Should I Buy a Laptop or a Tablet?


Staff member
Mar 24, 2011
'My old PC finally died, and I need to replace it with something portable. But it still needs to be powerful enough to handle email, web and typical office software. For someone with my requirements, would you suggest a laptop, an Ultrabook, the iPad or an Android-based tablet?'

Which Portable Device Should I Buy?

If you are in the market for a portable computer, you have four options: a traditional laptop/notebook, a tiny netbook, one of the new Ultrabooks, or a tablet. Which one you should choose depends on your mobile computing needs.

The great dividing line is whether you mainly consume or create content while on the go. Tablets netbooks and even smartphones are fine if you are primarily an information consumer. You can check email, watch movies, listen to music, read e-books, and so on. If you need to answer email briefly, you can. There are word processing and other business apps available for iPad and Android devices. But the cramped keyboard of a netbook, the touch screen of a tablet, and especially the tiny screen of a mobile phone are not the ideal input devices for serious writing, spreadsheeting, or precision drawing.

Sure, you can buy an optional keyboard for a tablet. But then you're walking around with what looks like a broken laptop. Better to just get a real laptop!


For better or worse, netbooks are a dying breed. Worldwide unit sales fell from a peak of over 30 million in 2010, to an expected 4 million in 2013. That number is expected to drop to 250,000 in 2014, and zero by 2015. Tablets like the iPad, the Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus 7 & 10, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Note 10.1, and a flood of other currently available Android tablets have killed the netbook; they're cooler, lighter in weight, and don't pretend to be a typing platform.

A step up from the tablet is the laptop computer. Setting aside the nearly extinct netbook, there are several flavors of laptops. First, there are the Chromebooks at the low end of the price scale. See The $199 Acer C7 Chromebook to learn how Chromebooks differ from traditional Windows-based notebook laptops, and the pros and cons of that platform.

In the Windows notebook category, prices start at around $300, but that'll get you a tiny screen and not much processing power. As screen sizes, hard drives, RAM and horsepower increase, prices rise into the $1000 range. With the advent of Windows 8, touchscreen laptops and hybrid tablet/laptop devices have entered the fray. PC Magazine's most recent Top 10 Laptops roundup is worth a look to get a handle on the range of prices and devices in this category.

The Ultrabook platform is a good choice for mobile pros who need to create content. Ultrabooks are lighter and thinner than traditional notebook laptops, but bigger and more typing-friendly than tablets. They offer longer battery life and enhanced security technologies. Ultrabooks may lack DVD drives and some of the ports found on notebooks, but that's the price of weight reduction. See Intel's Ultrabook Showcase to see examples and learn more about the unique features of the platform.

Price and Some Other Considerations

Ultrabooks were created to compete with the MacBook Air, Apple's super-thin, lightweight notebook computer. If you are an Apple fan, or you use other Apple products already, the MacBook Air may fit into your personal "ecosystem" better than an Ultrabook.

Price is going to be another factor, if you're considering whether to buy a Chromebook, tablet, notebook, or Ultrabook. You can get a low-end Chromebook for under $200. 10-inch tablets start at about $400. Windows laptops average around $600. Ultrabooks range from around $900 to $1200, and the Macbook Air ranges from $1000 to $1800.

But here's one more thing to consider. Maybe your needs are better met by a combination of devices. If you really do need the power of an Ultrabook or high-end laptop, but you also want the convenience of a smaller, lighter device for occasional email and web surfing, check out the Amazon Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus 7, and Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet. In addition to being ebook readers, these 7-inch devices also offer access to the Web, email, games, music and movies. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a combination smartphone and tablet, with a 5.9-inch screen. And of course there are lots of spiffy iPhone and Android smartphones which can do all of the above on a slight smaller screen.