Does it still make sense to buy a laptop?

Tablets weigh less, run longer, work faster, and often cost about the same as a portable PC. Has the time finally come to bid laptops adieu?

Have we finally reached the point where we can trade our big, bulky laptops for sleek, modern tablets?
Have we finally reached the point where we can trade our big, bulky laptops for sleek, modern tablets? Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Last summer I asked if it still made sense to buy a desktop PC .

After all, laptops are cheap, portable, and powerful enough for most computing tasks. The folks who need desktops are those diminishing few who play graphics-intensive games and work on photos, videos, CAD stuff, and the like.

In the eight months or so since I posed that question, tablets have taken over the world. Apple unveiled three iPad models in the span of about six months. Amazon and Barnes & Noble introduced bigger and more-powerful Kindles and Nooks. Google gave us the Nexus 10. And Microsoft jumped into the fray with the Surface RT and Surface Pro.

Meanwhile, a brand-new ClamCase Pro keyboard case just arrived on my doorstep to assimilate my iPad, effectively turning it into a MacBook.

All of this makes me ask: does it still make sense to buy a laptop?

I think if you walk into any Starbucks or down the aisle of any airplane, you'll see that most people are still using portable PCs. But for how much longer? Tablets weigh less (often a lot less) and typically have much better battery life. They turn on and off instantly and load apps in seconds. And price-wise, well, they range from around $269 (for an 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD or Nook HD+) to $899 (for a 10.6-inch Surface Pro) -- roughly the same range as laptops.

Of course, a laptop gives you a bigger screen, considerably more storage, a built-in keyboard and touch pad, and the versatility of a desktop operating system. I recently helped a friend shop for a basic but reasonably well-appointed laptop, and for $389.99 found a new HP with a 15.6-inch screen, 500GB hard drive, and a dual-core AMD A4 processor.

Ultimately this question boils down to the kind of work (and/or play) you need to do. As a writer, I can get by pretty easily with a decent keyboard and basic word processor. A configuration like the aforementioned ClamCase Pro plus my iPad would be just about perfect.

Alas, as a blogger, I rely on a variety of browser-based blog tools, few of which work properly in Safari. And it's extremely difficult for me to work with graphics and screenshots the way I do on a PC, especially when there's no mouse involved. One viable solution would be a Surface Pro with the optional Type cover, assuming I'm willing to invest over $1,000. At the moment, I'm not.

On the flipside, anyone whose work needs are more mainstream (basic word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) could easily make do with a Google Nexus 10 and any Bluetooth keyboard, a setup that could run as low as $420. Plus you get easy access to books, games, music, movies, and all the other goodies that make tablets so entertaining.

If you've been waffling between a laptop and a tablet, tell me why. And if you've already made your decision, I'd like to hear about that, too. I'm kind of stuck with a laptop for the immediate future, but you can bet I'm champing at the bit to make a tablet my full-time travel companion.

 

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