Can an iPad Really Replace Your Laptop?

Should I buy an iPad? That is a question we get here at LockerGnome almost every week, and have since the iPad first launched over two years ago. The new iPad has just come out, and it appears the question of whether or not an iPad is a good purchase decision has become a hot topic yet again. For many users, if not most, the question boils down to finance and choosing between one technology and another. For the purpose of this article, we’ll take a look at whether or not an iPad could truly replace a laptop for most users. This assuming that these users still have a desktop computer at home, and are seeking a mobile computing solution outside of a smartphone.

I had some experience using an iPad as a laptop replacement during my time as a producer. Being in a cramped control room with very little (if any) space for a laptop can be difficult, especially if you need to stay in the booth while also attempting to do fact checking, book guests, and handle other time-sensitive duties without allowing the show to suffer. While the term laptop would suggest that they work very well sitting on your lap, a four-hour session with one resting on your knees is hardly ideal. Instead of using a laptop, I used an iPad. After a few days of adjusting to the new interface and figuring out alternative methods of getting things done, I found that not only was I able to get as much done with the iPad as I had with the laptop, but I did so much faster.

So, can an iPad really replace your laptop? Here are a few key usage areas to consider.

Email, Social Networking, and Communication

One of the most popular uses for a laptop, or any mobile computing solution for that matter, is communication. Keeping up with your email, social network accounts, and even communicating with friends and family through chat, Skype, IRC, and other programs is a big reason to consider a laptop computer. After all, being away from home shouldn’t restrict your communication means to a 3″ mobile phone screen, should it?

So, if a smartphone just isn’t cutting it for you, the decision of whether to buy an iPad or a laptop computer comes into play. The laptop gives you the advantage of having the full power of a desktop operating system to a mobile computing platform. You can take your home office with you, or even make the laptop a central part of your home office. Laptops (or notebooks, if you prefer) are able to act as both your primary computing device and your mobile one, making it an obvious choice for communication.

Email clients, browsers, and communication programs are abundant on virtually every major operating system out there. It isn’t hard to find a clear and easy method of getting things done.

The iPad, on the other hand, is touch-driven and may not be a viable primary computing solution. It does, however, have a number of quick and easy app solutions that will allow you to communicate through email, social media, and even VOIP through Vonage, Skype, and others. The iPad also has the advantage of a front and back facing camera solution, allowing you to easily video chat with someone and show them something in front of you with a tap of the screen. In many cases, I’ve found the iPad to be a superior communication device, if only because it doesn’t require constant plugging in or desk space to open up and go.

As for whether or not one wins over the other in terms of capability, the laptop still reigns in this department.


Laptops are portable computers. They have a battery, relatively small framework, and can be used without the need of external monitors or peripherals. This is one of the advantages of a laptop over a desktop, but can it really shine when compared to the iPad?

The iPad has remarkable battery life, light weight, and doesn’t need to be opened or closed to operate. Everything you need is present on a single screen, and can be extended with an external keyboard and speakers if you really want to. The iPad can also connect to the Web via Wi-Fi or wireless broadband (some models) through a mobile carrier. Essentially, you could use the iPad in a moving vehicle, a solution not common with budget laptops unless you initiate tethering or some other external wireless solution such as a mobile hotspot or wireless card.

The iPad can be slipped in the pocket of a purse or small shoulder bag. Smaller laptops may have this ability, but there are still other extras to consider such as the shorter battery life and need for a power cable and/or brick to get through a day at the office.

In terms of potability, the iPad absolutely outshines even the smallest and thinnest laptops in the $500-800 price range.

Office Applications

Laptops leverage the power of a full screen and desktop OS to bring users a robust computing platform capable of handling just about anything a business application can throw at it. The only difference between a laptop and a desktop computer is the size of the monitor. That said, most laptops outside of netbooks have a larger monitor than the iPad, even though the newest iPad boasts more pixels.

The iPad isn’t built for spreadsheets, nor is it particular good at heavy document editing. It’s capable of doing this through mobile applications such as OnLive and Documents to Go, but there is still a gap between a laptop and the iPad when it comes to editing office documents. Software developers are getting closer and closer to solving this problem, but it just isn’t there yet.

When it comes to document management and editing, the laptop still has an advantage.

Computing Power

The argument between these two technologies almost inevitably goes to computing power. Yes, laptop computers (even budget ones) pack a potentially bigger punch in terms of processing power, but the vast majority of the regular users out there take more advantage of cloud-based applications every day. Checking email, browsing the Web, and other normal everyday tasks don’t take a lot of power to accomplish.

