More than six years have elapsed since Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad. In the intervening time, gadget makers around the world have created tablets in a wide array of shapes and sizes, with different purposes and operating systems, at all kinds of price points. But plenty of people make big mistakes when they’re shopping for a tablet, and plenty more people have bought, or are considering purchasing, a tablet even when they’re not sure whether they really need a tablet. In fact, for most people, there isn’t really a reason to buy a tablet anymore.
Tablets lose out on portability and utility
When tablets first became popular, they were very different from the other devices we were using: phones and laptops. They were much more portable and responsive than laptops, but a lot bigger and easier to use for media consumption than a small smartphone. Today, that’s changed. A large-screened smartphone with a robust battery has become an acceptable place to watch a Netflix show or catch up on the day’s news, and a lightweight, portable laptop is often not much larger than the average tablet.
Another reason why you probably don’t need a tablet comes down to the question of how many devices you really want to own, maintain, and carry around. If you want one device in your pocket and one in your work bag, then the tablet is probably the first to get the axe. A laptop is a fully-featured device that can run resource-intensive software, enable you to create and edit documents with its full keyboard, and take full advantage of everything the internet has to offer. A smartphone, particularly one with a large screen, works great for staying in touch with friends and co-workers, reading or watching videos on the subway, and staying plugged in to your email account everywhere you go. But a tablet’s place in the lineup is less obvious. It can’t do everything that the first two devices can, and there probably isn’t anything unique that it brings to the table, either.
Additionally, you should always consider how you’re going to carry a new device if your idea is that you’ll always have it with you. A smartphone fits easily and comfortably into most pockets, which makes it easy to have with you at all times. But you probably don’t carry your laptop around with your everywhere, since doing so requires carrying a bag. A tablet falls somewhere between; it probably won’t fit in your pocket, but carrying an entire laptop bag just to tote your tablet around will probably feel cumbersome. Tablets are portable, but not portable enough to justify the fact that they don’t do much more than a smartphone.
Tablets often fail to be good multitasking and multipurpose devices
Even if you know that your tablet doesn’t do anything unique, but you like the form factor of a tablet, that still isn’t a reason to buy a new tablet. There are plenty of 2-in-1 or hybrid laptops, which feature detachable keyboards (or keyboards that can be folded back under the screen) that may be a little bulkier than a traditional tablet, but offer a considerable amount of power and versatility. These devices are streamlined enough to be portable, but flexible and full-featured enough to maximize productivity. The reason why? A laptop is much better at multitasking than a tablet, since it has the hardware (and the operating system) to get some serious work done one day, and then make it easy to browse the web and check in on your social networks the next.
It’s been repeatedly said that the best camera is one that you have with you, particularly in regards to smartphone cameras, and the same philosophy may apply to screens and devices in general. You’ll probably always have your smartphone with you, and you’re likely going to have your laptop with you each day you go into work. If you can imagine only a few specific use cases for your tablet, you probably aren’t going to want to carry it along, as well. Which means that instead of spending a few hundred dollars on a tablet, you should probably consider using those funds to upgrade to a more portable and powerful laptop.
For most people, a tablet isn’t essential because it doesn’t have a specific use that another device can’t fulfill. If you want a tablet to do something specific, then you’ll probably find one that can fit your needs. But if you’re buying a tablet without any specific purpose in mind, you should probably think carefully about whether a tablet will be capable enough when it comes to multitasking, or whether you’re better off just upgrading your laptop to be more portable.
The software available on tablets is disappointing
Another reason why you probably don’t need a tablet is that the software isn’t quite as capable as you might imagine. It’s only with this year’s release of Android Nougat that Google is releasing real multitasking features for Android tablets, and Apple’s addition of multitasking features for the iPad has been a relatively recent development, as well. Additionally, there are a huge variety of great smartphone apps in each of the major app stores. But fewer of those apps than you might imagine have tablet versions that are anything more than a scaled-up version of the smartphone app. And if you’re considering a tablet just to play games, think again. Serious gamers will have more fun with a game console or PC games, and favorite titles of casual gamers aren’t going to be any more enjoyable on a tablet than on a smartphone with a decent-sized screen.
