Should I Get a Laptop or Tablet for College?

If you’re about to go off to college (or even if you’re already there), you most likely want to be as prepared as possible for everything that comes your way. You probably want to have every tool at your disposal so you can accomplish your homework and your projects, do your presentations, and take your notes. After all, who wants to have bad grades, especially if you’re paying your own way through? Considering all of this, you may want to know whether you want a laptop or tablet for college.

Having a device to help you with everything from taking notes to doing presentations is practically part and parcel of college life. If you’re ready to move on from manual note-taking, and if you want to finally be able to have your own device instead of constantly having to borrow one, you may want to consider investing in one.

If you are asking yourself: should I get a laptop or a tablet for college?, then we are here to help you.

To figure out whether you want a laptop or tablet for college, you will first need to know the ins and outs of each. So let’s go ahead and talk about them!

> Tablets

To be completely honest, tablets these days are far more powerful and versatile than they used to be. There are various tablets from many different manufacturers, so you have pretty much the pick of the litter. Big names like Apple, Samsung, LG, Amazon, Huawei, Xiaomi and more all have tablets out on the market in varying prices and specifications. But of course, that doesn’t exactly tell you what tablets can do or why you should buy one over a laptop.

Let’s take an in-depth look at tablets so you can see if anything resonates with you, so you can decide whether you need a laptop or tablet for college!

Main Advantages of Tablets

  • Tablets make for great e-readers. If you love reading books and you want a way to be able to read them, tablets are an excellent choice. You aren’t entirely limited to just books, of course – with your handy dandy tablet you can read PDFs (hello, school notes!), comics and manga, and more. Some people might argue that you’re better off buying a dedicated e-ink device (like Amazon Kindles) for this purpose – some might even argue that reading actual books are better for the experience. However if you want to lessen your environmental footprint and limit clutter at the same time, tablets are definitely a decent option.
  • Productivity is possible on tablets! Although most people might think that tablets are solely for entertainment purposes, the truth is that they can also be used as small and portable productivity devices. Most tablets these days, regardless of operating system, have built-in or downloadable apps for productivity. Microsoft Office suite for example is available in most operating systems and devices. You might want an external physical keyboard for ease of typing, though.
  • Tablets can at times be better than some older laptops. This is something to consider if you are looking to purchase an older used laptop. Most newer tablets can handle content and apps better than older laptops. Tablets also double as gaming and multimedia devices.

Bonus Advantages of Tablets

  • Small presentations such as 1-on-1 meetings become much easier with tablets. Tablets require little to no preparation – just pop it out and open the app you need. Laptops can at times be finicky, requiring a boot up and so on. With your tablets you can share slideshows, PDFs, photos and videos quite easily and conveniently!
  • Tablets make for excellent entertainment stations. They’re extremely portable, usually have great battery life, and make for amazing traveling companions simply for the fact that you can play music and movies with them.
  • Tablets are often quite affordable. Of course like any other device there are low-end, mid-range, and high-end options. But you can usually find something in your price range that will do pretty much anything you need it to do.
  • Worried about crashes? Fortunately tablets usually don’t crash unless something is significantly wrong with them. And if they do crash, all it usually takes to fix it is a quick restart.
  • Traveling becomes much easier with your tablet, because you can open maps and various apps to help ease your travel. Sure your phone can do this too, but how about that extra screen real estate though?

Now that we’ve taken a look at the benefits of tablets, it’s also a good idea to look at what they can’t do and why they aren’t always the best solution for everything.

Disadvantages of Tablets

  • There are a lot of things tablets can’t do. Most tablet or gadget operating systems do have productivity apps, but there are still plenty of limitations to them. If you need specific apps that are not available on tablets, you’re out of luck
  • Tablets usually only have one (maybe two if you count the audio jack) port for connectivity. You cannot plug in mice or keyboards without special dongles or adapters – unless of course the said peripherals were specifically made for tablets. There are some conveniences and some inconveniences.
  • Multitasking on a tablet is quite difficult. Although there are are certain tablets that have provisions for things like split screen or a simple type of multi-tasking, you cannot truly multi-task on a tablet as you can on a computer.
  • Tablets usually come out really frequently, so if you buy a model now, a new and refreshed version might come out in a few months. If you’re the type to want the newest stuff all the time, this might not feel too good.

Now that we’ve talked a bit about tablets, we can now take a look at laptops so it becomes easier to answer “should I get a laptop or a tablet for college?

> LAPTOPS

Everyone knows what laptops are by now. Ideally, laptops are the best solution for a portable daily workhorse machine. They come in a variety of sizes and specifications to suit your needs, and if you buy the right model, you usually end up with enough power to do all the things you need to do, from word processing down to entertainment.

Laptops are versatile machines, and if you go shopping for them your options are pretty much endless. There are tons of big name (and smaller) manufacturers of laptops out there, and there are different types of laptops available – netbooks, gaming laptops, and so on. Laptops generally do the same things that a tablet can. They can do word processing, they are great multimedia and entertainment devices, and they are excellent for presentations. But of course, laptops have their own benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s take a closer look at laptops and what advantages they may have over tablets.