If you’re talking about photo and video editing, this is an area that specs don’t always equal performance. A desktop operating system such as Windows and OS X may have the biggest and most robust editing tools at its disposal. Good luck finding anything that stands up to Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas on a mobile platform, though the iPad itself has some big content creation capabilities thanks to applications such as iMovie and iPhoto for iOS. These apps have been updated recently and can turn simple photos and videos taken by a digital camera or iOS device into edited content with ease.

I was blown away the first time I edited a video in iMovie for iOS. Prior to having done so, I was convinced it would be a terrible experience. To my surprise, not only was editing fairly easy, but processing took very little time and uploading to YouTube was easy. Yes, you do lose some of your pro capabilities on a mobile platform, but you might be surprised just how capable an iPad is, especially at the $500 price point. Most laptops you’ll find there are budget machines with trimmed specs.

As far as raw computing power goes, the laptop has a slim edge for the price.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can tell you one option is better than another. The fact is, better is always relative. I prefer a laptop in many situations because there is software and/or reasons that I may need something off of it. That said, the iPad itself has proven to be a powerful mobile computer with a remarkably robust set of capabilities which is only growing.

Apple undoubtedly hopes to one day replace laptops with its little miracle tablet. Microsoft certainly appears to be heading in that direction with what we’ve seen thus far of Windows 8. Perhaps this is the future of technology, and eventually the argument will become less about iPads and Laptops and more about iPads and desktops.

Let’s not forget Android, which itself has proven to be a strong competitor in the tablet OS market. While it isn’t the subject of this particular article, it should be noted that almost everything said here could very well apply to an Android tablet.

What do you think? Could an iPad replace a normal user’s laptop, given that that user has a desktop system at home? If you had to choose between a $500 laptop and a $500 iPad, which would you prefer, and why?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Bharat Kumar Gupta

    i ve said it earlier also with the release of new ipad u cant for long ignore tablet computing and the potential of devices like ipad, i m more eager to see apps like ms office on ipad and apps from major comp like adobe and autodesk, ipad suits most i would say 90 % of the needs that i need my laptop for, it is extremely portable with great battery life, and the direct touch experience as oppose to keyboard n mouse is magical, thats for me and my dad, my dad who couldnt use a computer before can do so much more on a touch interface its a joy product, i recommend ipad for most seniors out there and also folks who lug laptop around for basic computing tasks

    • Matt Ryan


    • Lewis Ulloa

      Agree about the ease of use, its a really intuitive feel to manipulate a device with the use of our hands which have helped us and have shown to be one of the most highly efficient and flexible tools we got.

      I believe Adobe started heading in that direction already as some other companies as well. Now, as far as autodesk heading in that direction? (perhaps with the use of the cloud) But I dont think it would be a native software/app running on the Ipad. I use Photoshop, Maya, 3Ds Max, Zbrush, UDK etc. and even painting with  some of the sketch apps on the ipad feels slow. But then again technology advances very quickly perhaps if they can cram a workstation level card in the ipad i can see it happening.

      • Bharat Kumar Gupta

        i agree with u, i only want high end drawing apps and precision of stylus like wacom inside ipad no matter what kind of pressure sensitivity sensors they put in there, it has to be done there bec unlike laptop+wacom tablet an ipad is a direct interface, drawing and sketching would be so cool in that. Its a kluge at current to use wacom tablet hooked to a pc, its just not natural when it comes to interface, this is one thing i want in my ipad. i can move around and sketch stuff, ideas n etc for everything else i got my pc.

  • RaterKey

    It is all about how much type versus read.

    For me no, an iPad is a nice little toy, something to wind down with after work. But there’s very little of my work that I could actually do on an iPad other than answer emails.

    • Matt Ryan

      Good point.

  • Bharat Kumar Gupta

    “For the purpose of this article, we’ll take a look at whether a laptop could truly replace a laptop for most users” i think there is an error sentence here

    • Matt Ryan

      That was indeed an error sentence here. Thanks.

  • Stacy Pharis

    Not yet. I do too much audio editing and gaming to switch. Must have the clients installed and use mondo processor and ram.

    • Matt Ryan

      Interesting, thanks!

  • Glen O’Donnell

    Absolutely, I have brought a fantastic bluetooth keyboard made by logitech made for the iPad.  

    • Matt Ryan

      Oh cool!

