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Laptop vs. tablets: how they compare for true productivity

Ben Taylor | Sept. 26, 2014
When the Surface Pro 3 launched, Microsoft made a bold claim: This is the tablet that can replace your laptop.

Now consider laptops, where you can get a terabyte (1,024GB) of storage for under $1,000, and where price and space have a very weak correlation. With laptops, more storage is practically free. 

Starting RAM in 50 Recent Laptops | FindTheBest

A tablet apologist might argue that everything is moving to the cloud anyway--who needs over 64GB of storage when you can buy five times that space for a reasonable monthly fee?

The reality is that most consumers simply aren't that disciplined. People still want a device where they can dump their 30,000 photos or entire digital music collection without thinking--a fundamental problem for the tablet.
Storage winner: Laptops

Display: You'd think laptops would be better

So far, the specs haven't been kind to the tablet, which has failed to match the laptop in all three categories. In fairness, however, we've been playing on the laptop's home turf. Performance, RAM, and storage have never been strengths for mobile devices, so let's turn to one of the tablet's big assets: the display.

Here's a look at the pixel density on some of today's most popular tablets. Since 2013, the average tablet's display has boasted 218 pixels per inch--pretty crisp for devices that tend to measure from 7 to 11 inches, diagonally.

Pixel Density on Today's Popular Tablets | FindTheBest

Among popular laptops, the average pixel density sits at a measly 116 pixels per inch, which is nothing special in 2014.

Pixel Density on Today's Popular Laptops | FindTheBest

Comparing that 218 pixels per inch on a tablet to 116 pixels per inch on a laptop isn't completely fair: Laptops have larger screens on average, and thus need less density to achieve a sharp display. But even after factoring in typical screen sizes (about nine inches for a tablet, 13 for a laptop), the tablet still wins handily. Unless you buy a pricey MacBook Pro with Retina Display, tablets simply sport better screens than their laptop rivals.
Display winner: Tablets

Battery Life: Tablets lead by a wide margin

Battery life is a bit harder to assess. For comparing two phones, using battery capacity (milliampere-hours, or mAh) is a pretty good bet, given that each device is of roughly the same size and shape. But once you get into tablets and laptops, the form factors start varying significantly. A 15-inch laptop needs far more battery capacity than a 7-inch tablet just to make it through the afternoon.


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