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How to Know When to Choose a Tablet Versus a Laptop





You may have thought about whether you can get by with a tablet instead of a laptop in your business.

While in some cases, a tablet may absolutely be the right choice, in other cases, it might not fit the bill. When it comes to deciding between a tablet and laptop for your primary business device, it really depends on what you plan to use it for.

Though decisions of this kind usually have to be made on a case-by-case basis, below is a list of situations where it makes sense to use a laptop instead of a tablet and vice versa.



When to Choose a Laptop

When You’re Composing and Editing Lots of Documents

For instance, many tablets don’t run on Windows. So if you’re a big Microsoft Office user, you may have a problem there. Let’s say the majority of your computer needs involve using these or other software like them to create and work with word documents, spreadsheets etc. Using a tablet could mean not having access to the software you use for these functions. Or you may not have access to the version you would have on a laptop. Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint may have advanced features that aren’t available with apps on a tablet or when using Google Docs.

When You Do a Lot of Heavy Data Keying

When you have to key in a lot of data or do a lot of typing, it can be cumbersome to do it on a touchscreen. Even an attachable keyboard may limit how efficiently or how fast you can work if you just flat out have a lot of typing to do due to its smaller size. Save the heavy typing activities for a laptop. A tablet, in this case, may not be right for you.

When You Need Extra Processing Power or Screen Real Estate

You may find it takes more work to build a database, edit images or video, or perform other activities on a tablet versus a laptop. This may have to do not just with the processing power of your tablet, it may also simply be harder to edit video, photos or other documents on a smaller screen. This is especially true with smaller seven or eight inch tablets. Again do yourself a favor. Bring in a laptop with more processing power and a bigger screen.

When Touchscreen Technology Makes the Task Laborious

If you need to do a lot of online research or anything that requires a lot of copying and pasting, it may be time to rethink your decision  to abandon a laptop. This can be laborious work with the typical touchscreen tablet. Also, most tablets allow you to only view one screen or application at a time. If you need to jump back and forth between screens or applications to copy anything or gather information, it’s time consuming.

Even with tablets that allow two apps to run at the same time, you may only be able to choose from a limited number of “approved” options for this purpose.  Even though more laptops are employing touchscreen technology, using one gives you the option to work in multiple screen and the ease of keyboard commands, should you need them.

When You Use Software That Won’t Run on a Tablet

This problem has been previously addressed above as it relates to those who use their devices to compose and edit a lot of documents. Very often the same software they use on a laptop either isn’t available or doesn’t have the same features in its tablet version.

Just remember.  Tablets are app focused while laptops are software focused. There may not be an app for the procedure you regularly use your laptop software to perform. Or your company may use proprietary software that cannot run on a tablet at all. For example, most tablets run on Android, iOS, or Windows RT. If you need a certain piece of software that only runs on Windows, you may need to either look for a Windows 8 tablet or go with a laptop instead.

When You Need a Device Family Won’t Borrow!

Let’s face it. Tablets can be used for a whole lot more than business. They can be used to watch movies and videos, listen to music or play the latest video game, for example. Family members, especially children, are more likely to think of a tablet as an entertainment device and want to use it. If you want to avoid risking important business files inadvertently being disturbed by a “borrowing” family member, get a laptop. (Or better yet, buy them their own tablet!)

When to Choose a Tablet

When Price is a Major Consideration

Tablets tend to be less expensive than laptops, although the difference in price is narrowing. It’s not as much of a difference as it used to be. But when comparing price, consider how you’ll use that tablet.

If you need a keyboard and case so you can use your tablet as a desktop or laptop replacement when traveling, stop and think. Be sure to factor in the extra cost of those accessories. You may also need a larger 10-inch tablet if you need to do keyboard work, compose and edit documents, or do other intensive projects on your device. All of these things may potentially add considerable expense. So you may find the price advantage of a tablet in this case is minimal.

When a WiFi Signal Isn’t Available

Some tablets use a wireless cell network, for example 3G, 4G or 4G LTE. And if you can’t get a WiFi signal, you can use your data connection through the tablet to connect. On the other hand, it may be difficult to find a laptop with built-in cellular network connectivity. So without WiFi, you may be out of luck.

When You Need to Pack Extra Light for Travel

You can often keep tablets packed away through airport security, whereas you may be required to pull out your laptop from your briefcase. Tablets also tend to be lighter than laptops. Although just like with price, the weight difference is narrowing. Laptops and notebooks are getting smaller, thinner and lighter. So this may not be a consideration forever.

