The Student Room Group

The iPad vs Laptop for University debate

Recently I've seen a lot of queries about people wanting to use tablets as alternatives to laptops for university devices.

This thread is a run-down of a few thoughts and things to consider, which may help others as they approach this decision. Feel free to add your thoughts below and vote in the poll!

The context
Since the development of laptops as portable PCs, they have slowly replaced the notebook (ie paper and pen) as the main form of taking notes within university lectures, seminars, tutorials etc. The smaller, cheaper and lighter laptops got, the more popular they became in university classrooms.

Now, the tablet has come along. This is an even more portable device and closer to the traditional notebook than the laptop would be. Below are the pros and cons of using both as university devices.

Laptops - advantages
- Durability. Laptops are sturdy and can have significant advantage over a tablet regarding battery life.

- Keyboard. If you're used to the traditional keyboard, typing assignments will always be faster on a laptop for you than a tablet. Smashing out 3000 word essays would be a little bit trickier on a purely touch screen device.

- Organisation of apps and tabs. Again, this is subjective to your experience. If your norm is having multiple application running on your screen, or several tabs open at once where you can see them, this might give the laptop a preference for you. The way you like things laid out is important.

Tablets - advantages
- Dimensions. Tablets are lighter and smaller than most laptops, easier to carry around and whip out during a lecture.

- Price point. There is significant overlap between higher end tablets and mid-low range laptops, but for run-of-the-mill tablets you will likely find these cheaper than a new laptop.

- Touch screen. Some newer tablets (this was written in 2022) contain a range of functionality around their touch screen including converting handwritten notes into a typed format. This can really be the digital notepad.

Laptops - disadvantages
- Clunky. The weight of a laptop will always be top of this section and although it's getting better over the years - laptops are likely to still be heavier devices than tablets for the foreseeable future. If you're someone who is very social or very active and will be involved in lots of different things at uni, this may be annoying to carry around.

- Cost. As alluded to above, the higher end laptops will easily outprice a tablet. Your own financial situation will determine how important this is to you when purchasing.

- Development. Technology changes quickly and laptop devices is where tech giants spend a lot of time coming up with hot new software and hardware to make these things better and better. If buying for the start of your degree, you may find yourself dissatisfied with your product by the time you're at the business end of your course (third/fourth year). For this, consider the aptitude of the device(s) you currently use and whether it is worth switching halfway through your course.

Tablets - disadvantages
- Processing power/functionality. There will always be a few things you can do on a laptop which the most common tablets won't achieve for you. If you're keen on a lot of gaming, iPad or equivalent won't help you there.

- Typing. Tablets are perhaps most useful for notetaking, but you won't be assessed on your lovely notes from a lecture. Your degree will be classified based on exams, essays, assignments, research projects and more. Tablets aren't designed to write dissertations on.

- Experience. The majority of people who use digital devices use two things, a phone and a laptop. If you are used to using a tablet as an alternative to a laptop. Our advice would be: stick to what you know. If you're accustomed to a laptop, keep using them - if you're accustomed to a tablet and don't want to change, keep using tablets. It's about what works for you.


Hopefully this quick run-down has been useful and your comments would be very welcome. :biggrin:

Scroll to see replies

Original post by 04MR17
Recently I've seen a lot of queries about people wanting to use tablets as alternatives to laptops for university devices.

This thread is a run-down of a few thoughts and things to consider, which may help others as they approach this decision. Feel free to add your thoughts below and vote in the poll!

The context
Since the development of laptops as portable PCs, they have slowly replaced the notebook (ie paper and pen) as the main form of taking notes within university lectures, seminars, tutorials etc. The smaller, cheaper and lighter laptops got, the more popular they became in university classrooms.

Now, the tablet has come along. This is an even more portable device and closer to the traditional notebook than the laptop would be. Below are the pros and cons of using both as university devices.

Laptops - advantages
- Durability. Laptops are sturdy and can have significant advantage over a tablet regarding battery life.

- Keyboard. If you're used to the traditional keyboard, typing assignments will always be faster on a laptop for you than a tablet. Smashing out 3000 word essays would be a little bit trickier on a purely touch screen device.

- Organisation of apps and tabs. Again, this is subjective to your experience. If your norm is having multiple application running on your screen, or several tabs open at once where you can see them, this might give the laptop a preference for you. The way you like things laid out is important.

Tablets - advantages
- Dimensions. Tablets are lighter and smaller than most laptops, easier to carry around and whip out during a lecture.

- Price point. There is significant overlap between higher end tablets and mid-low range laptops, but for run-of-the-mill tablets you will likely find these cheaper than a new laptop.

