Software & Apps Windows 3,235 3235 people found this article helpful Should You Buy a Tablet or a Laptop? A comparison of smart tablets and laptop computers by Mark Kyrnin Writer Mark Kyrnin is a former Lifewire writer and computer networking and internet expert who also specializes in computer hardware. our editorial process LinkedIn Mark Kyrnin Updated on July 08, 2020 reviewed by Michelle Adeola Adelufosi Lifewire Tech Review Board Member Michelle Adeola Adelufosi is a marketing consultant with 9 years' experience working for a variety of clients. Her expertise includes social media, web development, and graphic design. our review board Article reviewed on Feb 15, 2020 Michelle Adeola Adelufosi Windows The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide Tweet Share Email The best tablets are more powerful than some budget laptops, but is a tablet really a suitable substitute for a traditional portable computer? Learn about the differences between tablets and laptops to help you decide which best fits your needs. Information in this article applies broadly to a wide range of devices. Check the specifications of individual products for a more direct comparison. Overall Findings Tablets Longer battery life. Smaller and lighter. Designed for media consumption. Laptops More powerful. Programs typically have more features. Designed for productivity. If you can only afford one device, then you'll probably want a laptop. Budget laptops cost the same as mid-tier tablets, and they can do so much more. Tablets are primarily used for browsing the web, reading ebooks, playing games, listening to music, and other passive activities. Laptops, on the other hand, are made for productivity, which means creating documents, sending emails, and using powerful software. There are also hybrids, or convertible laptops, which can be used in tablet mode so that you can have the best of both worlds. Lifewire / Nusha Ashjaee Input Method: You Can Do More With Laptops Tablets rely solely on a touchscreen interface for input, which can present challenges when you need to input text. Since tablets have no keyboard, you must type on virtual keyboards that have varying layouts and designs. 2-in-1 tablets come with a detachable keyboard, but these models still fall short of the laptop experience because of their smaller size and more restrictive designs. If you add an external Bluetooth keyboard, you'll add costs and peripherals that must be carried with the tablet, making it less portable. Laptops are better for people who type a lot. Size: Tablets Are More Portable Most tablets weigh under two pounds. Even the smallest laptops, like the Apple MacBook Air 11, weighs more and has a profile larger than most tablets. The main reason for the larger profile is that the keyboard and trackpad take up additional space. Laptops that include more powerful components require additional cooling, which adds to the size. Because of their smaller size and weight, a tablet is much easier to carry around than a laptop, especially for travel. Battery Life: Tablets Last Longer Because of the low power requirements of their hardware components, tablets are designed for efficiency. In fact, most of a tablet's interior is taken up by the battery. Laptops, on the other hand, use more powerful hardware. The battery within a laptop takes up a far smaller percentage of the space needed for its internal components. Thus, even with the higher capacity battery offered by laptops, they don't run as long as tablets. Many tablets can support up to ten hours of web usage before requiring a charge. In comparison, the average laptop only runs for about four to eight hours. Some premium laptops running ARM-based processors achieve battery lives competitive with tablets, but some key software won't run on ARM-based platforms. Storage Capacity: Laptops Have More Space In order to keep the size and costs of tablets down, manufacturers rely on solid-state storage memory to store programs and data. This technology has one major disadvantage: the amount of data it can store. Most tablets allow between 16 and 128 gigabytes of storage. By comparison, most laptops still use conventional hard drives that hold much more. The average budget laptop comes with a 500 GB hard drive, although some laptops have moved to solid-state drives as well. Both laptops and tablets include features like USB ports or microSD cards that make it possible to add external storage. Performance: Laptops Are More Powerful For tasks like email, web browsing, or playing video or audio, both platforms will work equally well since these activities don't require much processing power. Things get more complicated once you start performing more demanding tasks that involve multitasking or HD graphics. In these cases, laptops typically perform better. There are exceptions, though, such as for video editing. Some high-end tablets can actually outperform laptops thanks to specialized hardware. Software: Tablet Apps Are Restrictive The same software running on a laptop versus a tablet can be vastly different in terms of capabilities. If a tablet is running Windows, it can theoretically run the same software as a laptop, but it will likely be slower. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, a tablet that you can deploy as a primary laptop with the same software used in a work environment. The two other major tablet platforms right now are Android and iOS, both of which require applications specific to their operating systems. There are many apps available for each of these platforms, and many will perform most of the basic tasks as a laptop. However, they still lack input devices, and hardware limitations mean that some more advanced features supplied by laptop programs may have to be dropped to fit into the tablet environment. The iPad ran iOS until iOS 13, after which the tablet version of Apple's mobile operating system shifted to iPadOS 13. The iOS environment now applies only to the iPhone. Cost: It's a Toss-Up There are three tiers of tablets on the market. The majority of them are budget models that cost less than $100 and are ideal for simple tasks. Models in the middle tier cost between $200 to $400 and do most tasks just fine (as a comparison, budget laptops start at around $400.) Primary-tier tablets cost from around $500 to more than $1000. They may provide the best performance, but at these prices, they tend to provide worse performance than a laptop for the same cost. Final Verdict Laptops still offer greater flexibility for mobile computing. They may not have the same level of portability, running times, or ease of use as a tablet, but there are still a number of technical limitations that tablets must resolve before they replace laptops. If you already have a laptop, a tablet may be a great add-on for those times when you just want to read, play games, or browse the web.