As tablets grow more powerful and useful, it’s difficult to know whether or not a tablet could replace your laptop. In the end, it just depends on your needs.
The Line Between Tablets and Laptops is Blurring
Year by year, the world of tablets and the world of laptops are slowly converging. Microsoft’s Surface tablets run Windows OS, and the new iPad Pro is faster than 92% of all laptops. At the same time, modern laptops have touchscreens, and some 2-in-1 laptops promise the power of a laptop with the convenience of a tablet.
With all of this in mind, it’s hard to know if a tablet’s worth buying, especially if you’re considering a tablet as an alternative to a laptop.
First thing’s first, you should ask yourself what you use a laptop for. Do you use it for entertainment, or do you use it for work? Do you like to run software like Photoshop, or do you do everything in the browser? While some tablets are great for resource-heavy professional work, others are best suited for casual work and entertainment.
You should also ask yourself how much money you’re willing to spend. Tablets consistently have lower specs than similarly-priced laptops, and you generally have to dip your toes into the $700+ range to find a tablet that can run Photoshop, professional video software, or resource-hungry games. Of course, you could always spend less if you’re just trying to watch Netflix or do browser-based work on a tablet.
The Surface Tablet: A Laptop in Disguise
Microsoft’s Surface tablets are basically just laptops with a detachable keyboard and a touchscreen. They run on Windows 10, they’re compatible with all Windows software and hardware (mice, keyboards, etc.), and they can even connect to an external monitor for a desktop-like experience.
So, a Surface tablet is the go-to laptop alternative for Photoshop nerds, PC gamers, Netflix addicts, or dedicated Windows users. The thing is, most Surface tablets are low-spec machines, which may not be ideal for some people. If you want a Surface tablet that can handle resource-hungry software (like Photoshop), then you’ll have to shell out some serious cash.
As an example, the $700 Surface Pro tablet (without the $100 Surface pen) only comes with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state storage. Those aren’t ideal specs for video editing, photo editing, or gaming. In contrast, the similarly priced (but often discounted) Lenovo S145-15IWL laptop comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage—and it has a bigger screen to boot. On the opposite side of that coin, the larger screen, and beefier specs also make it less portable.
Now the price disparity is only important if you need a tablet that can serve as a direct replacement to a high-spec laptop. If you’re just trying to browse the web, write, watch videos, or work with Google docs, then a low-spec Surface tablet (like the Surface Go or an older Surface tablet) will work just fine.
The iPad: Great for Artists and Apple Fans
Unlike Microsoft’s Surface tablets, Apple’s iPads run on iOS, a mobile operating system (for now, at least). And while you’d think that this would limit the iPad’s ability to replace a laptop, it’s actually one of the iPad’s greatest strengths.
iPads can’t run software like a MacBook or a Windows laptop. But the Apple App Store is filled to the brim with professional software that is optimized for iOS devices. These apps range from Microsoft Word to Google Docs, to a slew of Photoshop alternatives, and even some video editing suites. Just keep in mind that these resource-heavy apps work best on the iPad Pro, but they’ll work on the iPad Air or the standard iPad.
Now, is it comfortable to use these apps for full-time work? It just depends on what you’re doing. The iPad doesn’t have a dedicated “desktop mode,” so switching between apps can be a bit clunky. And while Apple does sell an official iPad keyboard, it doesn’t come with a trackpad. In fact, mice don’t work on the iPad at all (again, for now), which can make document editing and web browsing a bit difficult.
If you’re an Apple fan, a casual document editor, or a visual artist, then the iPad can indeed replace a laptop. And naturally, the iPad is excellent for streaming video or playing mobile games. Just keep in mind that the iPad doesn’t sport a “desktop mode,” and it isn’t compatible with a mouse yet. When iPadOS is released later this year, it will improve the iPad’s ability to replace your laptop, but since we’ve yet to see how that will work in everyday use, we’ll reserve opinion on how much of a gamechanger it’s going to be. Still, it is something to consider.
The Pixel Slate: A Clunky Tablet Version of the Pixelbook
Like the Surface tablet, the Google Pixel Slate runs on a desktop OS—Chrome OS, to be exact. We’re big fans of Chrome OS. It’s a clean looking interface that runs well on low-spec devices. And while most people write it off as “just a browser,” it can also run Android apps and Linux software. Besides, browser-based applications like Google’s GSuite or the Pixlr image editor are great alternatives to traditional Windows software.
That being said, some people need to work with professional software, not browser-based alternatives and apps. Not to mention the Pixel Slate is a bit clunky and laggy, especially when compared to the buttery-smooth performance of a Pixelbook (which is technically thinner and lighter than the Pixel Slate, by the way). If you’re already a fan of Chrome OS and want it in a tablet form-factor, then the Pixel Slate is your best bet—but for all other purposes, the Pixelbook is a better choice.
Android Tablets: Not Great for Work, Okay at Web Browsing
An Android tablet can make a good alternative to a laptop, provided that you don’t need to do a lot of computer-based work. Android tablets are limited by their mobile OS and the Google Play store, and it can be difficult to switch between Android apps the way that you might flip between windows on a laptop. And while there are rumors of an upcoming “desktop mode” for Android Q, its doubtful that the interface will come to devices anytime soon.
If you want to use an Android tablet as a laptop alternative right now, you should probably go for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 or Tab S5. These tablets come with an interface called DeX, which effectively turns the Android UI into something more akin to a desktop, with windows, a toolbar, desktop icons, and more. Just keep in mind that DeX just makes it easier to work on an Android tablet; it doesn’t come with any special apps or software.
That being said, Android tablets are ideal for entertainment, not for work. Sure, DeX can make casual writing or browser-based work more comfortable, but it isn’t a direct alternative to using a laptop.
At the end of the day, tablets and laptops are different platforms with different strengths. But those differences aren’t as apparent as they used to be. If a tablet suits your needs for work or play, then it may be time to tuck away your clunky old laptop in favor of a lean, mean, touchscreen machine.