Laptops, Tablets, Chromebooks…oh my! Gone are the days when choosing a computer meant deciding between a desktop and a laptop — today, we are faced with a seemingly endless array of digital choices: touchscreen or no touchscreen? Chromebook or traditional laptop? Stylus or no stylus? Removable screen? Apps? Ahh!
While the options can, at times, be overwhelming, the amazing thing is that never before have we had this many digital choices and the ability to custom pick our computer for such reasonable prices.
Chromebooks, tablets, and laptops have become an almost essential part of our lifestyles, and it can be difficult to narrow down the device options to make the right choice. Every person has different needs, so the device that works for one person may not be the optimal device for another.
To help make the decision easier, I’ve outlined some key differences between the three options (Chromebooks, laptops, and tablets), and at the end of the article, I’ve included a quick bulleted summary with the verdicts.
What is a Chromebook?
One major difference is this: Chromebooks typically have less storage than traditional laptops. Because Chromebooks are designed to primarily run web-based applications, a lot of built-in storage isn’t needed. The good news is — this keeps the price down significantly. Most Chromebooks cost under $200, which makes them more affordable than a traditional laptop.
You may now be wondering, will I miss the added memory? What if I need that storage? How will this work for my child in a school setting?
If you or your child primarily need a laptop to use the internet and internet-based applications, a Chromebook is a great option. So many programs are web-based these days — from the G Suite (Google Drive, Docs, Slides, etc.), to Netflix, to Pandora, to YouTube, etc., you may not even miss the lack of storage .
In my personal experience, Chromebooks in the classroom are fast, easy for students to use, and versatile. Students have no trouble typing essays on Google Docs or designing presentations on Google Slides. They can access our online textbook, their grades, and our learning management system.
For HS students, a Chromebook would be my #1 recommendation as a computer choice. They are fast, efficient, on-the-go, inexpensive devices that should work with demands of most high school coursework.
And, HS students are, unfortunately, not always the most responsible with their devices, so if the Chromebook gets broken, damaged, stolen, etc., all documents are stored in the cloud (so they wouldn’t be lost) AND the relatively inexpensive price point would make it (hopefully) easier to bear the loss (as compared to a breaking and replacing a $1000+ device).
Here are a couple Chromebook options to explore on Amazon:
Ultimately, the features you choose to go with will depend on your personal preferences and school requirements.
This brings up an important point — if you are purchasing a device for school, be sure to check with your school’s technology department for specific device requirements.
- Attached keyboard
- Less storage for offline work and archiving
- No option for upgradable internal storage
Laptops vs. Chromebooks
Laptops have been around for 35+ years (check out this picture of the first laptop in 1981), and they have been mainstream for students since — I would say — the mid-2000’s.
Laptops would most closely resemble the capabilities you would find in a desktop, just with added portability and a scaled-down size.
Most laptops have the storage to run installed programs like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop and have the capabilities to store pictures, downloaded movies and music, and files you want access to offline. Most laptops would also meet the minimum requirements for the majority of online gaming platforms.
Laptops have come a long way with reduced weight (check out the Apple MacBook Air), but many laptops, especially on the less expensive end of the spectrum, are still thicker and heavier than tablets or Chromebooks.
A lot of laptops also have the ability to expand or replace their current RAM and hard disk drive, which, in the future, would allow your to greatly increase the speed of the system without having to completely replace your laptop. You can also update many laptops from a hard disk drive (HDD) to a Solid State Drive (SDD), which will also increase the speed of your system and make the system less susceptible to data loss if the laptop is dropped or knocked over. Many laptops offer the ability to implement these powerful upgrades, which can turn an older machine into a new system for a fraction of the cost.
Laptops are a great choice if they are slated to be your primary home device, if you plan to run programs from your device, or if you prefer to store movies, photos, or other documents on your computer.
For college students, a laptop would be my #1 choice.
Some colleges provide general recommendations for devices, and others may provide recommendations by major — make sure to check those out before purchasing a device. Ultimately, though, a laptop should allow a college student the flexibility to download and run any needed programs for coursework.
Here are some great laptop choices to check out on Amazon:
- Increased storage
- Increased capabilities for installing programs
- Great for gamers on the move
- Future upgrade capabilities on most laptops
- More expensive than Chromebooks
- Can be heavier than Chromebooks
Tablets vs. Laptop
Since Apple’s release of the original iPad, tablets have typically been touchscreen, hold-in-your-hands type of computers that primarily run apps.
You can do a LOT with a tablet and the apps — watch Netflix, listen to Pandora, type on Google Docs, surf the internet, read Kindle books — but many users missed the functionality and operating system/interface that more closely resembled a traditional desktop or laptop.
In my high school classroom, the iPads and other app-based tablets work, but they can be a bit quirky at times and often require extra workaround steps to complete a task.
Tablets also do not have the attached keyboard that laptops have. You could purchase and sync a bluetooth keyboard or get cases with keyboards that prop the tablet up like a laptop, but for many, the experience does not quite mimic the laptop experience.
Tablet/Laptop 2 in 1 (Tablet/Laptop Hybrid)
Recently, however, the line between tablets and laptops is blurring more and more, especially with Microsoft’s Surface Pro line, which they dub as a laptop, but which bears strong resemblance to the look and functionality a tablet.
The Microsoft Surface Pro (or a device with similar capabilities) might be the best of both worlds: tablet AND laptop.
With the Microsoft Surface Pro, the keyboard can detach, and the core computer can be used just like a tablet. You can touch the screen, use a stylus, and hold the device upright if you want.
If you want to use the Surface Pro like a laptop, you can simply attach the keyboard and prop up the device horizontally, similar to a laptop. Microsoft Pro computers run the Windows operating system, which has a traditional “desktop-looking” option, but it also has apps to run.
Here are some tablet/laptop hybrids to check out on Amazon:
- HP Touchscreen 2-in-1 Convertible Laptop PC / Tablet
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4
- Lenovo Flex 2-in-1 Laptop
A tablet/laptop hybrid could also make a great option for a college student; however, just make sure to check the college’s minimum requirements to make sure a device like this would work.
So, you still may be wondering: Should I buy a laptop or tablet? Should I buy a Chromebook or laptop? Should I buy a tablet or a tablet/laptop 2 in 1? This quick overview should help you make your final decision.
Buy a Chromebook if you:
- Primarily need it for internet-based applications
- Need a low-cost entry point
- Want a lightweight, efficient device
Buy a laptop if you:
- Need a lot of storage on your device
- Plan to install and use programs offline (Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, etc.)
- Want to play popular online games (League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Battlefield, etc.)
- Want to store a lot of photos, movies, documents on your device instead of in the cloud
Buy a tablet if you:
- Have favorite apps you like to run
- Play touch-based games
- Like holding the device upright
- Don’t often need a keyboard
- Use the device a lot for reading
- Want a familiar platform (similar to a smart phone)
Buy a tablet/laptop hybrid if you:
- Want the portability and functionality of a tablet
- Want the experience of a laptop
- Want to run a traditional operating system and apps
- Plan to install and use programs offline
- Plan to store documents, photos, movies, etc. on your device
- Plan to or need to use a stylus
Do you have any experience with Chromebooks, laptops, or tablets in the classroom or out of the classroom? Comment below!