That said, if there’s an app (or a handful of apps) that make a tablet worth the price to you, it’s possible that a tablet will work for you as a single-use device. But for those who still like the idea of a tablet that can serve many purposes and enable easy multitasking, the operating systems and apps available on tablets are going to be disappointing. In short, if you don’t know what a tablet is for, you probably don’t need one. Adding another device to your lineup isn’t going to make things more efficient, and if the apps aren’t good enough, a tablet isn’t going to be all that useful in taking over tasks you currently complete on your phone or laptop.
Phones are getting bigger, and laptops are getting lighter
We’ve already talked about the way that tablets don’t offer the same portability as phones, and also fail to offer the same utility as a laptop. It used to be easy to justify the purchase of a tablet because smartphones were small and laptops were bulky and heavy. But devices ranging from smartphones to tablets are now offered in a wide range of sizes, and size is a pretty difficult way to justify purchasing a tablet anymore.
Smartphones are getting bigger, with bright, responsive screens that measure 5 inches, 5.5 inches, 6 inches, or even bigger. You have great options for a big smartphone whether you’re an Android fan or an iPhone devotee. And because there’s just a small number of apps that are really optimized for touchscreens in the tablet size range, there are probably few tasks that are better completed on a tablet than a super-sized smartphone. Additionally, the biggest phone is probably still easier to carry around than the smallest tablet. And more importantly, you’ll probably always have your phone with you — unlike a tablet that probably won’t go with you each time you leave the house.
Similarly, it might have made sense in the past to purchase a tablet instead of a laptop if you wanted a device that was light and portable. But laptops are continually getting smaller and lighter. The smallest laptops on the market are specifically designed to be light and portable. Additionally, a laptop will give you access to much more powerful software than a tablet, plus an operating system designed for computers instead of smartphones. Plus, a laptop is much more likely to feature a comfortable keyboard — which can be a big selling point.
Convertible laptops are getting more and more impressive
Plenty of people like the idea of a tablet that offers a flexible design, and enables them to attach a keyboard when they want to finish up a report or write a blog post. However, a convertible laptop will likely be a much better use of your money than a tablet that’s compatible with a detachable keyboard. It’s true that a physical keyboard of any type is much easier to use — especially for long documents or emails — than a virtual keyboard. But a device that features a desktop-class operating system is a much better use of the 2-in-1 form factor than a device that’s held back by the limitations and restrictions of tablet-class software.
2-in-1 laptops are growing increasingly common, and increasingly impressive. You can use these devices as a laptop, or detach the keyboard and use them as a tablet. There’s a wide range of such devices on the market, which means that you can find one that prioritizes the specifications and functions that are most important to you. A convertible laptop gives you the form factor of a tablet (at least occasionally) without the drawbacks of tablet apps of the limitations of tablet operating systems.
Tablets don’t do anything your other devices don’t do
A final reason that you really don’t need to buy a tablet? It can’t do anything that your other devices can’t do. The same apps that would annoy you on a tablet are available on a smartphone (and would likely be much more satisfying to use on the smaller screen of a smartphone). The email apps and word-processing utilities that you could use on a tablet are probably just lightweight versions of the software that you can use on a computer. And the web browsing that so many people say they’re buying a tablet for? The same web browsing would be much less aggravating on a computer.
When you think about the wide range of devices that are available for purchase at your local electronics store (or via the internet), it’s important to know why you’re choosing a specific class of device over the other options available. Some consumers have specific reasons for purchasing a tablet, and for them, a tablet may still make sense. But if you can’t specifically name a task that you need a tablet to complete — a task that a smartphone or a computer can’t complete — then you probably don’t need to buy a tablet.