As we are well aware we are certainly living in the time of the tablet. In just three years since the launch of the original iPad the next generation of tablets has evolved, rising to challenge the laptop as the number one personal computer of choice for a number of people. If you are looking to treat your family to a computer, you may be considering a tablet rather than a laptop. As these are expensive it’s important to make the right decision based on your personal needs.  In this blog I will compare laptops and tablets based on a family, taking into consideration the large amount of products in both categories.

Value for Money

In technology, you get what you pay for, or most of the time at least. Right now, however, a certain class of relatively cheap tablets are genuine bargains. For £450 which is the price of a fairly basic 15” Dell or Lenovo laptop you could buy three Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD or Nook Tablets. So that makes tablets the cheaper option I guess?

Not quite. The Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD tablets are pure ingesting devices. They are great for watching, listening and reading. Unfortunately you can’t do much with them in terms of productivity unless you have a quiet bunch; they won’t get as much use as even a basic laptop. Let’s bear in mind that the total cost of ownership of a tablet includes the cost of buying apps and media – precisely why these devices are so heavily subsidised. There is one exception, the Google’s Nexus tablets which is subsidised and capable of productivity tasks.

If you want a tablet that can do more, generally speaking you have to pay more out. The much more expensive iPad 4 with Retina Display and the Microsoft Surface are well priced, offering as they do much of the abilities of a laptop in tablet form. And if you want a truly portable truly powerful computer you really should shell out for either an Ultrabook or MacBook Air laptop. Remember that one of these could easily cost you in excess of £1,000.

Let’s face it you get what you pay for, and neither a tablet nor a laptop usually offers better value. To establish whether a tablet or a laptop offers the better deal for your family, we will look into the capabilities of each form factor, below.

Watching Movies & TV

Tablets are brilliant portable TVs, offering access to countless sources of movies and television programmes. They tend to have low power consumption too, so you can get through a couple of films without charging the device. They are also often fitted with 3G or 4G connectivity, meaning you can download or stream content wherever you go.  Tablet apps on the major platforms offer simple and low-cost access to movies and TV programs.

On the flip side, viewing angles and smaller screens mean that it can be difficult for more than one person to enjoy a movie on the screen of a tablet, even with external speakers. Without those you may be dependent on headphones to enjoy decent audio quality. Storage on tablets can be much more limited than on a laptop, which is a problem when you consider the size of movie files. If you want to stream over 3G or 4G, be prepared to pay for data, that’s if you haven’t already spent your money on subscriptions and one-off fees for movies.  Tablets such as the Kindle Fire HD and the iPad 4 offer easy access to films and TV programs, but you do have to pay for them.

Particularly in a living room setting, a laptop with a large screen and good speakers can make an alternative to a TV.  You can add a TV-tuner card and you can have digital TV as well as downloads and streaming. If the device has a DVD drive you can watch movies and box sets stored on disc, too.

Music & Radio

A generally similar argument can be made for and against tablets and laptops when it comes to listening to music, either through your own tunes or via the radio. With dedicated apps and music services, your tablet may well be the second-best portable music player and portable radio you ever had, after your smartphone. But without headphones it won’t sound great, storage will be limited, and streaming can eat up your data allowance. On the plus side here, however, are the range of speaker docks in which you can invest. Get the right one and your tablet could easily become the centre of your aural home-entertainment world.

A laptop will be much more versatile, however potentially offering you the opportunity to play discs as well as download and stream music. Without speakers there is no guarantee the audio quality will be any better, and the battery life almost certainly won’t be.

Homework & Office Work

Even with keyboard accessories the better tablets make great portable productivity devices. The iPad 4 and Microsoft Surface foremost among them, there is still no substitute for a full spec PC if you are intending to use your gadget mainly for work. Having a proper keyboard and access to the full versions of Office software programs makes virtually all office- and homework tasks more simple to complete.

Of course, if you need to work on the move a good tablet takes away much of the pain of carrying around a big laptop. Cellular connectivity means you can work anywhere, battery life is better, and if your work principally involves email and web-based tools a tablet could be perfect. But for most people, for working in the home, a laptop is best.