Product Reviews

Which Is Best for Productivity: A High-End Tablet Or a Cheap Laptop?

Mihir Patkar 04-11-2013

A great tablet like an Apple iPad Air or a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition Review and Giveaway The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition provided me with the most pleasant tablet experience I have ever had. Now's your chance to win one for free! Read More costs about the same as a budget laptop these days. Of course, tablets are great too, especially as a back-to-school option Back-To-School 2013: Tablet Buying Guide Tablets are an important tool for students; they can be used for carrying your eTextbooks, taking notes during lectures, or doing online research. Read More .


But how does a cheap laptop compare to an expensive tablet when it comes to actually working on a daily basis? Should you buy a high-end tablet or a budget laptop to get things done?

Over the past few months, I have used an iPad New iPad Review and Giveaway The third generation (2012) iPad was announced on March 7, 2012, and have recently reached their new owners across the globe. How does it compare to its predecessors -- the iPad 2 and original iPad?... Read More , an HP SlateBook x2, and a few other budget laptops for at least a week. So here’s what I found out in terms of being productive on these devices.



Emailing is now one of the most important components of the work day and on this front, there’s little compare between a laptop and a tablet. On a Windows PC, you have plenty of email clients like Thunderbird and Outlook that will satisfy every emailing need, not to mention web-based clients like Gmail. On Android The 10 Best Email Apps for Android, Compared Email on a smartphone? Use one of these excellent email apps for Android to make the experience more productive and enjoyable. Read More and iOS Are You Using the Best iPhone Email Client? The number of iPhone email clients has exploded over the last year, ever since Apple's "no two apps that do the same thing" rule appears to have been retired in favour of common sense. Apple's... Read More , there is no shortage of robust, fantastic email clients either.

Through my tests, I found that push notifications on tablets always alerted me of new emails, which is great if you need to always be updated. The advantage is being able to quickly check messages, without the hassle of opening a laptop lid or waiting for your PC to boot up.


Power email users would benefit from using laptops, especially if you rely on the many extensions available for Gmail in Chrome Turn Gmail Into A Productivity Beast With These Chrome Extensions [Beta Invites] Gmail is a fantastic email client. In fact, I will go as far to say that it’s the best. With that said, can it really get any better? With these Chrome extensions, it can. And... Read More and Firefox, as well as those for Thunderbird 5 Thunderbird Add-Ons That Will Make it Better Than Gmail For many years, I switched between a whole range of email clients. First I went with Outlook Express. Then I bought a new computer and decided to test the waters with Thunderbird. Once Gmail became... Read More .

Verdict: Tie

Writing (Typing)

By default, tablets have a virtual, on-screen keyboard and laptops have a physical keyboard, so it should come as no surprised that laptops win this round. But what about tablets like the ASUS Transformer ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T Review and Giveaway The $450 ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity (TF700T) is a high-powered, lightweight tablet with a detachable keyboard you'll actually enjoy typing on. Not everyone thinks the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity is the best tablet on the... Read More or the HP SlateBook x2, which feature keyboard docks?

The writing experience on these devices is pretty good if you are using a comparable application. For example, if you use Google Docs Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind For the majority of my life, Microsoft Word was the word processing tool to use if you were going to do any serious work. Sure, there were alternatives like Corel WordPerfect and later on OpenOffice,... Read More on your laptop and Google Docs on your tablet, then there’s no difference between the two (especially if you switch to the desktop version on your tablet). I wrote entire articles on tablets and had no issues at all.


Verdict: Tie — but with the caveat that you are using a tablet with a keyboard dock. Otherwise, laptops win.

Work Suite


While typing was generally fine on both tablets and laptops, the lack of Microsoft Word made things a little trickier. While there are alternatives, Microsoft Office remains the best office suite around. Indeed, no office suite on Android or iOS matches up to Microsoft’s ubiquitous desktop solution.

Microsoft Office Microsoft Office 2013: The Unofficial Guide If you're considering an upgrade to Office 2013, or you've just paid for the package and want to make the best of it, this Microsoft Office 2013 Guide is for you. Read More is so full of different features, and works so splendidly with all the file formats out there, that it is undoubtedly the main reason to opt for a laptop over a tablet. And there are really good word processors for tablet operating systems, but if most of your work involves PowerPoint or Excel, none of the current offerings match up to MS Office.


Verdict: Laptops win!

Image Editing

All you need to do is run Adobe Photoshop on a laptop and a tablet next to each other to see how severely limited the image editing apps on tablets are. Use Aviary, Photoshop Touch, Snapseed or any other app you want, they just aren’t going to match up to a desktop program, and there are plenty of great image editors 10 Free Image Editing Programs for your PC Read More .

