Deciding between an iPad and a laptop can be a challenging process. Which device is worth your hard-earned money, and what features should you look out for?
In the following article, we will unpack the differences between an iPad vs. a laptop, so you can know exactly what they offer and what will be best for you!
Size & Portability
One of the main selling points of iPads is how incredibly lightweight and compact they are.
If you want a device that can comfortably fit in your hand, then an iPad would probably be the clear winner compared to a typical laptop.
Whether you're a student or a business professional, you can easily carry an iPad under your arm or place it in any backpack.
It’s lightweight, so you shouldn't experience any fatigue as you would with a laptop resting on your thighs throughout extended use.
iPads are great media device options when you want to stay in bed, relax on the couch, or just move around in general.
Although iPads still reign supreme in terms of size and portability, we shouldn’t forget that laptops are making moves to compete with handheld devices.
Brands such as MSI are now releasing laptops that are ultra-thin and around 3lbs.
With that being said, most laptops still weigh between 5 to 6 lbs, so for most of us on a budget, we will still side with the size and portability benefits of an iPad.
But, more on price later!
What you do need to take from this, though, is that a laptop will likely require you to rest it upon a flat service for long sessions, whereas an iPad can be taken anywhere.
Laptops will also require a decent laptop bag with adequate padding to protect them from breaking, while an iPad can be equipped with a protective case.
Resolution & Screen size
Since laptops weigh more than iPads, the additional mass is rewarded with a larger screen. Most laptops are 15.6 or 17.3 inches in size and come in a variety of resolutions.
If you’re looking for the very best visual performance, then a laptop certainly offers more to look at.
The resolution can range from a traditional 1920 x 1080 (1080p HD) resolution all the way up to ultra 3840 x 2160 high-definition (4K).
This ensures the very best pixel density and crystal-clear imagery. Currently, there are no 4K iPads available on the market, but iPad resolutions are increasing every year.
iPad resolution and size are consequently ideal for small tasks, such as reading books, watching YouTube videos, responding to emails, or browsing social media.
The additional screen size of a laptop only comes into play if you’re planning on working within Office, playing graphically-intensive videogames, comparing multiple documents, or requiring highly detailed picture quality.
Both devices offer a pleasant viewing experience, but functionality should be the deciding factor on which screen size is better for you!
Display Panel & Refresh Rate
Panels are important when determining the actual quality of your display. Laptops make use of TN, VA, and IPS panels.
TN panels have fast response times, which is great for competitive gaming but have bland and washed colors.
On the other hand, IPS panels offer the best picture quality with the highest color accuracy.
However, they have a slower response time, which can hover around 4ms when compared to a TN 1ms response.
Finally, a VA panel is a combination of the two with good colors and a respectable response time; however, we rarely see this panel type unless you're looking at standalone monitors.
The refresh rate is how many times per second your screen refreshes and is measured in Hertz (Hz).
For example, a standard 60 Hz display will be capable of showing 60 frames per second (FPS).
The more frames that are refreshed every second, the smoother your overall experience. If you're a gamer, then the recommended refresh rate is around 144 to 240 Hz. 60Hz for gaming is generally not enough.
You won't be reaching 144 FPS in every game, but your display will be capable of refreshing up to 144FPS. What are we getting at?
Well, laptops give you the choice between a high refresh rate display (Hz), a fast response time panel (TN), or a color-accurate panel (IPS).
They, therefore, offer variety for all consumer needs. The iPad, unfortunately, is locked at 60Hz with an IPS display panel.
This isn't necessarily bad, though, because the iPad Retina IPS display provides excellent colors and is great for painting, working, or watching media.
It's just that when compared to a laptop, you’ll have a color-accurate display, but it won’t retain the properties of a fast refresh rate or a competitive level response time.
Serious gamers should therefore choose the laptop over the iPad in this department.
As mentioned above, laptops include many internal components. For example, a dedicated graphics card that helps improve system performance.
