Tablet or Laptop – What Drives the Decision?

Unless your organization supports the increasing trend toward BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the laptop or tablet battle may still be unresolved.

Decision-makers, especially in smaller organizations, are continually tasked with making sense of these devices, navigating the hype, and ultimately finding the right fit for their staffs.  Sometimes there is an IT partner to assist, other times it can be a solo effort with everyone having an opinion.

To help navigate this murky, ambiguous topic, here are some musings on the subject.

Increasingly, the first question seems to be:  Is a laptop even necessary when tablets can perform so many of the same functions?  The short answer is — it depends. Apple’s iOS, Android and Microsoft all offer different ideas on what a tablet is.  Generally, it is a device designed to work from an application framework always connected to the Web. Every person uses his or her technology differently. Some can easily get by with a tablet working only from the Web. For others, additional capabilities are needed.

Below are some points to consider on each type of device, along with the current state of the ultimate fence-sitter: hybrid devices.


The download on tablets

The design of the current tablets — mainly touch screen — is extremely intuitive, especially when paired with touch-friendly operating systems of Windows 10, Android or Apple’s iOS.

Most tablets support some level of multitasking, allowing you to run one or more apps in the background while working in another.  The full-screen focus of tablets is also seen as a distraction-free alternative to multitasking.

The small size of tablets inherently means more mobility, and is tailored for use on the go. The smaller size makes it more comfortable to use the device casually. A tablet can be used at the library, but also on the subway, in the kitchen, on the couch, in bed and everywhere in between. The small screens are also well-suited to personal media consumption, whether it’s watching shows, movies or reading.

Tablets offer excellent battery life. This efficiency is the upside of smaller, less powerful mobile processors that are more battery efficient.

Tablets are all apps, all the time. Always requiring available Internet connection, apps are a slightly different approach to software delivery.  They are task specific and generally less expensive than PC software, with many selections completely free.

The process of buying and consuming digital media is often simpler on a tablet than anywhere else. Broadcasters and movie studios in particular are bending over backwards with apps and services that put their content into the hands of iOS and Android users, and digital distribution through iTunes, Amazon and Google Play have supplanted many of the traditional outlets as the go-to source for media.

If your daily computer use revolves around the Internet and social media, streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, and only light productivity, then you may be able to make do with a tablet alone.  Other individuals require additional capacity. And for those users, there are some compromises required for the tablet-only lifestyle that they are unable — or don’t want — to make.

The download on laptops

Laptops, like desktop PCs, have a built-in benefit over tablets, and that advantage is power. Generally, laptops have more powerful processing hardware, allowing for a wider range of uses, faster performance and better multitasking.  Laptops easily handle common tablet uses — like Web browsing and media and app streaming — but then go significantly further, with uses ranging from simple data entry to complex tasks like photo and video editing and other full-blown applications.

Additionally, there’s the form-factor reality. Laptops have the benefit of having a keyboard and mouse built-in, allowing you to do all of the typing and mouse-related work you would do on a desktop, with greater control. A physical keyboard is a must for entering long blocks of text, and a mouse is far more efficient than a touchscreen for frequent swapping of windows, clicking of links and generally mousing around. This is even more important in the workplace, where those very tasks may make up the bulk of your day.

If you need to do complex work, need powerful processing or multitasking, or need compatibility with a specific accessory or storage device, there’s no superior alternative to the laptop.

Hybrids: the technology coming along
With all of this laptop-versus-tablet talk, it’s worth noting that companies are hard at work to bring users the best of both worlds.

These laptop/tablet hybrids are made to close the gap between laptop power and tablet convenience.  Many of these designs are still a work in progress.  As of now, these blended devices continue to be collections of accessories that may be hit-or-miss experiments in design, although designers and engineers are working out the bugs with every iteration, and soon the laptop vs. tablet question may disappear entirely.

The hybrid category will only get better over time as technologies improve and designs are refined.

Bottom line

Though there are clear reasons to favor one device over the other for certain uses, the laptop versus tablet debate may ultimately be a moot point.

In today’s connected world, laptops and tablets are likely best used together as companion devices. For the business user, a single device that does it all has its devotees.  The one exception may be the Surface Pro.  Some users have found this to be the best of both worlds on one device.

The optimal setup will vary from one organization to the next. There isn’t a right or wrong and it will change over time.  Taking a closer look at how your organization utilizes technology and how users prefer to work will bring clarity to the selection, and guide the choice of the proper device.

Chip Heberden is the owner and president of Netlink, Inc. For over 20 years, he has supported local community businesses through IT managed services.

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