Tablet or Laptop? Which is Better for You?

It’s getting harder to choose. Generally when I travel I bring both, but I just had the opportunity to spend a few days with just a tablet, and another two days with just a laptop. I was pretty sure I’d come through this with a stronger opinion, but — spoiler alert — I didn’t. Let’s go into detail.

Trying to work with an iPad Air

Not being one of the landed gentry, I was not able to score one of those new iPad Pro’s, but I did spend a couple of days with an iPad Air in its fancy new iOS 9 duds. I didn’t bring a keyboard, although I could have.

I gotta say here, I didn’t feel like I missed much. Not only were all the Microsoft Office apps available for free, but they didn’t feel like scaled down versions… they had all the functionality I hoped for. I had been used to using Google Docs and Sheets for this sort of thing and there’s only so much you can do with those apps. With the real genuine Office apps I didn’t feel like I was losing out.

The real improvements lately are (limited) multitasking and trackpad mode. These made it things a lot more useful. Swipe in from the right to open up a window where you can look at emails or other documents, and if you put two fingers on the on-screen keyboard at the same time it turns into a big trackpad. This lets you easily select and navigate. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.

I also had a full complement of apps to help me do my work, including some of the specific ones needed for getting into the servers at the Signal Group. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop got me into a work PC I needed, while Chrome Remote Desktop got me into my home office. Didn’t need much else.

At the end of the day I could sit down and crush some candies or watch a movie. An old-school cable connection got me to the hotel TV. The only thing I genuinely missed was a wired ethernet connection, because the hotel wi-fi was so flaky. I ended up leaning far too much on my data plan.

Trying to Play with a Laptop

The other half of the computing world was represented by an Acer Ultrabook. It’s no speed demon, but it’s small and light and has a touchscreen. It’s my go-to laptop for travel because it’s not too slow and it’s not too heavy.

Obviously the Acer took anything I wanted to throw at it but it was certainly slower than the iPad. I had no problem with connecting wired Ethernet or a real mouse either, and as a bonus it’s powerful enough to run a real version of Photoshop, which the iPad can’t. Battery life on the laptop was surprisingly good, even surpassing the iPad when I was into the heavy duty stuff I do on a daily basis. It faltered somewhat when it came to play; even though you can run Candy Crush and Netflix on Windows 10, you can’t run a whole lot else, and sending the video output to a TV really taxed the limited memory on the device.

Using a real mouse and keyboard setup was a benefit, mostly because that’s how I’m wired to work and have been for over 20 years. That may not be the best way to interact with the world but it is certainly the most comfortable. As I said, the wired Ethernet connection was a real godsend and the ability to read a flash drive came in surprisingly handy when needed.

The downside to the experience was the speed for the most part. The laptop never quite felt ready when I wanted it, and the problem was really compounded when it started downloading and installing updates in the background, something that it’s almost impossible to stop Windows 10 from doing. Eventually I just went out for coffee and let it finish.

The Verdict

The verdict here is clear: as long as I have a bit of extra space in my carryon, I’ll still be bringing both, but unlike previous years I do feel like I have a choice, that I’m only bringing two devices because it’s easier, not because I have to. Maybe by next year I won’t even want to.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.