iPad or Laptop? That is the Question

In the beginning stages of Apple’s total dominance over technology with their iPod and sleek Macbook series, smaller and lighter was all the rage. Gone were the days of clunky, humming Dell laptops; hundreds of PC users converted to Apple and celebrated their ownership of lightweight laptops that would fit easily in a backpack for class. iPods quickly released miniature versions of themselves, followed by nano versions. It seemed as though Apple’s ability to cram immense technology into smaller and smaller devices was unstoppable. Then came the iPad. Some argue that the iPad completely negates the need for a laptop, as it can do everything a laptop can plus more in a smaller package, making it the perfect companion for any scenario. Yet, others see the iPad as an oversimplification, not conducive to producing the same kind of work capable of a sturdier laptop. For a college student, there are several things to consider before choosing one over the other.

Is Smaller Better?

The iPad’s main appeal is its size. Measuring in at around nine and a half inches by seven inches and weighing less than two pounds, the iPad is smaller than a standard sheet of notebook paper and far lighter than any textbook used by a college student. Even with a protective cover, it’s not going to add much weight to your load. Some teachers are even beginning to use eBooks in class when available, which are accessible from an iPad. The student has the potential to download every single textbook onto their iPad, utilizing its optimum navigability with text. You may need to download an eReader companion app in order to view eBooks, but most of them are free in the iTunes store. With eBooks, you can “flip” through pages on an iPad as though it were a real book, dog-earing pages you like. You can highlight a passage of text for later reference and define words within the text. It terms of interactive reading, it hits the mark. The latest iPad even comes equipped with retina display. If an art history student views art on their iPad rather than a dowdy textbook, they’ll likely get a much richer, truer image than seen otherwise.

However, in some cases, a sturdier laptop may be the better choice. iPads can be crushed in a backpack if they aren’t handled as a fragile device. While laptops are capable of being shattered, they can usually take a little more roughing up than an iPad. Given the iPad’s extreme portability, it is also capable of being dropped. Anyone that’s owned an iPhone, dropped it, and then purchased an Otterbox knows that there’s nothing more frustrating than dropping an Apple product — the screens shatter easier than you can crack an egg. You can still browse eBooks on a laptop, although it may not feel as seamless as an iPad. Stealing an iPad is also a bit easier, given its size.

Ports and Software Compatibility

The iPad may be great for reading, web-browsing, and emailing on the go and even has a pretty nice camera built in, but if you want to get some actual work done, it’s a bit less desirable. The iPad lacks a USB port, which means that you can’t just plug in a flash drive and move files around when needed. You can buy an adaptor in order to use USB, but it’s an extra cost. Likewise, the keyboard is touch-screen, which can be exhausting if you need to type lengthy documents. It’s not the usual size of a keyboard, which means that you’ll be hunting and pecking for every word you write as opposed to the fast, effortless touch-typing taught to most generations of technology-wielding students. You can buy a wireless keyboard for your iPad, but again, it’s an extra cost and it’s a somewhat pricey addition. No USB also means no mouse, so you’re relying fully on being able to touch the right buttons and text areas with stubby, human fingers. In spite of touch-screen technology, you can’t drag and drop documents into given folders, which is unintuitive to most and sure to be frustrating. If you’re a photographer, you’ll also have to chip in extra to buy a port made for dispensing your photographs onto the iPad, given that there is no SD card reader.

The iPad also can’t read discs. Much like its precursor, the Macbook Air, iPads have no disc drive. If you need to use music or images that have been burnt onto a disc, you’ll have to add the requisite material to your iTunes library, plug in your iPad, and sync it to your device from there. You can’t add special software to your iPad from a disc — for that, you’ll need to find a similar app. You may find that by the time you purchase all the extraneous equipment needed to make an iPad on par with a laptop, you may as well have purchased a laptop where you can access it all from one place.

