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Tablet or laptop: which is better for university?

by Denise Timmis | Sep 03, 2021

Tablet or laptop: which is better for university?


If you are starting college or university this year, buying a computer is essential. Even more so at the moment, with lots of course content happening online for many students.

The question is which is better, a laptop or a tablet? In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of each device so that you can make an informed decision.


One thing laptops and tablets have in common is that they cost a lot of money (although you can save a lot by buying refurbished technology from us at Envirofone). So, let's make sure you get the best value. But, above all, let's make sure you end up with the most practical and helpful technology for your studies.




Thin, lightweight tablets win hands down when it comes to ease of carrying around. Laptops are larger, and their bigger batteries and processors make them much heavier. So even if your laptop fits into a backpack, you'll definitely know it's there, whereas a tablet weighs little more than a paperback. It also leaves more room for lunch in your bag.


Winner: tablet.


Versatility and multi-tasking


Smaller, thinner tablets are much more adaptable and easier to use in awkward places. The built-in keyboard on a laptop can make it quite unwieldy at times, great on a desk but less suitable if you need to, say, sit your device against a whiteboard to show a video or display some design work.

Multi-tasking can also be trickier on a laptop. With a tablet, you can have several windows open simultaneously, with multiple programs running and just swipe a finger to jump between them.

On the other hand, if you just need to sit at a desk and focus on one piece of work, a laptop's bigger, higher definition screen and integrated keyboard have the edge.


Winner: tablet for most people.




With essays and projects coming at you non-stop, you're going to be doing a good deal of typing and inputting whatever your course. So you'll find that much easier and more comfortable with a laptop's built-in physical keyboard.


The phone-style virtual keyboard on a tablet may seem fine at first, but there's a strong chance you'll have changed your mind by the time you're halfway through your first 3,000-word assignment. However, the gap between the two is closing fast, thanks to the many wireless keyboards for tablets on the market.


Winner: laptop or tablet with wireless keyboard.


Display quality


Most people have watched a movie or sporting event on a tablet and found the Full HD (1080p) display quality fine. However, laptops often have superior Quad HD displays. Current tablets can't compete because a higher resolution display would compromise the touch-screen commands.


Winner: laptop


Operating system


Once upon a time, tablet operating systems were the poor relations of laptops, closer to a smartphone system. Nowadays, many tablets run on a PC operating system, such as Microsoft 10, while Apple's latest laptop and iPad OS updates share growing capabilities. So, there's a diminishing difference.


Winner: equal




Laptops certainly have the edge over tablets when running anything more than essential word processing software. Programs such as Photoshop can be used on a tablet, but are faster and easier to work with on a laptop. However, the gap is starting to close, and the latest tablets are fine for running all but the most advanced software. This brings us to the next category.


Winner: it depends on your course


Processing power


Dual-core i5 and i7 chips are standard in almost every laptop, giving them much more processing power than any tablet. So if you're studying a STEM course that requires advanced programs, or if you need to work with graphics packages such as Adobe Creative Cloud, a laptop is going to be the right choice.


Winner: laptop if you need to run advanced software


Video calling


Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other similar platforms seem to have taken over the world since the pandemic appeared. Education is no exception. As a student, you'll almost certainly need to use your laptop or tablet for online teaching at some stage. And it's brilliant for talking to family and friends back home as well.


The good news is that you can choose a laptop or tablet, confident that either will handle online calling and conferencing superbly. Modern laptops have a built-in webcam. On an iPad or other tablet, the app will simply use the selfie camera.


Winner: equal




If your course includes any design or artwork, you'll find a tablet much more helpful. With the latest iPads and other tablets, you can use a digital 'pencil' to sketch designs and add ideas to your work in real-time. In contrast, laptops are far more rigid, and you'll end up having to use a scanner, losing any sense of immediacy.


Winner: tablet.


Battery life


Most laptop batteries run down quickly, and you'll notice that battery life is getting shorter after just a few months of regular use. You also have to carry a big charging cable around with your device. Tablet batteries last longer, and they're as easy to charge as a smartphone.


Winner: tablet




Can an iPad replace a laptop? For most students on most courses, the answer is yes. The days when tablets were only good for streaming Netflix or YouTube and checking social media are long gone.


If you're studying a science, technology, engineering or maths-based course, you may need the processing power of a laptop to run the specialist software. However, for everyone else, a tablet with an external keyboard will perform all the computing functions you need.


Ready to choose your tech for the upcoming term? Check out the choice of refurbished tablets at affordable prices now available at the Envirofone shop. Still prefer a laptop? We do those too.


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