If your main focus is multi-tasking and switching between numerous applications, then a laptop provides way more power when compared to an iPad.
That's not to say that an iPad is a sluggish device. In fact, if you compare the iPad to a traditional Chromebook, the new A13 Bionic chip is nearly 3x faster!
Newer iPad generations can now perform intensive tasks such as video editing, with renders taking a few minutes.
It's just that in terms of raw performance, a laptop is simply on another dimension in terms of capabilities.
iPads are also constricted to 3 apps (at most) running concurrently. You can do this by combing slide-over and split view mode.
Therefore, if you need to interchange between more than 3 apps on an iPad, you will need to close the rest, which may delay your productivity.
Laptops have no limit. If you have enough performance resources, you’ll be able to run as many apps and programs as your screen can fit.
In essence, those looking at a ‘workstation’ should sway towards a laptop, whereas if you want to complete simplistic tasks, an iPad may provide better value.
Storage, RAM & Noise
Laptops can have up to 2TB of internal storage and 64GB of RAM. Again, the most recent iPads come in at around 64GB/256GB of internal storage, with a RAM capacity of 3GB.
More RAM means faster processing speeds, resulting in quicker response times and overall efficiency. So activities like streaming and gaming will require more RAM than others.
Both iPads and laptops can increase storage space via Cloud or external USB, but that always amounts to additional charges and the possibility of reduced speeds.
Laptops are not perfect, though. The internal fans will begin to ramp up as more power is drawn from the system.
However, if you're wearing headphones, you can probably block out or reduce the sound significantly.
Also, since iPads have fewer components, less airflow is required to cool down the system.
iPads are thus whisper-quiet, and you'll probably never have to fear waking up your significant other as you work next to them.
First Time Setup – Applications & Software
iPads have the advantage of coming pre-installed with all the apps you will need to get started.
This makes them ideal for those not necessarily tech-savvy, young children, and the elderly.
One of the most important applications you’ll find on an iPad is the ‘App Store .'
Within the App Store, you'll be able to download more apps by simply searching the name and downloading it onto your iPad.
YouTube, Office, Snapchat, and HBO Max are all available at the click of a button. Even better?
Parents will be able to apply parental controls to monitor, block, or restrict certain apps for children.
There’s also no need to worry about the system ‘slowing down’ or crashing, which is common with an aging laptop.
iPads, therefore, remain simple, while retaining minimal maintenance to function at peak performance.
Moving on to laptops, there's no denying there is a learning curve with most computers.
If you receive a blank copy of Windows, you'll need to find the rest of the mandatory applications you need on the pre-installed Internet Explorer.
This can be a daunting task for some, as you run the risk of viruses, bloatware, or ads as you decide whether a website is legitimate or not.
If you've managed to install everything, there's also a possibility that you'll receive a secret little 'startup’ program every time you boot the laptop that somehow eats away at your processing power.
Therefore, make sure you have someone who can correctly set things up on your laptop if it's your first time.
Battery & Charging
Laptops contain many high-end components, so the battery will drain rather quickly when put under stress.
If you're browsing the web, typing out documents, or scrolling through social media, you can expect anywhere between 4 to 6 hours of battery life.
Things narrow down when you watch videos, or play games, as the graphics card and processor will demand more energy.
As the system requires more resources, so will the battery. Therefore you're looking at 2 to 3 hours at most when playing video games.
If battery life is important to you, then, considering the above, an iPad clearly outmatches a laptop.
We do need to consider that the iPad has fewer components and features, so the battery draw will be less.
But, if you only want to watch YouTube, edit photos, or browse the web, then the 10-to-12-hour battery lifespan is outstanding.
Unlike a laptop, graphically intensive apps won't cut the battery life in half. You can expect the same performance and battery life, whatever the task may be.
In closing, laptop charge times vary between 1 to 3 hours. Ironically, an iPad can occasionally take longer to charge.