Depending on the types of software you use, an iPad simply can’t cater to all types of programs. For example, if you need to use a complex program like Photoshop, you must use a laptop. While there are apps available for the iPad that mimic some of the functions available in Photoshop, they are often expensive and in no way comparable to the actual software. Designers will need a cursor, a decently sized calibrated monitor, and a keyboard in order to complete most of their work. The same applies for the intricate programs used to edit video, music, or even complete presentations. The iPad may be used for basic word processing, but its capabilities beyond that are somewhat limited unless you have the right collection of apps, and even then, it’s often a simplified version of what you could tinker with on a laptop.

The App Revolution

According to Apple, there are over 500,000 apps available for the iPad and iPhone, giving them every right to claim that there’s an app for literally everything. Finding apps for your specific needs is often easier than finding a similar companion on a laptop, and there’s just something to these mini widgets that makes them a bit magical. There are many apps that make great study companions, those which help students to connect with teachers and peers, and those which give the student access to supportive material on various subjects. You can take interactive notes using apps like Evernote, which allow you to record auditory portions of lectures if needed, store photos of helpful notes written on blackboards, and utilize other various tools. With iStudiezPro, you can keep organized with your class schedules, homework, and grades more efficiently. The Chegg app allows you to rent physical textbooks straight from your iPad. The sky is the limit.

However, in spite of the thousands of apps at your disposal, the iPad is missing an integral feature that laptops have down pat; a feature that every student needs: multitasking. Multitasking on a device means that you can have multiple programs open at once, navigating between the different windows while content loads on another one. The MacBook does a great job at multitasking, and you can swipe between the different windows with your mouse with perfect ease. This comes in handy when you need to work on a paper and shift constantly between a text document, a couple of internet pages, and email. Yet, the iPad still hasn’t perfected this task. It offers a facsimile of multitasking in that you can have a couple different apps open in a multitasking bar at the bottom, but the iPad can’t load multiple things at once and effectively freezes the program in the background.

Apps also are known for completely destroying productivity. A college student has to be pretty brazen to boot up Halo while in class, since everyone behind him or her could easily see the graphics on the screen. The iPad is more stealth. Your professor may never realize that you spend half of the lecture playing Angry Birds. And while you may revel at the idea of getting away with gaming during class, it’s a lot of money to throw away on what should be a $0.99 app.

Battery Life and Storage Space

The MacBook Pro supposedly gets about seven hours of battery life with constant use, while it can remain on standby (effectively asleep) for up to 30 days. Most would argue that seven hours seems high, however. If you’re using programs that utilize more RAM, your battery life will be shorter. Comparatively, the iPad gets a stable 10 hours of battery life with constant use and also gets a month of standby time, which is rather impressive for such a little thing with so many powerful capabilities. It goes to sleep on its own, using its energy efficiently. On a laptop, you can alter the settings such that it goes on standby more quickly to match the iPad, but it typically takes longer to boot back up. Whereas an iPad is instantaneously back to life after leaving standby, a laptop can need several minutes to reorient itself.

Then there’s the issue of the amount of physical hard drive space on an iPad versus a laptop. Bells and whistles aside, the iPad comes with a maximum 64GB of space. If you’re using it as your primary device, that can fill up fast, especially if you have a large music library or any movies on your computer. By contrast, the smaller hard drive on the MacBook Pro comes with 256GB, with 512GB at most. Those numbers are significant and undeniable.

Personal Preference

All things considered, whether or not you can swap out your laptop for an iPad is still a matter of personal preference. People use their computers and mobile devices for different things, and it mostly depends on whether you mainly seek out content or create your own. For a creative type, the iPad likely won’t suffice, as it is far too complicated to perform the tasks necessary to make, edit, and create on the iPad. For those that use their laptops mainly to browse Pinterest and update their Facebook statuses, you could easily make the change without noticing much of a difference. Still yet, there are some that can adapt their iPads into word processing, studying machines, complete with wireless keyboards and USB clip-ons. The iPad works great as a supplementary device, as well. If you can afford to have both a laptop and an iPad, you will probably use both, depending on the situation. An iPad can be great if you’re trying to quickly show someone your photography portfolio, for example, and you don’t happen to have your laptop on you. When it boils down to it, the choice will be yours and yours alone.