We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

Tablet vs laptop: which is best?

We explain the pros and cons of both

The question for many people isn't which tablet they should buy, but whether to buy a tablet or a laptop. Tablets are capable of many tasks that were previously only possible with a laptop or PC. But that doesn’t necessarily mean laptops are obsolete. There are still limitations to what you can do with a tablet.

See also:

The obvious difference is that all laptops have a physical keyboard. Typing long documents is easier and more comfortable on real keys, rather than tapping away at a screen for extended periods. However, it's possible to buy keyboards for tablets, too. You can use a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad (Scosche, for example, produces the KeyPad P2 shown below), and some Android tablets such as the Asus Transformer have an optional keyboard with a second battery built in.

Tablets can't compete with laptops on storage, though. Most laptops have hard disks with capacities around ten times larger than a tablet's memory. With a tablet, you'll have to be choosy about which photos, videos, music and documents you store locally. The rest has to be stored online, or on a PC or laptop.

 Scosche Keypad

Sometimes, tablets can be tripped up by small things such as drop-down boxes or other controls on web pages which are fiddly to use with a touch-sensitive display. In general, some websites work better on a laptop, such as personal banking and online shopping, since these sites make heavy use of Javascript. If a website uses Flash, a laptop’s browser won’t have any problem displaying the content, but you’ll run into issues with an iPad (see below). You may be fortunate and find an app which takes care of your banking or shopping, but on other occasions the only way to get something done is to resort to a laptop.

Apple iPad no flash support 

Printing documents is easier on a laptop too, as it’s closely tied to the operating system and works with a wider range of software. Printing is still possible from a tablet, but it isn’t as easy or versatile.

Of course, few laptops can match the portability and long battery life that most tablets offer. While a laptop might be too bulky to take on holiday, a tablet adds little weight to your hand luggage, and is ideal when the in-flight entertainment isn’t very good.

Ultimately, laptops and tablets are complementary devices: it's not a case of one or the other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and is suitable for different tasks. Manufacturers are certain to come up with new ways to make data even more device independent than it currently is, with elaborate docking stations for keyboards and additional storage, and online services that mean you never have to consider which device you’ll need to carry with you. It’s still early days for tablets, and while they haven’t yet made laptops redundant, this might not remain true forever.

See also: Which is the best tablet: iPad, Android or BlackBerry?

Click the following links to jump to the tablet task you're interested in:

Best tablet for email

Best tablet for photos, video and music 

Best tablet for web browsing   

Best tablet for games  

Best tablet for office productivity 

Best tablet for printing  

Best tablet for typing 

What's the best app store? 

IDG UK Sites

Nexus 6 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comparison: What's the best Android phablet?

IDG UK Sites

The iPhone is doomed. Doomed to be marginally less successful than a very successful thing.

IDG UK Sites

How to prototype native mobile apps without writing code

IDG UK Sites

How to prepare for and update to OS X Yosemite: Get your Mac ready to download & install Apple's...