To Laptop, or to Tablet, that is the question.
Tablet vs. Laptop: Choosing the Right Tool for the Job
As someone who dances between the two on the daily, I've had my fair share of "Aha!" moments and "Why did I even...?" regrets. So here's my overall take on why designers should have both tools, and when you should pick on or the other.
Remember the days when the laptop was the undisputed king of productivity? All the powerful apps we now enjoy on our phone and tablets are renditions of the fundamental tools that were developed for the desktop experience. The Wacom and other pen displays were the first devices to bridge the drawing experience to the computer.
Then came the tablet, sleek and portable, promising the world in the palm of our hands. The idea of doing creative work from the couch or the bed is incredibly appealing. But as with all things design and tech, it's never just black and white. It's a spectrum of grays, each shade representing a unique need, a specific task, a particular mood.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to the desktop experience the same as the laptop. I tried transferring a lot of my desktop activities to the iPad, and here’s the main things I noticed:
Tablets | The Digital Canvas
The tablet is the nomad's dream. Light, compact, always ready for a quick sketch or note. Most tablets outshine laptops when it comes to lasting through those marathon design sessions. Also, it doesn’t get THAT hot on your lap.
2. Touch Interface
For those of us who experience our work with our hands, the direct touch interface can be a game-changer. Bringing that tactile experience to every aspect of the design pipeline can be extremely satisfying. Another bonus here is that thanks to native and 3rd party apps, we can actually use tablets as an additional touch-screen monitor for laptops.
3. Amazing for Lifestyle Use Cases
The sheer amount of options available for specific and broad tasks is what makes a tablet such an effective companion. It’s as much a productivity tools as it is a creative one. Also worth mentioning the camera and LIDAR on tablets has allowed for document scanning and 3d scanning capabilities.
1. Power Limitations
While tablets have come a long way, they still can't match the raw power of a high-end laptop. This is most noticeable in 3d applications or high resolution image files with a layer cap.
2. Software Restrictions
Some professional-grade software might either be unavailable or limited in functionality. It can be a benefit to focus in on the essential tools in the app, however transitioning to the computer when we’re done with the foundation of our work is still cumbersome due to the limitations built into the apps.
Tablets today are incredibly powerful and capable, selecting a tablet over a laptop means you’re opting in for certain features and out of others. However, many laptops offer similar if not all the same features of a tablet with the added bonus of more power and software compatibility for the same price as a tablet. For someone on a budget that can only afford one device, you definitely wouldn’t start with a tablet.
Laptops | The Workhorse
When it comes to heavy-duty tasks, the laptop stands tall. Multitasking, 3d rendering, video editing, coding, web development - all things that are still only optimized for the desktop experience.
You’re not limited by an app store. You can purchase peripherals to cater the experience to your specific needs. Need to connect to four monitors? Sure. Attach a drawing tablet and a 3d mouse? Done. Need to use musical hardware for capture and output? Yep. Wirelessly control cameras or sensors? You can even come up with ways for all of these to work together on a laptop.
3. Software Compatibility
Working with several different apps on a tablet can be a pain. On desktop however, things are sometimes as easy as drag and drop, or copy paste across a variety of different classes of software. For tasks that require precision and speed, nothing beats having a good pen display such as a Wacom connected to a computer.
Even the lightest laptops can't compete with tablets in the portability department. Not to mention that due to the point below, you’ll always have to bring the charger with you.
2. Battery Life
This is such a big point it had to make the list twice. Sure, Apple’s new mobile chips in their laptops offer great power at great efficiency. Still, when putting it through mundane creative work it still drains quickly. Power comes at a price, and often, it's the battery life that pays.
3. I couldn’t think of another one
I like doing lists in 3s, but I just can’t come up with another point against laptops. However, the two previous mentioned points are such dealbreakers for certain work sessions I end up using a tablet most of the day.
The Middle Child: 2-in-1 Devices
Enter the hybrid devices, attempting to offer the best of both worlds. But remember, while they promise versatility, there are compromises on both fronts.
Making the Choice
So, how do you choose? It boils down to understanding your primary needs. Here’s how I split my activities between the two devices:
Sketches & Notes
Short Form Video Content
Social Media Posters
Mood-boarding & Research
Scheduling & Project Management
Calls, Emails, Messages, Meetings
Complex Design Files
Long Form Video Content
3D Design & Graphics
In the grand tapestry of design and technology, the choice between a tablet and a laptop isn't about which is superior. It's about which tool resonates with your workflow, complements your style, and amplifies your creativity. After all, in the hands of a craftsman, every tool has its magic.
From my experience, I recommend two ideal set-ups:
This one is best for someone who work out of the same desk every time they need to do work:
Powerful Desktop / Laptop Computer
Drawing Screen (such as Wacom) connected to Computer
This will mean that you‘ll be doing all your design work off the computer connected to the proper peripherals to make it happen. You could still opt for a low-end tablet that allows you to do some writing, project management, or communication when traveling.
The Digital Nomad
This is a powerful option will all the functionality the above options grants, with the added bonus of being able to function anywhere.
Powerful / Mid-Range Tablet
Duet App (to turn the tablet into a pen screen for the laptop)
You’ll end up with smaller screens, but you’ll be able to do all the work the mothership is able to do at the cost of performance. Of course, you’ll have the ability to do that work from anywhere. This one is also going to end up being a more budget-friendly option.
Remember, the tech world is vast, and there's always something new around the corner. Stay curious, stay updated, and most importantly, stay true to what works for you. Because at the end of the day, it's not about the tool, but the artist wielding it.