If you use an official Apple charging cable, 10% to 100% takes around 75 to 120 minutes to complete.
However, when you use a 3rd party cable, the time taken to fully charge the device will nearly double!
If you're like most of us, you're going to misplace your charger eventually. So, consider a possible 4-hour charge time for your iPad in the future.
iPads do tend to last longer than laptops if properly cared for.
They tend to stay faster and more responsive for longer, but we can assume that's due to great optimization and minimal performance draw in the long run.
Most iPads have a warranty period of 1-year; however, if you avoid dropping the device and update the applications consistently, you could potentially get 4+ years of service.
A laptop's life expectancy depends on the brand and model, with brands like Dell being known for having a good life expectancy. However, it's still much shorter than an iPad at just 1 to 2 years at maximum efficiency.
You'll often see that older laptops, which are 3+ years old, are slower when compared to their initial performance at release.
This could be due to outdated components, a corrupted operating system, or malicious software.
Laptop maintenance is possible, such as adding a new SSD to improve boot times, but sooner or later, you’ll need to upgrade if you want the best possible performance consistently.
Be that as it may, a drop in performance in regards to a laptop doesn’t mean the iPad suddenly becomes better in its capabilities.
The laptop may perform 20% slower in its 3rd year, but it could have been 200% better in terms of specifications when compared to the iPad at release.
That means the iPad will perform exactly the same as it did on day 1 for longer, but the laptop will still render videos faster 3 years down the line because of its CPU/GPU specification power.
The retail price of an iPad and laptop differs depending on the model type and features.
iPads are generally more accommodating to those on a budget, with a 64GB entry-level iPad starting at approximately $300.
Choosing the 256GB version will shift the price towards $480, and finally, going for a different iPad altogether, such as the 'Pro' version, can see prices reach as high as $2,000.
On the other side of the spectrum, a standard laptop with 4GB of RAM, 15.6-inch display, and 128GB of internal storage can be as low as $350 (similar in price to an iPad!).
However, if you'd like to get the most out of a laptop with a dedicated graphics card, 16GB of RAM, and perhaps 1TB of storage, you're looking at $1,000-$4,000, depending on the brand and overall performance.
Therefore, high-end gaming laptops are more expensive than the most premium iPads but do offer a lot more.
The good news is that if you're strapped for cash, both devices aren't necessarily out of reach in terms of entry-level models.
Pros & Cons Of iPads
What We Like
Things We Don’t
Pros & Cons of Laptops
What We Like
Things We Don’t
Frequently Asked iPad Vs Laptop Questions
Can I use my iPad without WiFi?
Yes, recent models now include a 'cellular' connectivity option. This will allow users to insert a SIM, which can then be connected to a cellular network.
You can also use some features of an iPad (for example, the camera/editing software) without WiFi/SIM card. However, many apps requiring internet access will not work.
Can an iPad be used as a Laptop?
iPads have the ability to connect to any Bluetooth keyboard, or preferably the official Apple Magic Keyboard.
Though this may allow for faster typing and give the iPad the appearance of a laptop, this does not mean it will live up to the capabilities of one.
The components and operating system still remain that of an iPad.
Does the Apple Pencil work on all iPads?
No, not all iPads support the Apple Pencil. The first-generation Apple Pencil is supported for the years 2015-2021, while the second-generation has 2018-2022 support.
This is further narrowed down between standard, Air, and Pro iPad variations.
Can you upgrade an iPad?
Yes, you can upgrade your iPad software through updates and your storage space via Cloud.
However, you cannot upgrade the internal components as you would a laptop or computer. The internal chip, RAM, display, and camera will always remain the same.
In order to decide between an iPad and a Laptop, you will need to know your expectations.
Of course, both devices have advantages and disadvantages, so we wouldn't say either is superior overall.
What we do know is that a laptop offers far more power for those looking to do some serious grinding, whereas an iPad is unmatched in its simplicity and convenience.
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.