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Tablets vs. Laptops on Campus: Pros and Cons


If you're looking for something to take with you from class to class on campus, the choice between a laptop or a tablet is hardly a simple one. Laptops have the advantage in terms of functionality, but tablets are lighter, cheaper and -- let's be honest -- a lot sexier. If you already have a computer to serve as your educational base station at home or in your dorm, your options are more open. But if you don't, you should probably choose a laptop. Laptops are better for multitasking, writing papers and using spreadsheets, and they have more options for the different ways you can get your work done.
Prices and Quality
If your budget is limited and you already have a desktop PC, a tablet may be the better way to go. Even a higher-priced tablet like the Apple iPad is going to give you better value than a laptop in the same price range. If you do decide to buy an inexpensive laptop, it's vital that you understand it's limitations. Reviews for different models vary, regardless of the manufacturer. Generally, you'll find most complaints about inexpensive netbooks revolve around freezing, slow multitasking and crashing.
If you're a touch-typist, nothing will beat a full-sized keyboard. If you have to look at the keys to type, the difference between a regular keyboard and that on a tablet may not be very noticeable. Keep in mind as well that you can get wireless keyboards for a tablet, most of which are about the same size as that on a netbook.
If you're deciding whether to use a laptop or a notebook for taking notes in class, two deciding factors are portability and functionality. A laptop with a full-sized keyboard is not as compact as a tablet. A netbook is roughly the same size as a large tablet, but doesn't give you the full-sized keyboard. Two points in favor of tablets in this regard are keyboard cases and note-taking apps. Peripheral manufacturers Belkin and Kensington both offer tablet cases that come with a Bluetooth keyboard, essentially turning a tablet into a laptop for about $100. You can set it on a table or adjust the angle to perch it on your lap. With a stylus and a note-taking app, you can write your notes on the tablet and store them for future reference. It may take a bit of practice to get used to the feel of a stylus on a touchscreen, but it shouldn't take too long.
Colleges and universities across the country have started embracing e-books. This is great news if you have a tablet, but not quite as good if you rely on a laptop. With a tablet or e-book reader you can curl up in a chair, read in bed, or even on the bus rather comfortably. Reading on a laptop is not quite as comfortable in these situations. Laptops can overheat when you nestle them against pillows. Balancing an open laptop on a crowded, moving bus may be good fodder for a sitcom premise, but not so good for your laptop. However, when it comes to copying a quoted passage from an e-book into a paper you're writing, while also researching biographical information about the author and viewing his birth city on a map, laptops do have an advantage -- bringing the topic to multitasking.
Not a lot of tablets that are capable of true multitasking at the moment, but that's changing fast. The Samsung Galaxy 10.1, released in 2012, can display two windows simultaneously. Other tablets, like the third-generation iPad, for example, can keep one app active while you switch to another. You can copy and paste from one app to another, but you can't see more than one app at a time. If your tablet doesn't let you multitask, using it for writing papers using online sources or e-books will quickly become frustrating.

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