Tablet or Laptop for college: What to choose?

tablet or laptop - which one is best for college
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In 2021 tablets vs laptops have more things in common than ever before. Whatever you can do on a laptop you can now do it on a tablet too. But what to buy? In the end, this is the big dilemma. Is a tablet or a laptop better for you?

Tablet or laptop for college?

Best Tablet or laptop for college
Having a personal computer is pretty much essential for college students these days. Typing up lecture notes, preparing essays and papers, doing research online, accessing textbooks – and even a bit of R&R between studies – are all activities that will be much more easily performed with a computer.

For some years now, a laptop has been the weapon of choice for students everywhere. However, with the advent of the tablet computer, and the tendency to carry computers between lessons and lectures, tablets are rapidly growing in popularity on campus.

Tablet vs Laptop Pros and Cons

tablet vs laptop - which one is  to choose
So, which type of computer is best for college – laptop or tablet? Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice will come down to personal preference and, in some cases, the nature of the course being studied.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each device:

Laptop Computers: Pros

Laptops are fast, powerful and portable. You can do pretty much anything on a laptop that you would on a desktop.

Unlike the majority of tablets, you can feed your laptop from usb drives, CDs, DVDs, ethernet cables etc. Most modern laptops have a number of usb ports provided, which makes it easy to connect peripherals such as printers, external hard drives, cameras etc.

In terms of memory, laptops tend to have RAM and hard disk capacity which dwarfs most tablet computers.

In terms of software, once you’ve decided on a Mac or a Windows laptop, you can easily add new software – either by download or by inserting DVDs. That may be useful if any proprietary programs are used in a particular course.

Laptops tend to cost more than tablets, but you will often find special student discounts on laptops just before the term begins. Similar discounts may be available for tablets in future, but there’s little evidence of this at the moment.

Laptop Computers: Cons

Laptops are a good deal slimmer and svelter than they have been in the past. Nevertheless, they do tend to weigh quite a bit more than the average tablet.

Take the MacBook Air for example – a laptop which has been specifically designed, as the name suggests, to be light. The 13.3″ version weighs in at a fraction under 3 lbs. the iPad Air (the full sized version) weighs 1 lb.

Obviously the difference may be even greater for other laptops and smaller tablets. It may not be a problem if students use their laptop to replace paper, but that does require a little organization and forethought. The extra weight may not be all that much but carrying two or three extra pounds around all day, every day, can become tiring after a while.

Laptops have a surprising number of moving parts – most notably cooling fans and hard disc drives. These can, like all moving part assemblies, be weak points which are liable to failure.

Tablet Computers: Pros

Tablets are small, lightweight and easy to use. Their user friendly touch screen interfaces are simple to operate.

Being smaller and lighter makes them much easier to use when reading books and textbooks.

They have no moving parts, so they are less likely to suffer from mechanical failure.

Battery life for tablts (actual, not claimed) may be a little longer than for laptops, simply due to the smaller screen size.

There’s a lot of overlap on price, but as a general rule, a low-end tablet will cost less than a low-end laptop and a high-end tabl3t will cost less than a high-end laptop. However, the overlap is huge and you could get a perfectly good laptop, which would be great for taking notes, surfing the web and writing term papers for a lot less than you might pay for a high-end tabl3t.

Tablet Computers: Cons

The obvious problem with tablets is typing for any length of time. Touch screens are fine for brief messages and notes, but they provide a less than enjoyable experience for longer text input. You can now get bluetooth keyboards, some separate, some incorporated into tablet covers, to make text entry easier.

Whilst not impossible by any means, transfer of data is a little more fiddly using a tablet. Wireless download and e-mail documents work best – few tablets have the option to read from DVDs or usb sticks. Likewise, whilst still being feasible, driving peripherals such as printers might be just a little more fiddly with a tablet than a laptop – although once you’ve done it once it will be a lot easier on subsequent occasions.

Hybrid Tablets

There is a third option, which seems to be gaining popularity by the day – the hybrid ones. These are basically smallish laptops that allow you to separate the display from the QWERTY keyboard.

You can then use the touch screen display as if it was a tablet – and join it back up with the base section later when you need to get down to a bit of typing.

Whether these devices offer you the best of both worlds, or whether they are a “jack of all trades and master of none” will very much depend on your individual needs.

