The image of tablets as “content consumption” devices still remains, in contrast to the “content creation” view of laptops. Photograph from Unsplash
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How tablets stack up against the laptops of today

As tablets become more powerful and laptops start to last longer, the choice has become more difficult. Or has it?
Anton Chua | Jan 26 2019

Tablets have gotten better and better at addressing the basic needs of every gadget fan, with faster processors, fluid graphics, incredible displays, and improved app functionality, all while maintaining or even improving on the form factor and portability that made them popular in the first place.

That said, we’re still a long way from the “post-PC” era that was so commonly described in the early 2010s, when tablets and smartphones were truly taking off. Video and photo editors as well as artists are still producing the majority of their work on MacBooks or high-end Windows 10 laptops. Many students still prefer the application flexibility of laptops to tablets. And the image of tablets as “content consumption” devices still remains, in contrast to the “content creation” view of laptops.

Still, the gap continues to close with every year, and for many people, it would be useful to know how tablets stack up against laptops of today.

Let’s look at the big Tablet vs Laptop battle and see what the score’s at.

To be clear, when we talk about tablets, we’re describing Android tablets or iPads and iPad Pros. We won’t count 2-in-1s or convertibles like the Surface Pro and other Windows tablets, as they’re basically laptops without an attached keyboard. They occupy a unique middle ground of portability and usability between the two device types.

Being larger and wider, laptops simply have more ability to dissipate heat, and thus have room for more powerful processors as well.

Multitasking

Like their mobile phone cousins, tablets have historically been confined to using one application at a time. More recent high-end tablets have had straight-up multitasking, multi-window support, especially those running later versions of Android, as well as the iPad Pro, but switching between using one app or another isn’t very robust.

In addition, mobile operating systems often suspend or kill background apps as they run out of memory, in order to preserve a seamless user experience. This is a nice thing that keeps your tablet constantly running smoothly, but isn’t very optimal for when you need to perform several operations at once.

This comes in contrast to laptops running Windows or Mac OS, which can run as many applications as their CPU and memory amounts can handle, and can arrange them all over the workspace as needed. Running plenty of apps together is the hallmark of a lot of content creation and professional workload needs, so you want to look in the direction of a laptop if this is a concern for you.

Performance

Laptops are vastly more powerful than tablets, and this is a function of physics and thermodynamics more than anything else. Being larger and wider, laptops simply have more ability to dissipate heat, and thus have room for more powerful processors as well.

Very expensive tablets like the newest iPad Pro are shown to defeat i5 laptops in some benchmarks, but this isn’t the case across the board, and represents a specific workload only. It’s also a victory achieved at a much higher price point as well.

Portability and Battery Life

In the battle of raw size and weight, tablets win by a pretty big margin. The heaviest tablet, the iPad Pro, is around 700 grams in weight, while the average tablet tips the scales at around 400 to 500 grams. They’re also pencil-thin and are just the right size to carry around in almost any kind of bag.

The smallest and lightest laptops in contrast are usually 900 grams to 1.1kg in weight, and are often much thicker than tablets due to the additional cooling apparatus, trackpad and keyboard, and display hinge.

Of course, this is a sensitive question, as some people do prefer the larger displays of laptops for writing up documents or editing videos.

Battery life is also a big component of portability, and in this regard, laptops often win the contest. Ultrabooks now average in the 8-10 hour range, and the new MacBook Air can hit 12 hours on a good day. Meanwhile, most Android tablets struggle to hit 8 hours, and the iPad Air and Pro can muster up to 10 hours.

Like their mobile phone cousins, tablets have historically been confined to using one application at a time.

Display Quality

The average laptop is more expensive than the average tablet.

With that said, the average cheap laptop display is pretty poor compared to the average tablet display. Many laptops below Php40,000 still make use of TN display technology, which is well-known for the color-shifting effect that causes colors to change or even invert when the display is viewed at an angle. Meanwhile, almost all modern tablets use IPS technology, which suffers from no such problems.

Many laptops below Php30,000 also still have a display resolution of 1366x768, which is pretty bad at any size. Most tablets strive for a good 1080p or even 1440p resolution.

Connectivity

Laptops win this contest hands-down. Most laptops carry a wide array of connectivity options, including classic USB Type-A ports, USB-C, HDMI display outputs, and Ethernet jacks. Such a broad connectivity spectrum will ensure that you’re not left wanting for ways to link your devices, whether you’re talking about phones, cameras, USB external drives, or secondary displays.

The vast, vast majority of tablets in contrast only have the one port, which serves mostly as a charging port. You’ll need a dongle to access such features as USB On-the-Go, which allows you to connect flash drives and other devices, or to connect HDMI cables.

Storage

Most tablets come with 64 to 256GB of fast onboard storage, with rare and expensive versions having 512GB onboard. Many Android tablets get the bonus of microSD cards, which can extend their existing onboard storage by as much as 512GB for relatively cheap.

Laptops with equivalent SSD storage usually start at 256GB with more expensive ones going up to 512GB. Expensive upgrade options for 1TB SSDs are available. Cheaper laptops lack SSDs and will carry cheap 1-2TB hard drives, but these are very slow and significantly affect performance.

Software

This is perhaps the most important part of the tablet vs laptop question, and it involves yet another question of purpose and use case.

Many people who only use their portable devices for browsing, occasional emails, and a social media post or two will be perfectly fine with a tablet and maybe an additional Bluetooth keyboard. The same will hold true for bloggers and writers who don’t need to fiddle with fancy formatting or advanced website backends.

The surprising power of many photography applications on modern tablets can make them a compelling choice for photographers as well as videographers for basic editing work. It definitely helps that the average tablet display is excellent and oftentimes even professionally color-calibrated, compared to a laptop of similar price.

However, for more serious work, involving intense workflows, huge storage and performance requirements, and a wide variety of external devices, laptop software is the way to go. It’s designed to take advantage of the many inherent storage, connectivity, and performance advantages of laptops, and provide as much power as possible to users.

Verdict

The answer to this question will always be “It depends,” but it’s becoming a very dependent “It depends” as of late. Tablets are getting more powerful and capable – but laptops are also getting lighter and lasting longer.

Consider every option and your own needs before you make a decision. Tablets and laptops both have a lot to offer, and the traditional weaknesses of each platform may not be as distinct as they once were.

Photographs from Unsplash