Advantages of Laptops

  • Laptops are typically far more versatile. Even though tablets can usually accomplish a lot of the things that laptops can, laptops still reign king when it comes to the ability to run more programs and apps. Depending on the operating system and specs, laptops usually get more options when it comes to programs than tablets do. And if you love yourself a good touch screen, a lot of laptops now come with them too.
  • Laptop operating systems have bigger ecosystems. Because laptop computers share the same operating systems as their desktop counterparts, and since of courses they have been around for longer, they have a big and stable ecosystem. Many developers work on applications for these operating systems, so you won’t be left wanting for certain apps or features.
  • Built-in physical keyboards will always be a positive. Even though you can basically circumvent this buy purchasing a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet, it’s simply much more convenient to have a laptop that already has it all built in, with no need to set up, connect, or pair a keyboard.
  • Multiple ports and options for connectivity are available for laptops, where tablets usually only have a few. Laptops will often have an HDMI port, an audio/microphone jack, USB ports of varying kinds, ethernet ports, and sometimes even 4-in-1 card readers. So if you want a machine where you can simply plug and play, laptops are the device of choice.
  • Gaming is better on laptops – provided you buy a model that can handle your gaming needs. To be frank, the options for gaming on mobile are quite limited. Windows machines typically have the most options when it comes to the availability of video games, so if you really want to use your machine to play your favorite titles, then your choice is a laptop.
  • When you take good care of your laptop, most of the time it will last you for several years. If you also shop wisely and buy a model with decent specs, you are also afforded a degree of “futureproof-ness”, so you won’t have to feel bad about not upgrading often.
  • Storage space is often in greater supply on laptops. You’ll often find models with up to 1 terabyte in storage space. There are of course devices that come with much smaller storage capacities, but since most laptops have USB ports it is much easier to use external storage solutions.

It sure looks as though laptops have many an advantage over tablets. However, they do have their disadvantages too. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Disadvantages of Laptops

  • Battery life for laptops are often not as long as tablets, unless you have a Mac (legendary for laptop battery life) or convertible 2-in-1 tablets with good batteries. That means you’ll usually find yourself looking for a power socket early, limiting your portability and flexibility. Need we also mention the annoyance that is having to lug around your power brick?
  • Sensitivity is also an issue when it comes to laptops. You need to take greater care with laptops in order to make sure they survive for years at a time.
  • Laptops can get hot sometimes. This is simply an issue that many have been dealing with for a long time. If your laptop is especially powerful, you will more often than not have issues with your laptop’s temperature and the need for cooling. So you will have to lug around a laptop cooler, or stick those feet on the bottom of your laptop that lift it off the table for air circulation.

It can be quite confusing to shop for a device for college. Deciding between a laptop and a tablet can be a bit hard, especially if you’re not really a gamer and you don’t really have any need for a powerful computer.

If you really can’t decide whether you should get a laptop or tablet for college, then there is another option… enter 2-in-1 convertible devices.

> 2-in-1 Convertible Devices

We know, we know. We basically just added another thing that will make it harder to decide what you should get. But the truth is 2-in-1 convertible devices might actually be the answer you are looking for. These combination laptop-tablet devices are great for if you want the flexibility and portability of a tablet, but you still need the laptop for its operating system and multiple available ports.

2-in-1 convertible laptop tablets, also known as hybrids, have now been around for the better part of a decade. They’re great if you want the most value for your money since essentially, you are getting two devices in one. It solves your conundrum and lets you answer your question “should I get a laptop or a tablet for college”.

Let’s take a quick look at these hybrid laptops so you can make a better and more informed decision about your purchase.

There are different types of 2-in-1 devices. There is the type that comes with a detachable keyboard, where the tablet part basically “docks” into the keyboard half. The benefit of this is your actual tablet is thinner, and feels like a real tablet. On the other hand, there are hybrid laptops that have 360 degree hinges that allow it to simply fold backward. This is so you can use the laptop in “tablet” mode. While it may feel awkward to hold a thicker laptop with a (usually disabled in tablet mode) keyboard on the back, all-in-one devices with 360 hinges usually have better build quality.

Removable keyboards are made less premium due to their nature, so you may end up feeling like you have a flimsy keyboard. You may also want to consider the fact that with detachable keyboard types, all the hardware is jammed into the “tablet” portion, so compromises might have been made on the performance front.

We won’t talk too much about what these hybrids can do, since they pretty much do everything tablets and laptops can. So instead let’s ask: what are the advantages of a 2-in-1 device?

Advantages of 2-in-1 Devices

  • Having the ability to turn your laptop from a notebook into a standalone tablet can have plenty of benefits. For example – when you are relaxing on the couch or in bed and you just want to rest, it’s much easier to hold a tablet than have to deal with a bulky laptop.
  • Having the extra portability factor is excellent as well. Even the hybrids without detachable keyboards tend to be quite thin and light, so you won’t be lugging around a heavier machine. Ultra slim and light laptops do exist, but those tend to be extremely expensive in comparison to these hybrids.
  • There are various different models available for these hybrids, allowing you to choose something that is within your price range.
  • In general, these run on standard operating systems so every app you need that exists on Windows can be installed and operated on this device if and only if the model you chose has the right specs for it.
  • The battery life for these 2-in-1 devices tend to be longer than standard laptop batteries.

There still are disadvantages to 2-in-1 laptop tablets, however, and we’re here to enlighten you about them.

Disadvantages of 2-in-1 Devices

  • Although hybrid machines are extremely versatile, due to their nature they are often not very powerful machines. Therefore you won’t be able to run your heavy games or programs, simply because these machines aren’t running the most powerful processors and specs. Often you’ll find that these devices only have 2-4 gigs of RAM. The designers and manufacturers of these products have focused very much on the device’s portability, so many compromises would likely have been made.
  • Storage space is usually at a premium for these convertibles. Some may still manage to cram 500gb of storage space, but a lot of the time the models out now only have SSD and microSD card storage. So if you’re looking to store a lot of files and install many programs, you may want to get a different device, or prepare to have extra external storage.

Choosing Your Device

Should you get a laptop or tablet for college? Should you get a 2-in-1 convertible laptop? Hopefully our thorough list of advantages and disadvantages of each can help you to make an informed decision about your future purchase. In the end, it all comes down to your needs and your desires for portability or flexibility. If you want to see some suggestions of products, we have put together a list and review of the best 11 inch laptop computers.