Spring has sprung, so you might be itching for a tech refresh.
Question is, what should you buy?
If it’s a computer you need — er, want — there’s no shortage of form factors to choose from. As you probably know, the three main types are laptops, desktops and tablets — but it can be confusing as there are hybrids, too, such as “2-in-1” laptops that let you remove the screen to use like a tablet, along with portable “all-in-one” desktops with a similar detachable feature.
That said, the following are some obvious – and perhaps not so obvious – advantages and disadvantages for each the main form factors.
Unlike a conventional laptop’s keyboard and trackpad, tablets are very easy to use because you navigate through all your content by simply tapping, swiping, flicking and pinching your fingertips. You can also use your voice to access info. Touch and voice are very natural ways to interface with devices.
Because they’re thin and light, tablets are more portable than laptops, plus they turn on right away, like a smartphone; therefore, there’s no waiting to boot up the operating system. An average laptop’s battery lasts five or six hours; a tablet is usually twice as long at 10 to 12 hours.
Some tablets offer cellular connectivity along with Wi-Fi, which isn’t as easy to find in a laptop. Tablets have GPS, so they’re ideal for navigation and location-based services, and many models have dual cameras.
Finally, some tasks are simply more conducive on a tablet, such as reading e-books, digital magazines and newspapers.
Tablet prices start at $49, which makes it the least expensive computer you can buy, but high-end ones could cost upwards of $799 if you want one with a ton of storage and cellular connectivity.
Though tablets offer numerous advantages over laptops, they can’t compete in other areas.
Perhaps most importantly — especially for those who do a lot of typing — a physical keyboard is more comfortable, accurate and fast than a tablet’s “virtual” (on-screen) keyboard. Students who type up a lot of essays, workers who write lengthy documents and heavy e-mail users might prefer a laptop for this reason – though there are optional keyboard accessories for tablets, too.
A laptop gives you more screen real estate to work with your programs and multitask between them. Most laptops are 14 or 15 inches, which is much bigger than a 7- to 10-inch tablet. Watching a movie or playing a game is better on a bigger screen, which delivers a more immersive experience.
A few other considerations in favor of laptops: They tend to have 10 times the storage (at least 320GB hard drive compared with an average of 32GB of Flash memory); laptops have USB and SD card ports to easily get files on and off the computer (only a couple of tablets do, by comparison); and a laptop’s clamshell design helps protect the screen when not in use.
As for price, laptops typically start at $199 for a Windows 8 machine – but don’t expect decent power until you pay $399 to start – while a MacBook Air starts at $899 for an 11-inch model. A beefier MacBook Pro will set you back at least $1,099. Those on a tight budget might consider a Chromebook, as these Google-powered laptops start at just $129.
Though not as popular as they once were, desktop computers are still around – and they do offer some advantages to laptops and tablets.
Since they’re designed for stationary use — that is, staying in one spot in the home or office — desktops are less prone to damage. After all, they aren’t being dropped or banged in a backpack or large purse like a laptop or tablet would. They’re also less likely to be stolen as they’re always in one place.
Desktop computers have larger screens than a laptop or tablet — up to 30 inches in some cases — so they’re better for entertainment lovers (movies, computer games) and more ideal for multitasking as you can have multiple windows open at the same time. Or you can easily add a second monitor. Perhaps influenced by the tablet craze, many desktops (and laptops) offer a touchscreen display, along with a keyboard and mouse (trackpad on a laptop).
Computer users who like to tinker prefer a desktop as they’re more “modular” – it’s much easier to upgrade components, such as a video card, hard drive or solid state drive (SSD) and system memory (RAM), on a tower-based desktop than a laptop. Note: Components on many “all-in-one” desktops aren’t that easy to change as they’re packed in behind the monitor.
Parents with young kids might consider a desktop in a central location in the home — such as a kitchen, family room or any other highly trafficked area — so Mom and Dad can keep an eye on where children go online and with whom they’re communicating.
Windows-based desktops typically start at $299 for an entry-level machine, or about $399 for a desktop with monitor. Most prices hover from $599 to $899, but you could spend many thousands on a high-end gaming rig. An “all-in-one” iMac starts at $1,099 for a 21.5-inch model.