Once a rare sight, portable computers have become ubiquitous on university campuses. Students have forsaken pens and notebooks for powerful PCs, taking notes digitally, writing term papers with word processing software, and doing their research on the Internet rather than the library. Laptop PCs are a popular choice, but tablet PCs have risen in popularity. Some have even heralded (once again) the death of the laptop computer, citing the convenience of tablets. But which computer is the right tool for the job?
Social life and recreation aside, the biggest reason to have a computer on campus is research and note-taking. Tablets are great for consuming content, watching videos, reading blogs, and playing games but not quite as great for creating content or getting things done. Tablets are uniquely suited to casual use, such as social networking and entertainment, but for sheer utility, a laptop is almost certainly a superior choice for students.
While tablets are elegant, attractive, and easy to use, laptops are built more for portability and utility. The screen size and built-in keyboard makes it easy to take notes, write papers, compile research data, and create reports, while still remaining portable. While a tablet PC can meet many of those same challenges, they will almost invariably require extra hardware, like a Bluetooth keyboard, to do the same job. Laptop keyboards tend to be larger and better suited to extended use, which can be a big bonus when typing out that lengthy term paper.
When considering a tablet vs. a PC, also keep in mind battery life and storage capacity. While storage may not be an issue when it comes to documents or photos, large school projects like video editing assignments can take massive amounts of hard drive space, which again gives laptops an advantage. Laptops are also better-suited to multitasking, a frequent necessity for students taking notes or writing papers. Tablet operating systems are generally single-task devices, which can be inefficient and annoying when trying to perform complex computer tasks.
When comparison shopping, it might also be wise to keep in mind the relative durability of tablets vs. laptops. Tablet computers can be fragile and crack easily (some iPad owners have reported the glass cracking from a mere cleaning), and replacement can be costly and time-consuming. While both are relatively delicate devices not well-suited to blunt force trauma, a dropped laptop has a decent chance of surviving the fall, while a dropped tablet may shatter on impact.
Finally, there is the question of economy. University students are frequently on a tight budget, and grant and loan money will only go so far. A tablet PC that can compete with a laptop in terms of power and flexibility is likely to far outstrip the PC in terms of price. A moderately priced laptop will offer more tools for getting schoolwork done, for a lower price than most tablets. Simply put, a cheap tablet, while it might not strain the budget, also might not offer much utility for the price.
If price is somehow not an issue, there are hybrid laptop / tablet PCs available on the market that ostensibly perform the best functions of both, but their novelty means more expense, and possibly more technical issues.
The final verdict on the tablet vs. laptop argument comes down to utility. With some extra equipment and modifications, a tablet PC could do the job of the venerable laptop, but for writing papers, compiling research data, and taking notes, the laptop is almost certainly the ideal choice for students returning to university.
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By Daniel Kendal