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Oh My Tech!: Choosing between a laptop or tablet

Published December 5, 2013 11:23 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My father-in-law was faced with a pressing tech question that a lot of consumers will be toying with this holiday season: Do you get a laptop or computer tablet?

The problem is both categories of computing have been slowly merging — laptops are getting more portable and are coming with touchscreens, and tablets have become more powerful and can do the work of a full laptop.

In fact, computer tablets such as the iPad have become so useful and multi-functioning, sales figures suggest the tablet may be slowly eating away at the sales of laptops, and some believe it could eventually replace it as a computing category.

I'm not so sure of that right now. Both the tablet and the laptop still have unique abilities, and there are reasons to own each for different jobs.

In figuring out this question of which to get, the most important question to ask yourself, of course, is what kind of work will you be doing on it?

It's easy to break it down like this: The laptop with its physical keyboard and more robust computing power should be thought of as a "content creation" device, while the tablet is a "content consumption" device.

The laptop is what you would consider if you do a lot of writing, video and photo editing or tasks in which you will be using a keyboard or mouse a lot to create something.

The tablet is best used as a device to view videos, read books or surf the Internet. It's a device to consume media while laying on the couch or bed. Half of my TV viewing and Internet surfing is done on my iPad.

Of course you can pretty easily do all of those things on either a tablet or laptop — in fact, I'm writing this column on my iPad with a portable wireless keyboard. And you can just as easily watch movies and listen to music or read a book on a laptop.

However, a laptop is your best choice if you think you'll be spending most of your time doing real work, such as creating presentations with PowerPoint, editing home movies or even if it's just writing a document.

A laptop will have more storage than a tablet, and it's a much better device for multi-tasking and doing research. A laptop also has the advantage of running full-fledged Mac or Windows software, which tend to be more powerful and full-featured than tablet apps.

If you're going to just read a few emails, surf the web and get on Facebook or Twitter, then a tablet is the way to go.

There also can be a big difference in prices. A high-powered laptop, such as a MacBook Pro can cost more than a thousand dollars. PC laptops with a decent amount of power can run at least $500. But a tablet can cost as little as $129 for the Barnes & Noble Nook or $179 for a 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX. An iPad mini can be as little as $299.

The bottom line is if you're going to be a casual user, go with a tablet. If you're serious about doing important work, upgrade to a laptop.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.