How to Pick Between a Laptop or Tablet for College

If you’re heading to college, now is the perfect time to invest in a device that will assist you in your studies.The same is true if you have a kid heading off to college for the first time. But what should that device for college be, a laptop or a tablet?
Some institutions (or specific programs) make the decision simple, requiring that all students have a laptop or desktop. But often, you’ll have the flexibility to make the decision.
Not sure what to choose? These pointers should help you decide.

Think Through How You’ll Use the Device

The first step in deciding between a laptop or tablet for college is thinking through how you’ll use the device. Will you be typing a lot? Drawing a lot? Doing some of both? Will your courses (or your extracurriculars) require that you consume a lot of video content? Will you need to create video content, too?
It’s extremely important to answer questions like these for yourself. Every college student’s path is different. And the same is true for device usage.
Some use cases and college experiences are straightforward. If you’re majoring in accounting or law, you’re almost certain to need a laptop. Accounting majors might even want to spring for a larger model with a numeric keypad.
Engineering majors or others in the hard sciences may benefit more from a laptop as well. But be aware that in these fields, you may have to rely on lab computers for the most processor-intensive work anyways.
Along the same lines, if you’re majoring in digital art or graphic design, you might need or want a tablet. (You’ll also likely need a laptop, though — and you may decide that a Wacom input device paired with a MacBook is a better choice than a separate tablet.)

Determine Compatibility Issues or Software Requirements

Every college campus (or online program) will have its own set of compatibility concerns. For example, early adopters at some campuses found that a recent beta version of iOS was completely incompatible with the campus network without toggling off a new setting called Private Address.
In that situation, a quick setting change was all that was needed. But the point is, if you’re a fan of some obscure or international piece of hardware, make sure it will actually work on campus before purchasing.
You’ll also want to be aware of any software requirements in your major or program. In some cases, a required app or program will only be available for a certain device type or operating system.

Understand the Main Differences Between Hardware (and OS) Types

As you work to make a decision about the best hardware type for your needs, make sure you understand the main differences between the two. Laptops aren’t just tablets with keyboards, or vice versa. The devices are different, with differing purposes and vastly different operating systems.
Conventional wisdom says that laptops are for productivity and production, while tablets are more geared for consumption, light productivity, and maybe a little creation. This distinction isn’t as clear as it was a decade ago, but the principle still holds up well.
Hardware makers and OS developers have worked hard to shrink this gap. Now there are laptops that run in tablet mode and tablets with add-on keyboards with trackpads. And yes, iPads can open and edit spreadsheets and Word documents.
But this doesn’t mean that the two device types are equal. Far from it. For example, if you need to do advanced things in that spreadsheet or if you simply need to do a lot of data entry in one, an iPad is going to become a frustration.
And there’s still no good way to do laptop-grade multitasking on any tablet. You can technically have two files or apps open, but it’s not like you can compare those files easily. On a laptop, doing so is extremely simple.

Final Thoughts

If you can only afford one device as you head off to college, a well-equipped laptop is the right choice for most people. A tablet can be a helpful add-on, though it’s far from required for most students.
Can a student succeed with a tablet alone and never be frustrated by limitations? Honestly, those situations are pretty rare. Perhaps with certain majors and in urban commuting situations where portability is more important than productivity, a tablet alone can make sense. But for most people, this isn’t the practical way to go.
Geoffrey Fowler, writing for the Washington Post, shares similar sentiments: iPads have come a long way, but most students still need a laptop.

Laptop or Tablet or Both: Upsie Protects Your Devices Wherever You Take Them

Ultimately, your own journey and tech needs will determine which device (or devices) you should buy. But whether you choose a laptop or tablet for college, you need a way to keep your device protected.
Upsie’s extended warranties for laptops and tablets are the perfect solution. You’ll be protected for two or three years from all kinds of defects and failures. You’ll even be protected from accidental damage, like drops or spills.
Coverage is reliable and costs up to 70 percent less than plans offered by big-box retailers.
Ready to get protected? Get your Upsie warranty today.

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* This article is over 6 months old and may or may not be updated.