- Touch screen. Some newer tablets (this was written in 2022) contain a range of functionality around their touch screen including converting handwritten notes into a typed format. This can really be the digital notepad.

Laptops - disadvantages
- Clunky. The weight of a laptop will always be top of this section and although it's getting better over the years - laptops are likely to still be heavier devices than tablets for the foreseeable future. If you're someone who is very social or very active and will be involved in lots of different things at uni, this may be annoying to carry around.

- Cost. As alluded to above, the higher end laptops will easily outprice a tablet. Your own financial situation will determine how important this is to you when purchasing.

- Development. Technology changes quickly and laptop devices is where tech giants spend a lot of time coming up with hot new software and hardware to make these things better and better. If buying for the start of your degree, you may find yourself dissatisfied with your product by the time you're at the business end of your course (third/fourth year). For this, consider the aptitude of the device(s) you currently use and whether it is worth switching halfway through your course.

Tablets - disadvantages
- Processing power/functionality. There will always be a few things you can do on a laptop which the most common tablets won't achieve for you. If you're keen on a lot of gaming, iPad or equivalent won't help you there.

- Typing. Tablets are perhaps most useful for notetaking, but you won't be assessed on your lovely notes from a lecture. Your degree will be classified based on exams, essays, assignments, research projects and more. Tablets aren't designed to write dissertations on.

- Experience. The majority of people who use digital devices use two things, a phone and a laptop. If you are used to using a tablet as an alternative to a laptop. Our advice would be: stick to what you know. If you're accustomed to a laptop, keep using them - if you're accustomed to a tablet and don't want to change, keep using tablets. It's about what works for you.


Hopefully this quick run-down has been useful and your comments would be very welcome. :biggrin:

this made my mind up for me. thank youuu
Hi, im going into year 13. I've noticed on a laptop I type so slow but on a phone/tablet i type faster. I don't know which one i should choose
I guess it could also depend on what you're studying. For example im going to be studying media production and so I gotta use certain software like premiere pro n that. So a laptop is my best choice as im able to get the software on it. Whereas if i had an ipad i couldn't do that.
Original post by username54
Hi, im going into year 13. I've noticed on a laptop I type so slow but on a phone/tablet i type faster. I don't know which one i should choose

Are you financing this yourself?
Depending on how much money is available you could purchase a cheaper tablet and see how it goes, then use Christmas to change tac if necessary? :K:
Original post by 04MR17
Are you financing this yourself?
Depending on how much money is available you could purchase a cheaper tablet and see how it goes, then use Christmas to change tac if necessary? :K:


Yeah im saving up for an ipad with the pencil. My parents may add a bit of money as well.
I see this query a lot from students heading to university.

But in my head it’s not a debate, at university you will expected to write and submit reports to a professional standard. And completing typographical coursework on a tablet to this standard is going to be very challenging (editing, switching back to your references, citing software, graphics).

You need a proper desktop OS imo.
Original post by mnot
I see this query a lot from students heading to university.

But in my head it’s not a debate, at university you will expected to write and submit reports to a professional standard. And completing typographical coursework on a tablet to this standard is going to be very challenging (editing, switching back to your references, citing software, graphics).

You need a proper desktop OS imo.


Even jf you find it difficult to use a laptop?
Original post by username54
Even jf you find it difficult to use a laptop?

Being candid get used to using a computer, you are almost certainly going to be using one at university every single day & if you intend to work in a office type role or professional workplace.

You should probably be familiar and good operating standard programs before arriving at university. Their not going to teach you excel…
Original post by mnot
Being candid get used to using a computer, you are almost certainly going to be using one at university every single day & if you intend to work in a office type role or professional workplace.

You should probably be familiar and good operating standard programs before arriving at university. Their not going to teach you excel…


I know how to use all the operating standard programs. I'm just a bit slow and find it difficult to type
Original post by username54
I know how to use all the operating standard programs. I'm just a bit slow and find it difficult to type


You should really be quicker on a mechanical keyboard & mouse when it comes to writing longer more complex bodies of text where you’ll have in-text citations, cross-referencing, use of all sections, headings, tables, figures & Equations being labelled and automated a professional format.

I would just try to adjust, as you’ll probably have to become familiar.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by mnot
You should really be quicker on a mechanical keyboard & mouse when it comes to writing longer more complex bodies of text where you’ll have in-text citations, cross-referencing, use of all sections, headings, tables, figures & Equations being labelled and automated a professional format.

I would just try to adjust, as you’ll probably have to become familiar.