  • Shannon Linquist

    I use a Toshiba laptop for work and home. I have everything from my customers database, spreadsheets and invoices to home videos and games. I also have a Samsung Galaxy 10″ tab. The Android market is abound with free and low cost apps. Apple is too proprietary for me…..and too expensive.

    • Perez0396

      How is apple too expensive? The price point on you Samsung galaxy is almost compare to apple.

  • andys4osu

    MacPro at home (would like to downsize to an iMac if anyone is interested) and an iPad each for my wife and I. Havent touched our laptops in 2 years.

  • rictownsend

    Interesting… not sure if I would go ipad only yet however with a key board and mouse available I guess I will in the future!

  • Diego Segura

    Media consumption was always great, but with Avid, Garagebang, Photoshop Touch, iMovie, and more, coming to the iPad, it really could replace it.

  • Djs142

    Just a matter of time before the tablet replaces the lap top!

  • lindalynn

     no ,i prefer laptop than ipad

  • Chris Pirillo
  • Lewis Ulloa

    A Normal users laptop, yeah. 

    Between a 500 dollar laptop and a 500 dollar Ipad its a hard choice, because currently apple sells the most expensive gigabyte without a change of expanding with items like SD cards or ram. I can get a 500 Dollar laptop and upgrade it 6 months later and I bet its going to be a lot cheaper than getting the next iteration of the Ipad (which most likely wont be worth the update besides just having “the next big thing”) 

  • Gary Drum

    For the most part, yes. I’ve used my first-generation iPad to create and present Keynote presentations at conferences. Going on the road with the iPad, an Apple bluetooth keyboard and Incase’s Origami case (holds keyboard and iPad like a laptop) means I don’t have to schlep my Macbook (nor get said Macbook out for airport security). Web, e-mail, last minute presentation edits, all done with the iPad, keyboard and case. 

  • Trisha

    The iPad will replace my MacBook Pro when it has a Finder file management utility. I have a ton of PDFs, iBooks and GoodReader do not cut it. I need my files with me. The cloud is not the answer.

  • Karl Entner

    For me personally when I need to bring a laptop with me its to do actual work on it using MS office or open Office. for documenting the work that I need to get done as well as use compilers for writing source code while I am away from my main machine. Things like the IPad or other tables that are out there. Don’t really cut it for what I need to do.  But if it’s for reading ebooks, or extremely light stuff like emails via online mail services. Okay that is not so bad. It all depends on what you need the tablet  over the normal laptop. It might go as far as on a individual basis. 

  • Ernest Koncaba

    I spend enough time on my computer with a desktop. If I am not able to use my desktop, then I just don’t use the internet. Allows me free time to do other things.

  • Darren Robertson

    Can it? No! At least not right now.

    Yes you can do some things on both but a laptop is much more powerful, have much bigger screens and have much many more uses. Thats not to say a tablet, (either ipad or android) would not be a better choice for some people but tablets just don’t compare to laptops at all.

    Thats not to say things won’t change, there are two things really holding the tablet back. The first is overall power. The problem is boosting the power (cpu, gpu etc etc) would cause a massive drain on the battery. Onlive have a solution, others may come up with there own but i think windows 8 may be in a position to make the biggest difference. If microsoft can get any tablet to be able to log into a desktop from either wifi at home or over the internet, with a good speed and refresh rate then this means you can have all the power of a desktop on a tablet. With the metro system it makes things easier to use as well. The problem is that the current RDC can be a bit slow at times so they need to make sure it’s up to scratch.

    The second is screen size. The biggest i’ve seen is 10 inch’s. I’ve a small netbook which is handy enough if i have to go out, or be away for a while. 8 hour battery, seperate keyboard. But the screen really is too small for anything useful, even web browsing can be really annoying. Having to have a keyboard over the screen just makes things worse as is the case with tablets. Larger screen tablets are needed to be any real use compared to laptops.

    So i look forward to the day when 17 inch tablets which can easily log into your home desktop arrive before i ditch a laptop (or even my netbook)

  • nicodeimous

    Useabilty isnt there yet to replace a work use laptop, especially a windows one. Mac osx i could see being a closer arguement seeings as ios is very close to the present osx formats.

  • Liz Hall

    Thank you  for the great info! Have a fabulous week!

  • layanglicana

    Laptop or iPad? Has to be iPad – with all the other things that I have to carry around, weight is really important factor!

  • shadowcat_2

    Have an android tablet, with “on demand” Flash.  For ME, THAT IS Ideal solution.  Based on weight, AND Function, pe4fection.

