Tablet vs. Computer: Which Is Right for You?


Anyone who thinks that a tablet is pretty much equal to a full-fledged computer wasn’t at my house a couple of nights ago.

My tenant and I were trying to set up a Microcell gadget that would give us cell phone service at my house, where there’s no good signal. To perform the setup, she was using her new Lenovo laptop. It has a touch screen – the latest laptop innovation – but is a full-featured, powerful laptop with a full-size keyboard. That was fortunate, because she had to surf between a few websites; have an onscreen chat with a customer service rep while going back and forth to her email; input serial numbers, phone numbers and other information; and perform various other operations. It took a couple of hours, and there was no way she could have done it on a tablet.

On the other hand, tablets have features that laptops don’t. Which option is right for you depends on what you plan to use it for. If you’re wondering what to buy, here are some basic distinctions that you need to understand. Also check out Amazon’s helpful laptop vs. tablet guide.

What’s the Difference Between a Tablet and a Computer?

A tablet is designed for consuming. It’s a good option if what you want to do is browse the web, connect on social media, Skype, and send and receive email, along with using apps to play games, learn, read, draw, watch videos and listen to music.

A computer is designed for producing and creating. It’s easier to write a book or a story, edit photos, make a website, produce flyers or do other complicated stuff on a laptop.

The Computer Advantage

Power and speed The main advantage of a computer is sheer power and increased storage, which means faster speed and computing ability. You’re not going to use Photoshop, create or print complicated documents, or go through a complex registration process like the Microcell’s on a tablet. Doing research is easier on a computer because it’s so much faster, and it’s easier to switch between web pages and surf around websites.

Software If you need to create complicated spreadsheets or Word documents, or use image or music editing software, you’re unlikely to find apps for tablets that compete with the programs that are available for computers. The exceptions are Windows 8 tablets, which let you run Microsoft programs.

Web optimization  Many websites have two versions: One is designed for computers and the other for tablets or smartphones. Some of the most popular sites offer stripped down versions to tablet users. For instance, Facebook’s app gives you get a version whose text size you can’t enlarge and without as many ways to control what you see.

Keyboards Computers have full featured keyboards, which means that typing and inputting information is much faster and more accurate. You can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to a tablet, but these are smaller and limited. It’s possible to connect a full keyboard but you need a cable with a special adapter, which sort of defeats the purpose of a small tablet.

Screen visibility Computers have bigger screens, making them easier to see for older people who have low vision. While many tablets have controls that let you increase font size, they still don’t compete for visibility with a 15-inch screen.

Printing  If you don’t have a wireless or cloud-enabled printer, you won’t be able to print from a tablet.

Ports and Drives  Most tablets lack USB ports, so you can’t connect extra stuff; and they don’t have DVD or CD drives. Everything has to be downloaded or streamed from the Internet, or uploaded from your computer.

The Tablet Advantage

Battery life There are reasons for people to be snapping up iPads even when they cost twice as much as some laptops. In addition to convenience and portability, battery life on a tablet is two or even three times as long as a laptop’s. Most laptop batteries last 4 to 6 hours (the iPad Air’s lasts 11 hours), while tablets can hold a charge for 10 to 12 hours of use. If you use a phablet – a large smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – the battery can last up to 24 hours.

Accessibility features Android and Apple tablets have cool accessibility features for people with low vision that let you listen to text and speak to type. (Watch this video of a blind man taking pictures and sharing them via Instagram.)

Cameras Most tablets incorporate cameras that let you take pictures and easily share them on social media or via email.

Apps  There’s an app for just about anything you want do on a tablet. Mobile apps do things computer programs don’t do, like find your keys, give you weather wherever you are and other GPS enabled tasks. There are also mobile-centric apps like Instagram that lose features on the web (you  can only upload on Instagram via a mobile device.) Apps are also much  cheaper than programs. The usual price tag for programs on a PC or Mac is $20 to hundreds. The same app on a tablet costs a few bucks and does a bunch of the same things. Games are much cheaper as well.

Portability I was absolutely amazed to find myself watching “Orange is the New Black,” “Doc Martin” and other TV series on my Kindle HDX 8.9”. Before getting that tablet I didn’t understand why anyone would want to watch a movie on a tiny screen. Now I love walking around with the thing and watching it on my porch or in bed. There’s an intimacy about watching your favorite show on a tablet that you don’t get on a TV across the room or a computer on a desk. A tablet feels more like an extension of you than a laptop ever will. Not to speak of the fact that tablets are a fraction of  the weight of laptops. Plus, the tablet experience has been enhanced by the incredible new high-definition displays on the iPad and Kindle HDX.

The Best of Both Worlds?

Lightweight PCs Though tablets are often lighter than laptops, there are many ultra-thin, light computers (such as PC ultrabooks or Apple’s MacBook Air line) that give you the portability you need without sacrificing performance or functionality. Unfortunately they’re also a lot more expensive.

Touchscreen PC’s Most of the new laptops are touchscreen with Windows 8. Price wise they’re a little bit more expensive, but prices will decrease with time. Eventually all laptops will be touchscreen – but if you’re used to a mouse, like I am, you can still use it.

Folding laptops Some laptop models, like the Yoga Thinkpad and the HP EliteBook Revolve, fold so you only see the screen on one side like a big tablet. Manufacturers try to make these more lightweight, but they’ll never be as light as a tablet.

Hybrid PC This is a Windows tablet with a keyboard dock that turns it into a laptop when connected. Still, even hybrids may not always give you the power or storage space you need. Tablets in the Microsoft Surface Pro line are hybrids and come very close to the computing power of a laptop, but at a steep price of $700 and up.

If you’re shopping for hybrid laptop, carefully check the specifications to make sure you’re actually getting a laptop and not a tablet. For instance, the Asus T100 bills itself on Amazon as a 2-In-1 Ultraportable Laptop but is actually a not very powerful tablet. It has only 2 gigs of RAM, a 64 mg hard drive and a 1.4 GHz processor. (Learn what these specs mean by reading my specs article. 

If you’re dipping your toe in the digital waters and only want to do email, Skype and social media, a tablet is a good choice for starters. But if you find you want to do more, there are some great, inexpensive laptops out there. If you have questions, my computer guru Kenny will answer them for you on his Facebook page.


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