Thank you, do you think its worth getting a ipad for year 13 and uni. I'll get a laptop as well
Original post by username54
Thank you, do you think its worth getting a ipad for year 13 and uni. I'll get a laptop as well

An ipad is alright if you like the note taking capabilities, i find i use it when im traveling lot of email/teams meetings, an already prepared PowerPoint, reading of reports & papers, and i can dolly it up to a monitor, keyboard & mouse and use a Remote Desktop to stream my office PC.

I basically find an ipad great for when im on the move and want something lighter then a laptop (if im at a conference/flying/train…) so i need some functionality for work but it’s really only for “light work”. The ipad is really good for personal entertainment.

Although it’s a lot of money for a bonus device for most peoPle at around 18, but it is nice to have, and I really value mine.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by mnot
An ipad is alright if you like the note taking capabilities, i find i use it when im traveling lot of email/teams meetings, an already prepared PowerPoint, reading of reports & papers, and i can dolly it up to a monitor, keyboard & mouse and use a Remote Desktop to stream my office PC.

I basically find an ipad great for when im on the move and want something lighter then a laptop (if im at a conference/flying/train…) so i need some functionality for work but it’s really only for “light work”. The ipad is really good for personal entertainment.

Although it’s a lot of money for a bonus device for most peoPle at around 18, but it is nice to have, and I really value mine.


Yeah I just need it for note taking thank you very much. I already have a good laptop as well
I have both and it's a win for the laptop, no debate. Sure an iPad could come in handy when you're not in a lecture or seminar setting where lugging around a laptop may be less practical, and it's nice to use to make on-the-spot drawings, but can you get by university with just an iPad, especially if you're not willing to fork out on extra memory and apps? No. Can you get by with just your typical laptop? Yes.
I have both iPad and laptop. I use both probably equally but I do prefer my laptop. My DSA software means my notetaking is more efficient on my laptop for consolidating, and essays, but I prefer my iPad for other things like using Quizlet and doing revision on OneNote. Bc of dyslexia I make a lot of mistakes on paper and my hand gets so inky from writing so the iPad is more beneficial for me.

My thoughts on laptops
- If you qualify for DSA software it might not run on iPad or you may be limited as to the functionality
- More storage space (you can get steam games!)
- More RAM
- can hook up to a monitor to get a bigger screen
- you can get Anki on laptops whereas you can't on iPad

My thoughts on ipads
- I think Apple now have to have the UCB-C charging cable instead of the lightning charger
- you have to pay for iCloud storage - I hadn't considered this when I got mine, so I use OneDrive instead
- the VAT is £££ :shock:
- it's useful for shorter lectures and lighter to carry around
- GoodNotes 5 used to be a one-time purchase but is now subscription based
- portable Bluetooth keyboards are a good alternative to the Apple Keyboard which is slightly expensive
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by Chronoscope
I have both iPad and laptop. I use both probably equally but I do prefer my laptop. My DSA software means my notetaking is more efficient on my laptop for consolidating, and essays, but I prefer my iPad for other things like using Quizlet and doing revision on OneNote. Bc of dyslexia I make a lot of mistakes on paper and my hand gets so inky from writing so the iPad is more beneficial for me.

My thoughts on laptops
- If you qualify for DSA software it might not run on iPad or you may be limited as to the functionality
- More storage space (you can get games!)
- More RAM
- can hook up to a monitor to get a bigger screen
- you can get Anki on laptops whereas you can't on iPad

My thoughts on ipads
- I think Apple now have to have the UCB-C charging cable instead of the lightning charger
- you have to pay for iCloud storage - I hadn't considered this when I got mine, so I use OneDrive instead
- the VAT is £££ :shock:
- it's useful for shorter lectures and lighter to carry around
- GoodNotes 5 used to be a one-time purchase but is now subscription based
- portable Bluetooth keyboards are a good alternative to the Apple Keyboard which is slightly expensive


What course do you do?
Original post by username54
What course do you do?


Food Science :smile: :banana:
Original post by Chronoscope
Food Science :smile: :banana:


Thats pretty cool, what do you learn in that degree
The cost of a top end laptop is £0 to £200.
That's for a laptop for supporting your studies for the majority of students.
Get one as a gift for free as a cast off from a corporate IT dept. Or buy a used fully working premium HP / Dell business laptop with 8th gen or later Intel CPU, 1920 (FHD) or better resolution screen. From ebay.

Being well advised and buying a used laptop completely changes the cost equation.

Buying a brand new laptop makes even less sense than buying a brand new car.

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