If you've got both a notebook computer and an iPad, which should you take with on you when you head off to spend the holidays with your family, or hit the beach for a break in the wintertime blues? It depends primarily on what you do -- and don't -- plan to use it for, of course.
Some of the differences -- and associated pros and cons -- are a function of the hardware. Some are the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UE) as defined by the operating system, and found in most of the apps available for the device.
Here's some generic comparisons, followed by my thoughts based on comparing my Apple iPad 2 against my Lenovo ThinkPad X120e notebook, two devices that have a similar-size display.
There's bazillions of apps for the iPad, many free -- but that's only useful if the ones you want are there. There's a greater selection of software for the laptop, but the difference isn't as great as you might think, especially when we're talking about apps that you'll use on vacation.
If you've been using an iPad or the laptop for a long time, you probably already have the software you need; if you're switching, but if you're bringing one or the other with you on a trip for the first time, be sure to get the apps you need before you leave. Winner: Depends.
If you plan to be "consuming" content -- watching movies, TV and other video; reading e-books, e-magazines, e-news; listening to stored or streamed audio; looking at maps, e-brochures; etc., then the iPad is likely to be the better choice.
On the other hand, you might bring your notebook instead because it probably has a bigger screen and better audio (depending on the notebook and iPad version). In addition, the laptop's harddrive likely has more room to store video, plus the deive has easier-to-use outboard storage.
If you're going to be creating text-heavy documents on your vacation, an iPad plus a Bluetooth keyboard may be sufficient. If you're going to be doing editing as well, the notebook, with its pointing device, and the better feature set in word processing and text editing apps, may be preferable.
Similarly, you can edit photos and videos on an iPad or a notebook, and the iOS and Android tools for media editing have becoming increasingly powerful. If storage isn't the deciding factor, you need to decide which you prefer.
User Interface and User Experience
The iPad, with iOS and a touchscreen, is very different from a Windows notebook with keyboard and mouse -- even if you have a touchscreen notebook.
The mouse or touchpad is very precise. With a touchscreen, you often have to zoom to be able to touch where you mean to -- and I find that iOS's mouse-like select/copy/delete are tricky to use. For some activities, like content consumption, and some types of web browsing, the touchscreen is good enough or even better. Winner: Depends.
The iPad only shows one app at a time, taking over the entire display, while desktop OSs can show and re-size multiple windows. Winner: Notebook.
Task switching in a desktop OS is a simple matter of ALT-TABbing, while with iOS you have to stab the HOME button the right number of times at the right speed, and then find the other app's icon and tap it (or use SEARCH, and tap). Winner: Notebook.
Notebooks, especially if they run Windows. require weekly system software bug fixes and nearly daily virus updates. These can be probablementic when traveling without a reliable Internet connection. The iPad doesn't have any of this. Winner: iPad.
Internet Access (Wi-Fi and Broadband)
Both iPad and notebooks come with built-in Wi-Fi. The iPad supports 802.11n, which is the newest version; so do most new notebooks.
Both can be purchased including embedded mobile broadband chips and antenna. You'll need to purchase service; options may include contract or come contractfeee. Alternatively, you can tether to your smartphone or to a mobile hotspot router, or, for the notebook, use a USB mobile broadband adapter. Prices and rules vary, so there's no "winner" here.
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