Laptops versus Tablets

by Corinne Webb | Mar 17, 2011

The laptop, once the mainstay of portable computing, is facing some stiff competition, from not only smaller, lighter versions of itself such as the notebook, and more recently, the netbook, but new style devices altogether like the iPad, PDAs, and smartphones. But how do you know which to choose, and what is the difference anyway?

It’s easy for non-techies to get confused, especially as the distinction between gadgets can be pretty fuzzy.

Laptops, notebooks and netbooks are all very similar, and share the same kind of shape; they have a screen and a keyboard, with a hinge in-between. Tablets don’t. PDAs and smartphones fit in your pocket.

Laptops Once upon a time, there was only one choice. If you wanted a portable computer, you got a laptop. Currently, there are pretty much two or three sizes to choose from, those with a screen size around 15in, and the “desktop replacements” at around 17 or more.

Notebooks and Netbooks Notebooks on the other hand start at around 12in, going up to around the 15in mark, with netbooks smaller still at 10in or less.

The line gets a little vague, but broadly speaking, laptops are less portable than notebooks, and notebooks are less portable than netbooks. Laptops are generally more powerfuland heavy, netbooks are light and small, and they will fit in your handbag. They are designed primarily to allow you to use the Internet, hence the name. There is a price difference too, laptops start around £350 up to £2000 or more, and netbooks on the other hand are around the £200–£350 mark.

Tablets Tablets are something different altogether (although there are a few ‘hybrid’ models which even cross this line!). The tablet computer can usually be identified by its lack of keyboard, and instead utilises a touch-sensitive screen. The screen can have a ‘virtual’ keyboard for typing, or some use a stylus. The Apple iPad (and iPad2) is a tablet computer, and symbolises the link between the tablet computer and the mobile smartphone and PDA.

PDAs and Smartphones The PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, is a smaller, pocket- or hand-sized version of the tablet. Some are smartphones too, like the models from HTC or the iPhone. Smartphones are beginning to fulfil the same requirement as the netbook, the majority of them now able to do what most people want from a mobile computer, and that is to access andshare their ‘stuff’ anytime, from anywhere. This is where the smartphone has the edge. Because it is connected to the 3G network, it doesn’t need a Wi-Fi connection in your home or at a hotspot to connect to the Internet. And with more and more tablets being 3G capable, true portable computing is more accessible than ever before.

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