Tablet apps are good enough for very basic tasks, like cropping a photo or applying basic touch-ups, but you aren’t going to be able to use them for any serious image editing.

Verdict: Laptops win!




Affordable laptops are usually priced at $500 or $600, and you aren’t going to get a sleek, lightweight laptop for that money. Even if you consider netbooks an option, those aren’t going to be good enough to get any real work done either. In general, budget laptops are heavy and clunky, so they aren’t the best when it comes to carrying them around everywhere.

Tablets, on the other hand, are lightweight and portable.

Verdict: Tablets win!

Battery Life

You don’t usually find good battery life with budget laptops. On average, you can expect anywhere between 4 hours to a maximum of 5.5 hours of battery life.

It’s the exact opposite for high-end tablets. The new iPad Air has great battery life of about 10 hours (previous generations perform similarly), and if you consider tablets with docks like the HP SlateBook x2, those lasts anywhere between 14 and 16 hours on a single charge.

Verdict: Tablets win!

Professional Apps

No contest here. Tablets just aren’t good at letting you perform professional tasks like video editing, image editing, website design, coding, computer-aided design, and so on.

Verdict: Laptops win!

Which Camp Are You In?

There you have it. Final total, laptops beat tablets 5-4. But it’s a close call and you really need to decide what your productivity needs are. If you mainly use email, want a device that you can carry around easily and will last you a whole day without needing to be charged, a tablet becomes a better choice than a laptop. For most other scenarios, a laptop is a better choice.

This isn’t the first time we’ve put tablets up against laptops. Christian Cawley went a week using only his tablet for work MakeUseOf Experiments: Going Tablet-Only For a Week & Staying Productive You took one look at the headline and thought "this guy is crazy", right? That's pretty much what I thought at first, but as the week progressed I found myself struggling with apps, multi-tasking and... Read More . You should really read about his experience if you’re thinking of going tablet-only for work.

So given the option, which do you prefer? Do you think it makes more sense to spend more and get something like a Microsoft Surface 2 Pro, giving you the best of both worlds?

Image credits: Boss and secretary Via Shutterstock, stepnout, QuesterMark, Christian Steen, quinn.anya

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Zipp
    September 5, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    1) you can get push notifications on a laptop
    2) you don't really have to wait for it to boot up if running off of an emmc chip (common in the cheap laptops of today) or an ssd in a traditional laptop.
    3) You can get the works (not the discontinued microsoft productivity suite, i use the word to mean all the essentials you might need for daily tasks and office work) on almost anything if you use half a brain. There are open source solutions for almost every platform.

  2. Frank
    February 5, 2015 at 3:05 am

    ...and then the surface pro 3 came along and made this whole article moot.

  3. Peter
    January 29, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I actually got both a 15 inch laptop and 7 inch tablet in the same year (2013) when my old laptop died. The laptop is only mid-spec, but it does everything I need, and left some budget to purchase another 'cheap' tablet for $169. No regrets as they are useful in different occasions.

  4. Matt
    January 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I'm trying to make a decision myself, I have an outdated Alienware and I end up using my phone for about 80% of my basic computing (web browsing/YouTube/emails...) but it works poorly for more advanced tasks because obviously that's not what it was designed to do. I use my laptop for audio editing and djing, so I need something with and advanced sound card, and this puts me in the 1k and above range of laptops (I also hate cheap laptops because they're slow) so I've decided to buy a smaller tablet (7-9") and plan to use this with my phone/laptop until I upgrade my laptop in several years.

  5. TimB
    December 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Some say this is the "post-PC" era. I'm not so sure. As an aspiring novelist I'm looking for a device that is good to great for writing, which means it has something very close to MS Office or Scrivener and a great keyboard. Problem is that I want it to be very portable--convenient to sling in a bag and ride the bike somewhere. I've tried the Transformer Android series and it is pretty close to the mark. The Windows version (T100) may be even better. Work recently provided the Lenovo Helix combo which is pretty nice but the 11 in screen is actually too big to be a useful tablet. And screen resolution becomes overkill because 1600 lines of resolution makes stuff awfully small. For coffee shop/book store writing, a 13in laptop seems the way to go. For transport, a 10 or 11 inch ultra. Even the 8 inch Dell seems tempting. Very hard to decide.

  6. SCB
    December 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    My choice:

    When it comes to productivity, no denying that a tablet would be adequate, but the laptop wins for me. I have a Macbook Air though, so its a high end, lightweight computer and not a budget laptop.