When You Use Your Device While Walking Around

Let’s say you use your device for doing checklists or verifications while on the move. Maybe it could be used for filling out insurance claims or checking inventory. Are these the kinds of activities you want to be carting around a laptop or even a notebook to do?

Laptops and notebooks have come a long way in terms of their portability. So you may think nothing of taking one with you to work or even to a coffee shop. Anywhere with a table, desk or other flat surface that can become your office.  But carrying a laptop around with you constantly so you can glance down at it or work from it while on the go is another story. This is a time to consider a tablet instead.

When You Need A POS (Point of Sale) Alternative

For restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores and even street vendors, the tablet has become a vital new tool. And in this case it’s not the laptop or notebook the device is replacing. In fact, it’s the traditional cash register. Card reader attachments and apps allow tablets to do so much more than take credit card payments and keep track of revenue. They also gather analytics. If you need a device to perform any of these functions, a tablet may be your best bet.

When Using Loyalty Programs or Promotional Coupons

You can place a tablet on the counter in your retail store, bakery or other brick and mortar for customers to collect discounts, sign up for loyalty program points or “check in” on social media sites. While these things could be done on a laptop too, it isn’t as elegant a solution — and looks matter.

When Reading eBooks or Doing Other Leisurely Activities

As we  pointed out earlier, tablets are often more fun and convenient for watching videos, playing a game, doing general web browsing and some other entertaining activities. If you need to catch up on your ebook reading while on a business trip, it’s a great option, too. While this makes a tablet a bad choice if family members are going to want to borrow it, the reverse is true for your more casual business use. After all, it’s hard to curl up in bed with a laptop to do some reading. A tablet, on the other hand, is made for this.

When Apps Just Work Better

One case in point is Microsoft’s OneNote. It has more features as a Windows app than it does in the browser-based version. Though it varies by software, sometimes the app version is just easier to use or better. If you use a lot of these kinds of solutions in your business, then a tablet may definitely be the right option.

Still Not Sure Which to Get? Get Both!

There are times, of course, when it’s not necessary to make a choice. Some devices offer the best of both worlds. The Asus Transformer Book Trio runs both Windows 8 and Android, for instance. It costs a bit more, but you will have access to two different operating systems in one device. Another device is the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It handles like a tablet but has the power of a laptop.

No matter what kind of device you choose for your business, be sure it meets your specific needs. The scenarios above should give you some idea of when certain devices are better than others. But ultimately every business is different. So asking some questions about how you plan to use your technology should guide you in your decision making.

Tablet Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

8 Comments ▼

Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends. A professional journalist with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business, he has another 10 years of experience in digital media for trade publications and news sites. Shawn has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and eventually managing editor with responsibility for nine weekly newspapers, the Berks Mont Newspapers. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

8 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    I agree. A laptop is still better for documents, presentations, coding and spreadsheets while a tablet is good for social media updates and reading e-books.

  2. Great Article for indepth Knowledge!

  3. Martin Lindeskog

    Shawn,

    I would say the last option: “Still Not Sure Which to Get? Get Both!” 😉

  4. Tablets are curious things, but it sounds like a laptop would be much better for me for what I do. If I could afford it though, I’d get both as a tablet would come in handy for some things.

  5. I have a 27′ laptop with Windows 7 (recently purchased & WANTED Windows 7) and I use Office 2007.
    I have re-created family recipes & new recipes in Word –

    but would like something smaller to use in the Kitchen that will READ my Office Word documents AND to carry with me to Read ebooks.

    Is there such a thing?

  6. My primary use of a laptop is YouTube and movies. But I also like to write documents; engage in conversations in forums; unlimited free Internet; be able to take something small with me; do a lot of research; attach external drives; play CD’s. Will a tablet be all I need for this?

  7. I recently got a Surface 3 and have been frustrated beyond measure at the lack of apps the Windows Store has, the uploading time for videos, the outdated app the Windows store DOES have etc. I have a social media based business and was looking for something to help do short (1-3 minute) videos, customize pictures etc and I guess I completely failed at researching this tablet because it has not been fun to use at all. I have spent countless hours reading about additional ways to amp it up for what I need and continue to waste hours I don’t have with the device on what should be simple task. I think I’m going to take it back and go back to using my Samsung Tablet. 🙁

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