Can an iPad Really Replace Your Laptop?

Should I buy an iPad? That is a question we get here at LockerGnome almost every week, and have since the iPad first launched over two years ago. The new iPad has just come out, and it appears the question of whether or not an iPad is a good purchase decision has become a hot topic yet again. For many users, if not most, the question boils down to finance and choosing between one technology and another. For the purpose of this article, we’ll take a look at whether or not an iPad could truly replace a laptop for most users. This assuming that these users still have a desktop computer at home, and are seeking a mobile computing solution outside of a smartphone.

I had some experience using an iPad as a laptop replacement during my time as a producer. Being in a cramped control room with very little (if any) space for a laptop can be difficult, especially if you need to stay in the booth while also attempting to do fact checking, book guests, and handle other time-sensitive duties without allowing the show to suffer. While the term laptop would suggest that they work very well sitting on your lap, a four-hour session with one resting on your knees is hardly ideal. Instead of using a laptop, I used an iPad. After a few days of adjusting to the new interface and figuring out alternative methods of getting things done, I found that not only was I able to get as much done with the iPad as I had with the laptop, but I did so much faster.

So, can an iPad really replace your laptop? Here are a few key usage areas to consider.

Email, Social Networking, and Communication

One of the most popular uses for a laptop, or any mobile computing solution for that matter, is communication. Keeping up with your email, social network accounts, and even communicating with friends and family through chat, Skype, IRC, and other programs is a big reason to consider a laptop computer. After all, being away from home shouldn’t restrict your communication means to a 3″ mobile phone screen, should it?

So, if a smartphone just isn’t cutting it for you, the decision of whether to buy an iPad or a laptop computer comes into play. The laptop gives you the advantage of having the full power of a desktop operating system to a mobile computing platform. You can take your home office with you, or even make the laptop a central part of your home office. Laptops (or notebooks, if you prefer) are able to act as both your primary computing device and your mobile one, making it an obvious choice for communication.

Email clients, browsers, and communication programs are abundant on virtually every major operating system out there. It isn’t hard to find a clear and easy method of getting things done.

The iPad, on the other hand, is touch-driven and may not be a viable primary computing solution. It does, however, have a number of quick and easy app solutions that will allow you to communicate through email, social media, and even VOIP through Vonage, Skype, and others. The iPad also has the advantage of a front and back facing camera solution, allowing you to easily video chat with someone and show them something in front of you with a tap of the screen. In many cases, I’ve found the iPad to be a superior communication device, if only because it doesn’t require constant plugging in or desk space to open up and go.

As for whether or not one wins over the other in terms of capability, the laptop still reigns in this department.


Laptops are portable computers. They have a battery, relatively small framework, and can be used without the need of external monitors or peripherals. This is one of the advantages of a laptop over a desktop, but can it really shine when compared to the iPad?

The iPad has remarkable battery life, light weight, and doesn’t need to be opened or closed to operate. Everything you need is present on a single screen, and can be extended with an external keyboard and speakers if you really want to. The iPad can also connect to the Web via Wi-Fi or wireless broadband (some models) through a mobile carrier. Essentially, you could use the iPad in a moving vehicle, a solution not common with budget laptops unless you initiate tethering or some other external wireless solution such as a mobile hotspot or wireless card.

The iPad can be slipped in the pocket of a purse or small shoulder bag. Smaller laptops may have this ability, but there are still other extras to consider such as the shorter battery life and need for a power cable and/or brick to get through a day at the office.

In terms of potability, the iPad absolutely outshines even the smallest and thinnest laptops in the $500-800 price range.

Office Applications

Laptops leverage the power of a full screen and desktop OS to bring users a robust computing platform capable of handling just about anything a business application can throw at it. The only difference between a laptop and a desktop computer is the size of the monitor. That said, most laptops outside of netbooks have a larger monitor than the iPad, even though the newest iPad boasts more pixels.

The iPad isn’t built for spreadsheets, nor is it particular good at heavy document editing. It’s capable of doing this through mobile applications such as OnLive and Documents to Go, but there is still a gap between a laptop and the iPad when it comes to editing office documents. Software developers are getting closer and closer to solving this problem, but it just isn’t there yet.

When it comes to document management and editing, the laptop still has an advantage.

Computing Power

The argument between these two technologies almost inevitably goes to computing power. Yes, laptop computers (even budget ones) pack a potentially bigger punch in terms of processing power, but the vast majority of the regular users out there take more advantage of cloud-based applications every day. Checking email, browsing the Web, and other normal everyday tasks don’t take a lot of power to accomplish.

If you’re talking about photo and video editing, this is an area that specs don’t always equal performance. A desktop operating system such as Windows and OS X may have the biggest and most robust editing tools at its disposal. Good luck finding anything that stands up to Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas on a mobile platform, though the iPad itself has some big content creation capabilities thanks to applications such as iMovie and iPhoto for iOS. These apps have been updated recently and can turn simple photos and videos taken by a digital camera or iOS device into edited content with ease.

I was blown away the first time I edited a video in iMovie for iOS. Prior to having done so, I was convinced it would be a terrible experience. To my surprise, not only was editing fairly easy, but processing took very little time and uploading to YouTube was easy. Yes, you do lose some of your pro capabilities on a mobile platform, but you might be surprised just how capable an iPad is, especially at the $500 price point. Most laptops you’ll find there are budget machines with trimmed specs.

As far as raw computing power goes, the laptop has a slim edge for the price.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can tell you one option is better than another. The fact is, better is always relative. I prefer a laptop in many situations because there is software and/or reasons that I may need something off of it. That said, the iPad itself has proven to be a powerful mobile computer with a remarkably robust set of capabilities which is only growing.

Apple undoubtedly hopes to one day replace laptops with its little miracle tablet. Microsoft certainly appears to be heading in that direction with what we’ve seen thus far of Windows 8. Perhaps this is the future of technology, and eventually the argument will become less about iPads and Laptops and more about iPads and desktops.

Let’s not forget Android, which itself has proven to be a strong competitor in the tablet OS market. While it isn’t the subject of this particular article, it should be noted that almost everything said here could very well apply to an Android tablet.

What do you think? Could an iPad replace a normal user’s laptop, given that that user has a desktop system at home? If you had to choose between a $500 laptop and a $500 iPad, which would you prefer, and why?