These days, when you need to buy a new portable computing device, the question often arises, tablet or laptop?
More people are choosing the smaller, lighter, and less expensive tablets, but this may not always be the best decision. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Tablet computers are designed as consuming devices. They're great for exchanging email, posting to social networks, surfing the web, watching a movie, listing to music, or reading a book.
Tablets cost less than laptops. On the tablet side, Apple's iPad starts around $500, Google's Nexus 7 around $230, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3 around $200, and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD around $150. On the laptop side, Apple's MacBook Pro starts around $1,100, Lenovo's IdeaPad around $360, and Acer's Aspire around $350.
Tablets are easier to set up and use than a PC or Mac. The touchscreen interface is intuitive, easier than navigating a file tree if not as versatile. Instead of having to wait for the operating system to load on a laptop, you have nearly instant-on usability with a tablet.
Compared with laptops, tablets have a longer battery life. You can partly get around this by plugging a laptop into an outlet, provided one is around, or carrying around a second laptop battery. On the other hand, some tablets have batteries you can't replace yourself, which will cause people to replace their devices when the batteries fail to hold a charge.
If you need to work while truly on the move, while walking around an office, store, shop, or factory, tablets are more convenient than laptops. Tablets are also great while on the bus, in the kitchen, on the couch, or in bed.
A great variety of software in the form of apps is available for tablets, and many are low-cost or free. The software for PCs and Macs is typically more expensive and powerful.
Laptop computers are designed as producing devices. They're great for writing papers for work or school, creating presentations, working numbers in spreadsheets, editing photos, or producing websites.
You can perform these production-oriented tasks on a tablet, and many people do, but tablets' on-screen keyboards and smaller screens make this slower and more tedious than on a laptop.
Workarounds exist, such as buying an external keyboard or attaching the tablet to a desktop PC's monitor. But in trying to turn a tablet into a laptop, you're still left with the typical tablet's limited multitasking and slower processing speed.
Laptops can smoothly handle the consumption-oriented activities that are tablets' strongpoint, though this is easier to get started with on tablets.
Hybrid tablet-laptops exist, such as Microsoft's Surface line, which come with detachable keyboards to use the device as a tablet or laptop. The Microsoft Surface also comes with robust multitasking and Microsoft Office. These are more expensive than tablets, with the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 starting around $950 and Microsoft Surface 2 around $500.
You can get Microsoft Office compatibility with both Android and Apple iOS tablets for free through Google's Quickoffice (www.quickoffice.com), and you can get Microsoft Office proper through CloudOn (www.cloudon.com), with the pro version costing $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year.
Other tablet-laptop hybrids have keyboards that can flip shut when you want to use the device as a tablet, such as Dell's XPS 12, which starts around $800.
Another compromise between a laptop and a tablet is a cloud laptop, designed for computing while connected to the Internet. Apple's MacBook Air starts around $850, HP's Pavilion Chromebook around $290, and Samsung's Chromebook around $270.
Digital devices have always yielded strange behavior in people regarding bragging rights. It used to be the power of your CPU or the size of your hard drive or monitor. Now it's how small you can go.
You see people showing off their tablet setup, bragging how little it weighs, when the reality is that a slighter larger and heavier laptop setup could help them get work done twice as fast.
The extra weight isn't great. Thin and light laptops, sometimes called Ultrabooks, start around 2.8 pounds, which is less than the weight of a middle school student's book bag. Still, some people just don't want to or can't carry around this extra weight.
Tablets can make great companion devices if you already have a laptop or desktop computer.
If you need heavy-duty horsepower for music or video editing, computer-aided design, computer programming, or serious gaming, the best choice in personal computing, better than laptops or tablets, remains a desktop PC.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.