 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 trickier matter.
In any case, when it comes to productivity, the mouse and keyboard controls are 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, let’s take a look at tablet and laptop connectivity options, both in terms of physical ports and wireless connectivity.
All modern laptops are equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, but there are relatively few that also support cellular connectivity. Regarding ports, the situation varies greatly.
Bulkier laptops generally include all the 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, most of the cheaper tablets still use Micro USB and most of Apple’s iPad lineup still uses their proprietary Lightning connector, but most of the newer devices use USB-C instead.
Once again, there is no definite winner, as the need for a variety of different ports or cellular connectivity largely depends on the user.
Lastly, when it comes to pricing, tablets tend to start at much lower prices than laptops do, going for as little as $50, while the cheapest laptops begin at about $150.
As for the other end of the price spectrum, tablets tend to go as high as $1000, excluding particularly high-end tablets and hybrid devices geared towards professionals.
When it comes to laptops, mainstream ones also go up to about $800. However, 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, in addition to tablets being cheaper in general, a cheap tablet usually works better than a cheap laptop, too. This is something to keep in mind if you’re on a tight budget.
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, upon introducing the original iPad, Steve Jobs said that tablets are intended to fill the space between smartphones and laptops and are supposed to do certain things better than both of them.
So, what are those things that tablets do better than laptops, and which type of device is ultimately the best choice for you?
If you only need a device for browsing the web, watching videos, listening to music, and playing casual games, a tablet would probably be the best match for your needs.
Tablets are compact, light, and portable, they boast excellent battery life, and probably come with a better display than what you’d get with a laptop in the lower price ranges. If you’re thinking of going for this option, check out our selection of the best tablets available right now.
On the other hand, 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 with a Bluetooth keyboard, typing becomes much easier, but having a larger device with a larger screen would help with overall productivity and multitasking.
Now, if you’re really into gaming and want a device that can serve as your primary gaming machine, 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.
However, gaming laptops are only truly worth it if you move around a lot and need a portable device for gaming, as they are usually more expensive and offer inferior performance compared to PCs with similar specs.
An external GPU, however, can transform any laptop with a sufficiently powerful CPU into a proper gaming device. But then again, the bandwidth limitations mean that the performance ultimately won’t be as good as if you installed the GPU in a desktop PC.
And finally, if you’re a professional who needs a proper workstation, a laptop would be your best choice.
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.