Swapping out a laptop for an iPad might’ve seemed outrageous a couple of years back. Nowadays, though? It’s not so far fetched. The iPad’s operating system, iPadOS, has become a lot more capable. Apple’s seen fit to let it do more typical computer things, such as file management and — gasp — setting your own default web browser. But can the iPad replace a laptop in actuality? Can Apple’s slate really stand in for a full on-the-go computer?
Well, that depends on what you’re using it for.
For basic web browsing and email, the iPad is really all you need
Some of you may only interact with Google Chrome, and chances are, you probably use a web-based email service, too. If you fall into that category, an iPad could almost certainly take the place of a laptop.
The iPad’s default browser, Safari, is desktop class and capable of just about anything your laptop’s browser is. Chrome on iOS comes pretty close. There are apps for just about every web-based email provider out there, including Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, whatever Microsoft calls its mail now, and so on. The iPad may even do a better job alerting you to new messages than your laptop does now.
Where the iPad really shines, though, is where it allows you to do some light surfing. I, for instance, can regularly be found sprawled out on the couch, iPad in hand, sifting through Reddit. That incredibly comfortable position is one I can’t really pull off while using a laptop.
And when you’re just web browsing, the iPad’s battery life is absolutely killer. There’s no beating it. You can look at a few web pages, set it down, come back later and do the same thing again. If you’re just using it every once in a while, it might be days before you need to charge it. If you’re constantly using it, you might need to charge it once a day.
If you use more intricate web apps, and there aren’t iPad app equivalents, a laptop may be best
The iPad’s browser is pretty impressive, but there are still some things it has trouble with. Any kind of web app that isn’t fully adapted for the iPad may run into issues — especially if it uses some sort of mouse-over to display menus or provide other types of info.
Some web apps may not be with the times, either, and by that I mean they aren’t responsive. The iPad has a more boxy, less widescreen aspect ratio. If some web apps were made with wider displays in mind, you may find them a bit more difficult to use on your tablet.
With that said, if you’re on an iPad Air or an iPad Pro, and you have one of Apple’s Magic Keyboards attached, the situation for you suddenly becomes entirely different. Suddenly you have a trackpad, and can hit those mouseover menus with ease. Because those iPads sport larger displays, you can also go into Safari’s settings menu and zoom the resolution out to around 75%, which still makes them very usable while also letting you see more of a web app on your screen.
Since this doesn’t apply to all iPads, though — just the newest Air and the last two years of iPad Pros — I still have to go with laptops on this one. There are almost certainly more $329 iPads out in the world than anything else, and those fall short in this area.
For content consumption, can an iPad replace a laptop? Yes
Laptops can do a pretty serviceable job when it comes to media. There of loads of apps you can download and install for audio and video files. There are tons of streaming services, both for music and video, that work superbly on desktop browsers.
But wow, you haven’t lived until you’ve laid in bed watching a movie on your iPad.
The iPad’s size and form factor have a lot to do with why it wins as a content consumption device. It’s light. It doesn’t have fans you need to worry about blocking with a blanket. The speakers are oftentimes better than the ones you’ll find on a laptop these days. Laptop makers really cheap out on the speakers for some reason.
And for certain types of content, the iPad is without a doubt way better than a laptop. If you want to read an Amazon eBook, for instance, how would you rather do that: on a laptop screen, or on a tablet you can hold in your hands? A tablet you can use to read in portrait mode, with the cool page flip animations and everything? For eBooks, magazines, comics, or what have you, the iPad is the clear victor.
If you need to use a bunch of peripherals, go laptop
I’m one of those people who would love to ditch a laptop and go with an iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard setup. There are certain reasons I really can’t leave the PC world behind, though. One of them: there are just some things the iPad can’t do yet.
As someone who covers video games quite a bit, I have a capture card and software I use to record video and take screen shots. I’ve still not found a great solution for that on iPad. I also grab content on my Xbox via a USB thumb drive and use those clips and shots in articles. The iPad simply cannot read the file format the Xbox uses, but Windows (unsurprisingly) can.
You may have your own peripheral reasons for still needing a laptop over an iPad. Maybe you’re into 3D printing. Maybe you like robotics and there aren’t iPad apps for the gadgets you connect to. Whatever the case may be, areas like these expose the iPad a little bit.
Are you a more casual gamer? iPad is the way to go
The iPad has been around for over ten years now. Pretty incredible, isn’t it? In that span, the tablet has built up a healthy supply of games, which is even larger if you consider the fact that the iPad can run iPhone games, too.
These games aren’t usually hardcore experiences, though there are some ports of console games that have made their way over. iPad games are typically at their best when they’re built for the device, and they’re light enough that you can jump in and out of them without too much hassle.
And don’t forget: the iPad has Apple Arcade. At $4.99 per month, you get 100 pretty good games that don’t contain advertising or in-app purchases. It’s quite the steal if you think you might get the itch to play something every now and again.
If you’re a serious gamer, a Windows gaming laptop is the better option
The iPad has quite a lineup of games you can play, but you’re never going to find full-fledged, AAA titles quite like you’ll find on a Windows gaming laptop. If you go with one of those, you can install any number of launchers — be it Steam, Ubisoft Connect, Origin, Epic Games Store, and so on — and have a treasure trove of big-budget games and indie hits ready to go.
A gaming laptop is larger and heavier, but that’s because it contains all of the components of a typical laptop plus an onboard GPU — graphics processing unit. This means it can play things the iPad could really only dream of. Do you want the latest Tomb Raider at 60 FPS? A mid-range gaming laptop can do that with ease. An iPad would have a lot more trouble hitting that mark, and that’s before you consider the fact that it doesn’t have that game.
And if you go with a gaming laptop, you’ll have access to Xbox Game Pass, which is without question one of the best deals in gaming right now. For $9.99 a month, you can get access to over 100 PC games, including some critically acclaimed gems.
For work, really, it’s sort of a wash
Can an iPad replace a laptop where work is involved? That’s a trickier question to answer, because you likely have a different job than a lot of other people.
If you’re a graphic designer, for instance, you may find an iPad can do everything you want, and may even offer you an easier path to doing things like sketching or making photo edits.
But if you’re a programmer, you may find yourself limited by the iPadOS multitasking system, which makes it a bit more of a chore to switch between multiple apps. You may find you’re much happier with a laptop.
If you’re a writer, you can probably knock out page after page in an iPad word processing app and not even blink. In fact, with Apple’s Magic Keyboard, you may forget you’re slamming out all of those words on an iPad. The experience really isn’t all that different.
But if you’re someone doing a more specialized form of data entry — say, a medical coder or something to that effect — you may find you can’t jump around the screen as quickly as you would like. You may even use a specific app for your job that the iPad just doesn’t support.
Here, it’s really going to come down to what you do, and how much of what you do can be done on a more simple device versus something a bit more complex.
So, can a laptop replace an iPad?
We’ve run through a whole bunch of different computing scenarios, and at the end, here we are — back to that same question we started with. Truth be told, I think the real answer lies in what I said before we kicked things off: it depends.
There are just some tasks the iPad isn’t well suited for. And that’s fine! It doesn’t really try to be a full-fledged computer. There’s little indication Apple wants that from it.
But there are a bunch of things the iPad can do very well, and in some cases, better than a laptop. If your primary use cases fall within those parameters, and you can’t see yourself ever needing a laptop for anything, then yes — you can probably drop the laptop and go iPad only.