Archives: iPad vs. Laptop - Which one is better for college students?

Originally published in September 2010
Simon Nguyen

Since the ceremonious release of Apple iPad in April of 2010, there have been numerous discussions as to whether or not the bestselling iPad is capable of replacing laptop as an everyday computer. The quandary is also on the mind of many parents, as they contemplate which product to purchase for their college-bound children. With the iPad costing roughly the same as an average laptop, functionality and aptness are decisive factors in determining which one best fits the needs of a college student.

College students use personal computers both for study and leisure. Academic work involved the use of a computer includes Internet research, word processing and data collection. If one is to purchase a computer primarily for these three activities, a laptop is overwhelmingly the better choice. Simply put, the iPad was not designed for productivity computing.

A key problem with the iPad is its limited word-processing capability. For starter, the system does not come preinstalled with a word-processing program; it is also not compatible with most office suites. You can buy the popular iWork Pages application from Apple’s iTunes store, but the program is lagging Microsoft Office in both functionality and features. On the other hand, most laptops can run any of major productivity software including Microsoft Office, Open Office, and Google Docs.

Another iPad’s irritant is its unfriendly virtual keyboard. While the idea of a virtual keyboard sounds interesting, actual usage is rather unpleasant. Making gestures on a computer screen is nice, but touch-screen typing for an extended period is quite cumbersome. For college students who major in science or engineering, iPad is definitely not a good fit as it does not run scientific applications; the system doesn’t even have a USB slot. Apple may, in the future, create apps that allow for this. However, the iPad was certainly not designed for school work. A laptop is an infinitely more productive system.

For leisure, iPad appears to be a slightly better option. The system is easy to carry around, and the design is very temporary. This is a great platform to browse the web, exchange emails, watch movies, and read e-books. As iPad is a tablet computer, students can use it to take notes in class or create creative drawings. Although all of the aforementioned can be done with a laptop, iPad is much more specialized and efficient at these tasks. One big drawback with the iPad is the lack of support for hardcore gaming. While there are many iPad games to choose from, one should not expect to be able to play games like Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV on this system anytime soon.

Which computer (iPad or laptop) is a better fit for a typical college student? Although iPad may be the hot trend at the moment, a laptop is still the better option for college students. Laptops offer the functionality of a desktop computer, while perform virtually everything an iPad can. With mini laptops or netbooks capable of delivering the same portability and functionalities of an iPad but at a lower price, there is very little reason for choosing iPads over laptops. Apple iPad is probably best at a secondary computer and not as a primary computer.

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