  • drfstuff

    I think a better comparison would be between a netbook and Ipad based on size & features. I use both of them; the netbook for checking email etc in the morning, and the ipad for aviation chart display when piloting an airplane. 

  • bryanminer

    For casual use yes, but for doing quite a few things at once you need a notebook and yes I realize most people don’t multi-task.

    • nicodeimous

      Very true

  • Solomon Watts

    I have to say yes. The list of things that you can’t do on a tablet keeps getting smaller and smaller  (heck, we have ported Photoshop, Final Cut, Chrome, MW3, and Office Applications on already).  Besides, if you REALLY needed to access a PC like that, you could use a Cloud PC service

    • nicodeimous

      There are ot of more demanding activeties that arent usable on tablets, even if ported to it. Usable is the main point to me, you can port em but do they run fast smooth and interact properly when you do.

  • nicodeimous

    Acer one note, thay would be preferable to any tablet too me, its small compact capable and able to get most work thats not quick media related done quickly. Now if i wasnt using it for work related files like excel or thw such then any tablet would do. Any tablet, that means blackberry, android or ipad would do. Personally the ipads to large for quick use than say a net book, seems about the same level of hassel in the end. I for instance use a 7 inch tab all through my day, i can quickly pocket it [not sitting down though lol] and move from one station to another and retrieve it quickly. This gives me the advantage of having my hands free the whole time i dont need to use it and not having to put it down on a desk or something keeps it unmolested by strangers.

    Ipads just seem cumbersome in the enviroments i see them in and more often than not there just a statement anyways … the same statement is made with an over priced silver laptop by the same makers [grin].

  • Edwin

    I am not a big gamer but I do play games on ocasions, how would I play those nice looking games, that i paid a lot of money for, and that I have on Steam, on an iPad? I simply can’t. I am however convinced that everything that can be done on an iPad can also be done on a regular Windows computer. My wife has an iPad and I could use it, but the only thing it is doing is collecting dust

  • Carlos Rincon Eckardt

    I have a 13′ inch Macbook Pro that I absolutely adore… and in the near future I would expect to replace it with a Macbook Air but the new iPad with it’s gorgeous display and an ever expanding  set of powerfull desktop class applications is looking more and more as the option of choice… I will definitely get another Apple laptop in the future but I definitely see the iPad as the main tool of choice when mobile and convenience comes to mind! 

  • Drew S

    Should i get my son a IPad or a Macbook air? 

  • frozen_dude

    Close to the end of the Palm OS classic (pre-OS 5) era, two compilers for C that runs on the Palm OS devices were released, this allowed you to write native Palm OS apps (small ones, since memory for source code was limited by the device) on Palm handheld organizers, it was a real pain to do since the on screen keyboard was to inaccurate, and writing code in the handwriting recognition area took time and made my hand hurt. But… you could code on the device!
    I have yet to see an touch-based OS where you can code natively (not counting Win8). Apple says you need a Mac to code for iOS, and Android does not allow native code from 3rd parties at all (unless you count the jailed Java wrapper for native code).
    And thus, I have decided to install Gentoo below my first Android device.

  • BobbyXavier

    I haven’t touched my Asus netbook every since i got the ipad 2 with brookstone keyboard/case. I also gave a 6 core gaming rig but I have been using that far less now.

    Some of the Pros of tablets, atleast for me:

    Fast and near instantaneous
    Very little heat, and no fan or disk drive noise
    No registry cleaning or defragging
    Very smooth websurfing – I can’t understand how my powerful desktop can’t give a

  • Michael Endsley

    Does a tablet replace my laptop? Well, let’s first step back and consider this.

    I recently got Asus’s Prime tabby. I’d say I use it 80% of the time, and my laptop, running Arch Linux, the other 20% of the time these days. The Prime, with its keyboard dock, can take USB devices like mice or thumb drives, so it doesn’t lose out there. I have the full typing speed of a great chiclet qwerty keyboard, a multitouch trackpad, hardware function keys specific to Android (so you needn’t use the touchscreen or trackpad nearly as much, if you like), and a great pair of back- and forward-facing cameras. It multitasks vid chat, browsing, and other apps like a champ. Add onto this hardware functionality the fact that I have gmail, Chrome for browsing, Talk, IRC, youtube, Skype, games, an office suite, twitter, evernote, multimedia, a whole host of widgets at my disposal (the indispensable ones being weather, the Mint widget, a media player, and analog/alarm clock). The only thing I personally would miss from a laptop is the gaming potential, for which I do intend to build a Windows desktop at some point, or specialty projects like that I currently use the lappy for.

