There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the laptop was regarded as THE gadget of choice for most company executives, professionals, business owners, and even students. After all, what’s not to like about it? A laptop packs computing power, storage capacity, connectivity and functionality in one compact and portable device. But it only took the entry of the tablet for the laptop to lose some, or should we say, much, of its luster.

A tablet PC offers many of the features that laptops have but in a much lighter and more portable form. Since Apple’s 1st generation iPad launched to massive success, more tech giants have come up with their own versions of the device, trying to grab a share of the rapidly expanding market. At this point, it’s pretty safe to say that we are now in the era of the tablet. Everyone seems to own one and even every kid wants one. Does this spell the end of the laptop?

In this laptop vs. tablet article, we evaluate the pros and cons of each based on several key factors. It’s up to you to decide which device is the better fit for your specific needs.

Screen Size and Functionality

The screen size of a tablet can range from 7 inches to 10 inches, while that of full form laptop (not the smaller netbook) starts at least 13-inches. Resolution-wise, neither device has the upper hand as both tablets and laptops feature HD resolutions, especially if you opt for the higher-end variants. It has to be said though, that you can better maximize a full-HD display with a bigger screen, whether it’s for work or entertainment.

Now the larger screen size of the laptop is only one of its major benefits over the tablet when it comes to functionality. The other obvious advantage is the availability of convenient input methods like the physical keyboard and mouse. Because really, how much work can you accomplish and how fast can you get things done with just a virtual keyboard and a small display? If you’re writing long documents or working with spreadsheets, physical keyboard trumps a virtual one any day, and that means laptops have the edge in this category.

Portability, Battery Life and Connectivity

The tablet is touted as the pinnacle of mobile technology, and for good reason. It’s just the right size for being productive even while out of the office. Having a tablet on hand rules out scenarios of having to type and send emails using the cramped screen of a smartphone, or lugging around a heavier and bigger laptop for light tasks like email checking, web browsing, creating presentations, reviewing documents, and taking quick notes.

The device’s battery life also comes into consideration in this aspect and it doesn’t hurt that tablets can last longer than laptops. Many tablets boast of a minimum 8-hour battery life and even longer, while even the higher-priced laptops can only muster about 7 hours battery. When assessing the portability factor, connectivity is a crucial feature factor as well. Although both device types are configured for Wi-Fi connectivity, most tablets can be linked to a data plan that allows web access practically anytime, anywhere.

As more companies adopt a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, the demand to be easily accessible even outside the workplace is increasing. The tablet’s handy size and weight, long battery life, and always-connected features take mobility to a whole new level, making it the perfect device for communication and collaboration while on the go.

Software and Apps

The type of applications available for laptops and tablets remains to be a differentiating factor between the two. Standard laptops can already support all the business tools you need and often use such as Microsoft Office applications, QuickBooks, CRM tools, Adobe Photoshop and other similar software.

On the other hand, the tablet offers a wide range of apps that make full use of its touchscreen interface and mobility feature: games, video and music content, social media, learning apps, and a whole lot more that amp up the entertainment value for the user. On a personal consumption level, the tablet and its apps are hard to beat. As a platform for business tools though, there are serious limitations.

While it would be great to have the exact same tools on your laptop also available on the tablet, this isn’t something that’s happening right now. Many business applications may require standard input method (keyboard), high processing power and sizeable storage capacity, all of which are limited on the tablet. At best, you can make do with the scaled-down tablet apps of these tools which may be available (e.g. QuickOffice HD, Adobe Photoshop Touch, QuickBooks Mobile), but these aren’t as feature-packed as the desktop/laptop versions.

An alternative method to utilizing business apps on the tablet would be to use a VPN in creating a virtual desktop that allows the user access to non-tablet applications. In doing so, it’s possible to stream your entire computer to your tablet and with it, all business software available there, using an Internet connection tied to the company’s remote server. Everything will appear as if it was saved in the device’s internal storage (although it actually resides in the server), and by utilizing a VPN, the virtualization process is as secure as it is efficient.

Cost and Value for Money

It goes without saying that cost is a major factor in the purchase decision, and for some, it may even be the tipping point regardless of the other aspects. But rather than focusing solely on the price, it’s also worthwhile to take into account what the device offers in terms of value for money.

For instance, it’s easy to say right off the bat that that the tablet is the cheaper option. As more manufacturers have gotten into the fray, the average price for tablets seems to have settled within the $300 to $400 range, with the more known brands and large-memory variants going as high as $700 to $800. In comparison, you can already get a consumer laptop (at least 13-inches display) for about $650, although business grade machines are $1,000 upwards. 

However, it’s interesting to note while a laptop could already offer you the full functionality of a mobile PC, owning a tablet doesn’t stop with the purchase of one. The total cost of ownership of a tablet would also include buying apps and media; plus, if you want to be more ‘productive’ with it, you might as well count the costs of necessary accessories such as a detachable keyboard if there is such an option.

All told, the saying that you get what you pay for applies to this case. A tablet that offers features as close to the laptop as possible including higher processing power, larger storage, and option for accessories, would cost you more. In the same way, a high-performance laptop would come with a steeper price tag as well.

The Tablet/Laptop Hybrid

Any laptop vs tablet article would not be complete without a mention of the emergence of the laptop/tablet hybrid. Hybrids or convertibles are devices that basically combine touchscreens with full feature keyboards, somewhat blurring the line between the tablet and the laptop. They come in various form factors – slider, dockable, tent, flip and swivel – all promising the best of both worlds.

One of the more notable hybrids that have come to attention in the past months are the Windows 8-powered Microsoft Surface that comes in the ‘lighter’ (specs-wise) Surface RT version and the more powerful Surface Pro. The Surface offers a dockable keyboard for easy crafting of documents which you can conveniently undock, for a tablet experience.

Other recent devices that are currently making the hybrid landscape more exciting include the IdeaPad Yoga that offers a touch screen that folds back 360 degrees for a tablet form and the HP Envy.

Laptop vs Tablet: Choosing the right device

So is the laptop going away anytime soon? And if not, which is the better gadget?

Based on the quick feature-for-feature comparisons we’ve made earlier on, it’s apparent that there is still a target market that finds much use for the laptop and will continue to opt for it, even as the tablet increases in popularity. As emphasized earlier, there really is no clear winner between these two because the needs and expectations differ from consumer to consumer.

If the emphasis is on computing rather than mobility, functionality rather than the ‘cool’ factor, then the laptop is the device to beat. But if you’re after a portable entertainment gadget that also works well for basic computing and web-related tasks, then you should be looking more closely at tablets. And then of course, there’s also the option of choosing an in-between, the tablet/laptop hybrid which yet may best leverage the winning features of the two devices.

Hayden McMaster