  7. n.p
    November 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Being a designer I need both laptop and GN10.1. As drawing, notetaking function is not available on laptop. Also reviewing pdfs and reading books is done on the tablet. I started typing on GN recently as I got new keyboard. Using sofa more and more because it spares my damaged pc muscles.

  8. Tarun
    November 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I use windows laptop and ipad both and seriously for professional work laptop is thee best. Ipad is good for fun playing emailing and little bit of work but when it comes to hardcore work ,i have to open laptop. Now days windows ultrabook laptop are portable like tablets.

  9. Dr. Keshav Sharma
    November 6, 2013 at 2:16 am

    What I can suggest is this. If one can afford a laptop and a tablet, then do that. This is a nice combination. Have a good day.

  10. Brent Jones
    November 5, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Laptops rule. My current setup: $320 ASUS laptop Win 8. Also Kindle Fire HD $200. Old Android smart phone.
    Would like Apple if I made 4 times as much salary.

    I am 63 years old. Learned to program IBM 360 in college (1969) Borrowed Apple II and TRS-80 and eventually got to DOS 1.1 to 7 (end). Win 3.1 to 8 Skipped Vista and Win 7. Will wait 3 more months for 8.11 Windows upgrade. :-) 8.1 don't cut it.

    Got the educator discount on MS Office 2010 then free upgrade to 2013. $99. Surprisingly included 4 years of updates using Office 365. I also use and teach / SkyDrive which has free Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Heavy gmail and google drive user.

  11. Peter H
    November 5, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    whatever turns your crank. people who are into non-desktop tech already have either or both. sometimes "prestige" appearance is more important than ability (especially in Starbucks near a U). Gender doesn't seem to matter although laptops are more common among the young while tablets serve the older. Just my observations as I use neither although I have an iPad. After 30 years using PCs, I find the time to relearn is hampered by my now useless knowledge.

  12. John
    November 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    New term at college - month one - all the new tablets come out of students bags - many are only seven inchers.
    Month two - many old battered laptops appear, hurriedly mailed from home. Some seven inch tablet owners try to struggle on with blue tooth keyboards.
    End of first term presentation - how do you connect your iPad to the LCD projector? (which still has a 15pin D sub plug)
    Rule one college - buy a (Windows) laptop!
    New job first day Macbook Air? You'll need 75 pounds worth of adapters from the iShop to connect to the office infrastructure.
    Connect your tablet at work? Are you joking? Wifi only available in the restaurant.
    Keyboard and mouse = work
    finger poking half screen covered by keyboard = toy town.
    Rule one work- buy a (Windows) laptop!

  13. Robert
    November 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I, like many others who commented here, believe that nothing beats a laptop. However, that isn't always true for ALL users. My teenage son showed me how wrong I am.

    He showed me that he can create and edit documents on our home computer using Google Docs (which is FREE), save them on the cloud, then when he's ready he would print out his homework from his Android phone to our wireless printer. What does this prove? It proves that for students and low-end users, a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard can do what a laptop can do.

    High-end users won't have the same opinion, however. It all depends on how much processing power you really need. For me, instead of buying a replacement desktop or laptop for the home this year, a tablet will be a solution that would take up much less room around the house!

  14. Richard S
    November 5, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Interesting article. I am close to making a new purchase due to a dying laptop, useless 7" tablet and an ageing desk top. Win8pro on latter and WP8 on phone. Logic tells me to go Win8 for the new middle device. I find I'm using phone for social media and emails and desktop for "real work." As I need non Ms software an RT based device is not on and newer convertibles do look attractive compromise. Really ipads and android tabs are consumer products only. No offence if you own one, but macs and pc still rule.

    • likefunbutnot
      November 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      I don't think that's completely true. I do think the inability of iOS to deal with arbitrary data represents a deal-breaker, but Android doesn't have those drawbacks. Android pretty much plays nice with everything in a way that nothing else really does.

      Windows Mobile and Windows RT presently don't have widespread app support in the same way, which at times means having a less than glamorous experience with some online services while the most compelling statement I can make about RT is the fact that RT devices have a fully functional USB port and good support for local (USB) printers. But RT has some pretty big holes of its own, like very limited ability to share data with outside services .

  15. Oswaldo Bellido
    November 5, 2013 at 2:51 am

    My experience is that a tablet can work along with a laptop. I print out CAD files to PDF format, transfer them to the tablet, carry the tablet to the work site. My laptop sits at the office, thank you. Also, you can upload CAD files to the AutoCAD 360 cloud, then download them to your tablet (for that, you need at least a dual core processor and a 9" screen). You must follow these steps to be able to view your CAD files offline.