    So did a tablet replace my laptop? Yes and no. More like a master-of-all-machines tablet that is *also* a laptop replaced my laptop. I hope they all go this way in the future, because, like the cell phone, I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

    P.S. – By contrast, my two iPad 2-wielding roommates use their tablets far more rarely. Maybe 20%-30% of the time.

  • Allen Fernandez

    For me, iPad has replaced my Laptop and yes even my desktop!

    As someone as a casual user and a business user, I am a testimony to what the iPad has became for me. As a side note: I am not a Geek, but a casual user with a good amount of technical knowledge. 

    Web Browsing:
    Browsing the web does not require flash and I’ve realized since I used to criticize the iOS for not including Adobe Flash in Safari. I use business tools such as Google Apps Domain Management and Microsoft Exchange which I’m able to manage it all through the iPad in Safari. I work part-time in fixing computers in software support, virus removal and hardware replacement (screen replacements, motherboard replacements, etc.). I record all client information and scheduling on Google Docs, but now the iPad has made it easier with their own software from Apple called Numbers. As I create the spreadsheet on Numbers, I can export it to my Google Account on Google Docs (my own setup). These I can do on the go and I can truly say, I don’t need a computer to do this. 

    I can’t say it enough to people, the iPad’s built-in email client is simple and amazing. Working on email on an iPad just feels like you have more control than using even those Android tablets running ICS. I use Microsoft Exchange for my Gmail since that seem to work better than using IMAP and I get my mail instantly. Sending attachments is simple. Most of my files are stored in services such as Dropbox. Most of the time I’m just sending photos but even uploading documents I can do very easily through Pages (Apple’s word processor). I don’t need to upload a huge zip file of photos or docs neither do I upload crazy apk files through XDA Developers (Just a side joke). 

    Social Networking:
    Privacy and connectivity doesn’t require the desktop anymore, the iPad has apps that can do it all. I use Facebook on a semi daily basis even to write on my Facebook Pages. The Facebook App does just fine on the iPad and I can do practically anything on Facebook’s website that I can do on iPad. I actually find that on iPad through an app then it is using it through Safari or Chrome (on Windows). Twitter works the same way with me, though I use Tweetcaster Pro on the iPad more because of the functionality. Video calling through Skype is another key element that I rather use on the iPad than on the desktop. It just works!

    Taking notes – Evernote
    An overkill productivity suite – Pages, Numbers, Keynote
    Online storage service – Dropbox 
    Social networking – Facebook, Twitter, Ning networks
    Running Windows – Onlive Desktop
    Video conferencing – Skype (Works great!)

    Concluding incite: 
    If I really needed my laptop, I wouldn’t mind paying a subscription fee to use Windows 7 through Onlive Desktop. The technology is there, but most of the time I would just use iOS to complete most of my business and casual activity. As a user, it’s hard to believe even reading this article why the iPad could not replace laptops. As a portable computer, it has changed my way of using technology and in many ways can change Enterprise as well. As a productivity device, I have to strongly disagree on this article in the ways of heavy document editing. In fact, I find it easier to do heavy document editing on the iPad through Pages than any version of Microsoft Office that Microsoft has released for Windows. 

    I say the iPad can and does have this core advantage even against the upcoming Windows 8 OS.

  • Maria Yanicki

    It’s mostly a geek gadget to me, and I’m a big multitasker. I write novels, and I focus better when I’m talking to someone (as long as it’s not a huge chatroom, typically just one or two people at once). I also find music gives my scene the mood it needs. So I write, chat, and listen to music all at the same time. I need a device that can multitask like that. The iPad isn’t a writing device either, and until it is, I probably won’t consider it much. Until then, it remains a geeky gadget to me.

  • KenLe

    Laptop for Expert User only ( Developer, Designer, Gamer ).
    iPad for Business / Home User only ( email, Chat, Video, fun games, social networking ).
    If starcraft 2 can run on iPad, I will buy iPad.

  • Chris W

    The iPad 3 has replaced my 2 year old toshiba laptop but I think it will be a while yet before it gets to the stage that it can replace my desktop computer.

    The only place the iPad lacks is document work. It’s a bit of a pain to write essays but it can handle it.

  • Cheap Laptops

    I think there is a simple answer here. No.

    The iPad is a great thing to own, and is certainly great for certain things, but when you have actual work to do, you just can’t beat a cheap laptop computer to do it from… The iPad 1, iPad 2 & iPad 3 are very expensive for what they allow you to do.