Tablet versus Laptop: Other Factors To Take Into Account

tablet versus laptop - which is best
In addition to the hardware options, and as if the numerous options weren’t confusing enough, it’s well worth taking a little time to consider what operating system you might want. At the moment, the Android/iOS split is about 60/40 in favor of Android – but that’s in the world at large. things may be differently aligned at your college or university.

Windows tablets are growing in popularity – although they still account for less than 4% of the market. Laptops will be heavily biased towards Windows of course.

Can a Tablet replace a Laptop ?

tablet or laptop
Tablet computers are great. Easy to use, versatile, portable – a lot of fun and ideally suited for casual entertainment use. However, can they really replace a laptop computer when it comes to more serious tasks?

How many people do you know who have a laptop and a tablet? Maybe you have both yourself (I know I do).

Tablet and Laptop 2 in 1

Microsoft seems confident that their Surface Pro 3 will bridge the gap between tablet and laptop, allowing users to enjoy the lightweight portability of a tablet, but providing them with the productivity of a laptop whenever required.

They are marketing the Surface Pro 3 as “The tablet that can replace your laptop” – and they might be right. This is a tablet and laptop in one.

Of course, you do need to pay for the privilege – and the Surface Pro is quite a bit more expensive than other ones. That has been something of a problem thus far for the original Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2.

Apple iPad vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3

These were both good devices, but Microsoft, in its numerous adverts, tended to compare it with tablet computers, specifically the iPad. Since the Surface Pro costs more than the iPad, and since the iPad is, in its own right, a very desirable piece of personal electronics, it wasn’t exactly the most successful strategy for Microsoft.

With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft seems to have wised up and is comparing it with the MacBook Air rather than the iPad. That is, at the risk of a pun, a much more apples with apples comparison.

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a very good digital pen – ideal for taking notes if that’s your thing. The pen is not laggy and is very pleasant to use.

The keyboard, somewhat curiously given that you really need it to get the laptop half of the equation, is not included in the base package. It costs another $130, which is money well spent of you want to get the most out of your SP3.

It has innovative hinge support at the back which can be set to any angle between 0 and 150 degrees. It’s a big improvement over earlier models.

The base model price is between 400-$599, but that gets you an i3 processor and only 64GB of storage. The i5 model is the one that most people will go for – and its price is on a par with the MacBook Air 13.3″ model. You should be able to find both for around $999. the SP3 will probably be just a little more expensive than the MacBook – but it’s probably worth it when the whole package is considered.

Tablet Laptop Microsoft

laptop or tablet
Over the piece, the Surface Pro 3, with keyboard attached, makes a very acceptable substitute for a laptop computer. Compared with most other tablets, it has the advantage of power, connectivity and a very decent QWERTY keyboard that doesn’t weigh a ton.

In fact, the keyboard will add another 0.7 lbs to the overall weight. Adding the keyboard case transforms the SP3 from a big heavy tablet weighing 1.76 lb, to a featherlight, full powered laptop weighing “just” 2.46 lb. Just for reference, the MacBook air 13.3″ weighs in at 2.96 lb (which is not exactly heavy).

It’s definitely skewed towards the laptop end of the spectrum. When you separate it from its keyboard it will function as a reasonably good tablet – albeit slightly on the large side.

It’s a computer for those who mostly want the power of a laptop, but with the freedom of a tablet from time to time. For those who want the best of both worlds, the Surface Pro 3 is, for the moment at least, about as good as it gets. So if you are looking for a tablet and laptop in one then this is your best choice.

Best Tablet or Laptop computers

Best Tablet or Laptop computers
Trying to decide which is the best tablet computer is nothing short of an exercise in futility. Tablets are, after all, personal electronic devices, which may explain why people seem to have very strong feelings about these devices. Of course, these opinions are not always (not often?) factually informed.

Tablets are the cool kids of the computer market right now. If you hang around with them, you can, by association, be cool too. It is, for the moment at least, a popularity contest.

So, who should you hang out with to get your transference of cool? Who are the most popular kids in the tablet school right now? Let’s have a quick look at tabl3t popularity based on sales volume.

1. Apple iPad

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Apple’s iPad is still the most popular tablet. The iPad Air and the iPad Mini form a formidable tag team for Apple and helped it to achieve 36% of all tablt sales worldwide in 2014.

Admittedly, that’s down from the 53% of worldwide sales Apple achieved in 2012, but competition has really heated up during 2013 – and sales of more than a third are still very impressive.

