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Laptop vs. tablets: how they compare for true productivity

Ben Taylor | Sept. 26, 2014
When the Surface Pro 3 launched, Microsoft made a bold claim: This is the tablet that can replace your laptop.

So in the end, the best comparison point we have is vendor-reported battery life. It's not perfect, because manufacturers's measuring methods and fudge factors can vary. Nevertheless, it's a number the vendors are willing to stand by.

Here's a chart with battery life for 50 of the most popular modern laptops.

Battery Life for 50 Modern Laptops | FindTheBest

The average laptop lasts about 6 hours, according to manufacturers, despite a few standouts (the ThinkPad X240 can go for 17 hours). 

Compare that to tablets, where the average reported battery life is just under 10 hours.

Battery Life for 50 Modern Tablets | FindTheBest

It's worth noting that 10 hours is by far the most common vendor-reported battery life for tablets. This could be because tablet-makers have learned they must hit 10 hours to be taken seriously. More cynically, it could be a particularly egregious example of number-fudging. Either way, the gap is big enough to hand tablets the victory.
Battery life winner: Tablets

Connectivity: Tablets have little room to spare

It's the last thing you think about when you're buying the device, and often the first problem that comes up at home: ports and connectivity.

Tablets have come a long way since the original iPad, which featured nothing more than a 30-pin charge port. But they still lag far behind laptops in connectivity.

Virtually every laptop on the market (in 2013 and 2014) has a USB port, we found, compared to only 27 percent of modern tablets. The discrepancy is similar for HDMI ports, at 82 percent (laptops) versus 15 percent (tablets).

A typical projector or printer will almost always work with your laptop, and will rarely ever work with your tablet. Today, that's still a problem.

Yes, tech companies have built various workarounds for tablets, like Apple TV for the iPad or Chromecast for the Nexus, but neither has the same universal reliability of plugging an HP LaserJet into your Lenovo ThinkPad. There's just no consistency in the world of tablets, so individual vendors have had to form separate, proprietary solutions.

The closest thing to a standard on tablets is the micro-USB, which you can find on 57% of devices. That's progress, but that's nothing like good ol' USB.
Connectivity winner: Laptops

Laptops win, but tablets are learning

The laptop remains safe--for now. In three out of five productivity specs, the tablet failed to compete.

But the tablet is making progress, riding its battery-life advantage and banking on new technologies (like cloud storage, Chromecast, and Airplay) to overcome its remaining deficiencies. We'll have to wait and see whether Microsoft's claim was ultimately wrong...or just a little early.

 

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