  16. Brayan Habid
    November 5, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I think that the best option is a surface with Windows pro, as it has the best of both things. However, that's an expensive option.
    There are some laptop with touch screen (I own one of those), and that's the best possible thing available. All the apps, a rather good battery, and no touchpad (I dislike them). A Windows 8 with big buttons, and it's even easier to use than a pc with a mouse.

  17. likefunbutnot
    November 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    A Surface Pro is actually a really great compromise between the laptop and tablet. I carry and use pretty much all of the above (laptop, Surface Pro, tablet, phone), but in a pinch I can access all my computing tasks from any of the above: My phone or tablets can always remote in to a real computer if I need to do work. They can all print everyplace I might want paper to come out (Google Cloud Print is my friend) and in theory I can use all of them with a bluetooth keyboard for better input.

    If the choice comes down to a CHEAP laptop vs. a tablet, I'd give credit to the tablet since it's likely a lot more portable, durable and power efficient. Cheap laptops break and tend to have frustratingly low-resolution screens and I'd just as soon not waste money on one. But I say that as someone who also has access to a "home base" of desktops and server systems for real work. Anything I happen to be carrying can talk to those guys anyway.

  18. Hildy J
    November 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    What you want is a Windows 8 tablet with an active digitizer. It adds a new category: Writing (Inking). It beats both phone OS tablets and cheap laptops at this as it allows text input via Windows handwriting recognition and drawing on Office files and PDFs for comments, notes, or emphasis. The stylus also gets it a win in Image Editing unless you use a Wacom pad attached to your laptop.

    It also gets the laptop's Work Suite and Professional Apps while retaining the tablet's Portability and Battery Life.

  19. crescentdave
    November 4, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I just laughed when I read your article's conclusion. Let's recap these rather limited points of comparison, focusing on productivity- also known as tasks specifically related to business, education and creativity. And let's add a key element- the extent to which these hardware/software devices allow more or less powerful utilization in these areas.

    Input: laptop, unless (& almost everyone would argue for a full sized keyboard as being superior), you're using a tablet with a dedicated keyboard- also known as a two part, dumbed-down laptop. Business software: laptop. Graphics: laptop. So in terms of providing the foundation for actual productivity- in all it's manifestations- your conclusion is it's a "close call?"

    Now, let's include some other elements which might be "peripherally" associated with productivity, shall we? What about "always available" storage? What about connectivity, when transferring any and all digital forms of information from one machine to another, or when using exotic peripherals like scanners and printers? What about screen real-estate for programs, as opposed to "apps?" What about having open, resizable windows and full-on multi-tasking?

    Cue face palm.

  20. Joel L
    November 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    My own experience is that tablets are great for portability and passive tasks (such as browsing the web, watching videos, catching up on RSS feeds, checking your email, etc) but laptops win out for active tasks (such as writing, editing, creating, organizing, etc). For the former I already have my phone.

    I've been considering a new budget laptop and wasn't sure if I should go with a tablet or not, but I think you've convinced me that a laptop is the better option. A tablet with a docked keyboard seems about as much a pain for portability as a laptop, anyway.

    Thanks Mihir!

    • Mihir Patkar
      November 5, 2013 at 6:24 am

      For writing, I actually found a tablet+keyboard combo to be fine. Editing is where it lost out more for me.

      I guess it depends on your definition of productivity, but like you, I need a laptop, not a tablet :)

  21. MrPan
    November 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    New Windows 8 tablet with Office and keyboard docks are the best choice! Surface Pro 2, Asus Transformer Book T100, Dell Venue 11 Pro, Dell Venue Pro 8, HP Omni 10! Android and iPads are a joke when it comes to productivity.

  22. Dave P
    November 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Chromebook. Seriously.

    • Mihir Patkar
      November 5, 2013 at 6:22 am

      I'm actually going to be trying out the Acer one soon. Connectivity in India is horrible, which is my main issue with Chrome OS in the past. I need enough offline stuff.

  23. Dave Randall
    November 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Laptop everytime for me. Tablets are hateful things. Everything is counter productive. I guess it depends what you do.

  24. Jon
    November 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    I hate to say it, but if you didn't use the iWork apps on the iPad, you may not realize how much more a tablet (iPad) can do. I don't use either an iPad, nor the iWork apps on my phone, but I do use them on my Mac, and the newest versions bring feature parity to the two. It's a very powerful suite of apps. I can easily imagine that I could, using them on the iPad, with a keyboard, replace my MacBook Pro for most things. Not, mind you, that I think I would want to (I would miss my Finder and file system), but I think that, for travel, and mobility around town, the iPad with keyboard would be a killer combo.

    • Mihir Patkar
      November 5, 2013 at 6:21 am

      I've used iWork on the iPad. While powerful, it still has several limitations, like not supporting macros.