What may, or may not, be just a little surprising for Apple aficionados is the fact that the iPad Mini is now outselling the “big” iPad Air. The late, great, Steve Jobs may have been more than a little dismissive about 7″ tablets, although Apple’s Mini has a 7.9″ screen, but Apple’s legion of fans seem to be more impressed by the pocket rocket than its big brother just at the moment.

Easy to use with one hand, lighter and more portable and, since the last update, just (about) as powerful as the Air, the iPad Mini is the most popular tablet computer in the world right now.

2. Samsung Galaxy Tab

In 2013, Android tablets outsold iOS ones for the first time. The split was 62% Android, 38% iOS. The iOS share is basically Apple’s iPad, the Android share is made up from a large number of other manufacturers. Samsung was, by a country mile, the most successful manufacturer of Android tablets in 2013.

Samsung really closed the gap on Apple, increasing from a 2012 market share of 7.4% to an impressive 19.1% in 2013.

The company offers a huge range of tablets from 7″ up to 10.1″. They also (like Apple) have a range of phones, some of which are more like small tablets than large phones. The phone/tablet combination, which lets users sync their music, e-mails, and other files between devices seems to be a winning one.

Samsung is mounting a very strong challenge to Apple and, just at the moment, the Galaxy Tab 4 7″ version is probably their most attractive offering.

3. Asus

In a rather distant, but still noteworthy, third place, ASUS accounted for 5.6% of the 2013 market, up from 5.4% in 2012. It offers a huge range of tablet computers.
The “Google” Nexus 7 may well be the best known right now, but there are some equally good tablets to be found elsewhere in the ASUS range.

The T100 Transformer book has proved to be a big hit for ASUS. It’s popular with users who want the portability of a tablet but who need a QWERTY keyboard to input larger volumes of text from time to time. The T100’s split personality makes it more interesting than cool perhaps, but it does have a certain appeal.

4. Amazon Kindle Fire

It’s a little surprising to see Amazon in fourth place with 4.8% of the market, which is down from 6.6% in 2012. The Kindle Fires does very well with anyone who is a recurring Amazon customer, and especially Amazon Prime members.

The Fire HDX is probably the pick of the Fire bunch at the moment, it’s a lot of worth for the money. However, for every person who thinks that it’s the best tablet for the money, there’s someone else who feels that it is just another electronic point of sale for Amazon.

Of course, that’s an accusation that could be just as easily aimed at the iPad and Apple’s iStore. The fact is that integration with a content system is a big advantage for mobile devices and allows them to be sold at lower prices based on the fact that ongoing content sales will make up the profits later.

With the introduction of Amazon Fire TV and the Fire smartphone, Amazon now has a family of mobile devices which will sync together and allow you to access your content, as well as the Amazon store, wherever you are.

5. Lenovo

Lenovo may not exactly meet your expectations of a cool kid, but with 3.3% of the market (up from 1.9% in 2012), they definitely merit your attention.
Like most of the other manufacturers, Lenovo have a wide range of tablets, including the now ubiquitous 7″ and 10″ slate types.

However, it’s the Lenovo Yoga tablet, paired with a matching bluetooth QWERTY keyboard more often than not, that’s getting all of the attention right now. A stunning battery life and eye-catching design combine with a great display and good technical spec to make the Yoga one of the cool kids to be seen with right now.

6. Which Type Of Computer Is Best For College Students – Other Manufacturers

Don’t worry too much if you haven’t seen anyone that you want to hang out with just yet. The “other” manufacturers, none of whom account for more than 3.0 5 of the market individually, account for a hefty 31% of the market. These aren’t cheap, nameless, far eastern imports of dubious quality. We’re talking about offerings from the likes of Dell, HP and Microsoft here.

As the tablet market matures, you can expect changes in the market share. Especially when corporate procurement departments start calling the shots ( most purchases are currently for personal use). Even personal purchases may be influenced by a desire to hook up with corporate software in the near future, in which case you might expect Windows tablets to become more popular and make up some ground on iOS and Android.

Bill Gates’ Microsoft may not exactly be one of the cool kids, but with a combination of smarts and tenacity, you could do worse than to hang out with a Surface Pro, or similar Windows tabl3t.

Conclusion – Should i buy a Tablet or Laptop?

There isn’t really a one size fits all answer. Different college courses may have different requirements, and individual students will have different preferences also.

In the end, you are unlikely to make a choice which renders your selected computer useless. It may be less handy than others, but you’ll always be able to get by.

If in doubt, it’s well worth making contact with the college of your choice – or, even better, speak to some past or current students and get their recommendations.