When your old laptop or PC gives up the ghost, it's time to upgrade to something more modern. But what should you do: buy an iPad (or another tablet) or We answer all your questions with our expert buying advice. See also: Apple iPad review.
Laptop vs iPad: which is right for you?
You've seen the adverts for the new iPad and you might have even had a play with one, but should you buy one or a new laptop? It's a question many people are asking, and with good reason.
Buying an iPad is a dilemma as tablets are new technology. Can an iPad replace your old PC or laptop, or does it have too many limitations? We'll answer these and more questions. You can also use this guide if you're considering another tablet as, for the most part, the same principles apply.
Let's start off, though, by saying that an iPad - or any other tablet - is not a replacement for a laptop. Tablets are good at many things, but their abilities are a subset of a laptop's. You can't, for example, burn a music CD to listen to in the car, or a DVD of your latest home movie.
It isn't particularly easy to print from an iPad, either, although it is possible in some apps (you can print an email, a document or a web page if you have a compatible printer).
In short, you will still need a laptop or a PC as a backup in case you find you can't do something on your iPad.
Tablets: the iPad advantage
Chances are, your laptop needs to be plugged in most of the time as its battery lasts only an hour or two. With an iPad, you'll be freed from the mains all day, since it will last for at least eight (if not 10 or 12) hours of constant use. If you're considering an Android tablet, check the manufacturer's claimed battery life or our reviews as some tablets last for a much shorter time between charges.
Portability and comfort
A tablet is also much lighter and more portable than a laptop, so you really can take it everywhere with you. It's more comfortable to sit and use an iPad, it doesn't get too warm and there are no fans, unlike most laptops whose high-pitched fans can drive you to distraction.
Instant on and connected standby
Yet another advantage is that an iPad doesn't take minutes to boot up: it's ready to go instantly, so it's quick to check email and Facebook, or the weather forecast or TV listings.
When you press the power button, it goes into standby, but remains connected to the internet so you'll hear alerts when you receive emails, Facebook messages or when other events happen. You don't have to turn it on to find out if you've missed something.
If you've not used a touchscreen much, you may well think that it can't replace a keyboard and mouse. There are certainly some elements where a keyboard and mouse are quicker, but you'd be surprised at how fast you can type on the iPad's virtual, on-screen keyboard.
If you make a mistake, the built-in auto-correct feature will likely put things right - it will even add punctuation for you. Buy the new iPad, and you'll get voice dictation so you needn't type much at all. The system doesn't require any training unlike older voice-recognition systems. You simply speak and the words (and punctuation if you dictate it) appear before your eyes. As long as you don't have a strong regional accent, accuracy is very good.
The iPad's interface is, in general, hugely intuitive. Aside from a few hidden options in apps, everything works as you expect it to, so it's easy to attach a photo you just took to an email or Facebook post, or upload a video to YouTube.
Apps is simply a new word for programs, and is short for applications. Built-in apps include a YouTube viewer, web browser, email, calendar, photo and video viewer, weather forecast, maps, notepad and reminders. Many apps, such as a calculator and timer, are freely available via the App Store.
What you don't get is a Microsoft-office equivalent, but you can download Pages (like Word), Numbers (like Excel) and Keynote (PowerPoint) for £6.99 each. Many apps, though, cost just a pound or two, including Apple's own iMovie which is great for editing videos you've taken on the built-in camera, and iPhoto, for editing photos you've taken.
There are hundreds of thousands of apps to choose between, and there's bound to be one that does the task you need. Apple's App Store is one of the most compelling reasons to choose the iPad over another tablet as developers tend to launch apps for the iPad first, then Android, and then the other operating systems. This is why it's not a great idea to buy a BlackBerry PlayBook if you like the sound of installing all these apps. Not only are they rather thin on the ground in the BlackBerry AppWorld, they're also more expensive.
Browsing the web
Although you can download other web browsers, such as Google Chrome, the built-in Safari browser is perfectly fine for most people. Thanks to the new iPad's high resolution screen (it has more pixels than your laptop), websites look great and are displayed just as they are on your laptop or PC.
A word of warning, though. The iPad doesn't support Flash so some videos and websites won't be viewable. Plenty of kids websites, for example, still use Flash heavily and some simply won't work at all.
For the most part, you won't notice any problems, but it's important to have a PC or laptop available so you can access that crucial website which won't load on your iPad.
Next page: The laptop advantage and which iPad to choose