“Should I get a desktop and if so, do I still need a laptop? Instead of a laptop, should I get a Chromebook? And aren’t they both basically a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard? What about a combination of a desktop and a tablet?”
There are so many options for people looking to get a new device for work or for studies that it can make one’s head spin.
The TLDR of this is that if you just want one device, a laptop is a “jack of all trades and a master of none (better still than a master of one)”.
However, as someone who has collected one of each over the years and uses them all on a daily basis, allow me to break these devices down for you. Also: Yes, I have a problem. No, I’m not going to change.
*For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll ignore the awkward convertible laptops that fold into tablets because they’re ungainly and usually not great at either form, and All-In-One computers because they’re frankly not good for anything except kiosks.
Pros: Desktop computers are basically the heavyweights of personal computing. They’re usually highly customisable, repairable, and upgradeable. If maintained and upgraded occasionally, they can also last you a long time.
Cons: The upfront cost can be quite high and after picking components (which can be hard enough), where are you going to put it? Even the smallest desktop builds are going to be larger than laptops, and with peripherals to unplug and bundle up, they’re simply not portable. Plus, with the prices of GPUs inflated since 2020, you might get a better deal on a laptop.
Suggestions: Get a desktop if you mainly or only need to play, study, or work at home. If you sometimes need something on the go, pair it with a light laptop, a tablet, or a Chromebook for reasons we’ll get to later.
Pros: It’s the most versatile of personal computers pre-built with your only conundrum being the price. You can use a laptop practically anywhere and it can do almost everything a desktop can. Add a few peripherals, cables, and an external monitor and it could even function as a desktop.
Cons: Laptops nowadays aren’t really upgradeable beyond your choices at checkout and you could end up paying a lot for strong performance and good battery life in a compact body. Otherwise, you’ll have to make compromises or buy used. You might get a bit of a bargain, but generally when it comes to laptops, what you get is what you’ve got.
Suggestion: If you’ve got the money for a thin, light, and powerful laptop, you probably won’t need anything else. But you could also pair a thin and light laptop with a powerful desktop at home, or a chonky laptop with a cheap tablet or Chromebook for some extra portability.
Pros: They’re cheap. Chromebooks, especially old ones, are so cheap that they’re sometimes given away, especially if Google drops support for them (which you can bypass with a little hacking). They usually have decent battery life and are also thin and light. Web apps (which is what Chromebooks use instead of traditional software) have also come quite a long way, with even MS Office available for free in your browser.
Cons: You don’t tend to get a lot of performance with a Chromebook, and unless you’re willing to hack them, you’re stuck using whatever version of ChromeOS is supported. That means no normal desktop apps, just you and a browser. Newer Chromebooks are also getting increasingly expensive. And while you can do some things offline, you’ll want to be online for the best possible experience.
Suggestion: More of a companion device than anything else, if you’ve got a desktop or a chonky laptop and write a lot, a Chromebook might be a good secondary computer for yourself, your partner, or your kids to use for school. But if you’re on a really tight budget, you’ll get more out of a Chromebook than a similarly-priced laptop.
Pros: Often unfairly overlooked, tablets are great if you watch a lot of Netflix, Disney+, or Youtube, read a lot of books, or surf a lot of websites for recipes or articles. They’re highly portable, usually with pretty good battery life, and the big screens are usually way better for mobile gaming compared to phones. Aside from content consumption, tablets are also great for conference calls while you’re on the move.
Cons: While they’re great for reading, you’ll want to get a Bluetooth keyboard if you’re doing any writing. While most modern tablets say they’re capable of multi-tasking, it can get a little finicky compared to the other devices mentioned above. They’re also not as hackable, so your old iPad or Android tablet will probably get stuck with whatever OS the manufacturer decides you should have.
Suggestion: Same as for Chromebooks, if possible, a tablet should not be your only device. If it is, get a cheap Bluetooth keyboard. However, pairing it with a desktop or laptop will maximise your versatility. Also note that a good-sized tablet means you can probably get around with a smaller phone, too.
Hopefully, you’ll have a better idea of what to get for yourself or others by the end of this article.
Personally, at home, I carry my tablet around the house but switch to my desktop to play a game or get work done. When I’m going out, I’ll take my tablet and laptop if I’m headed somewhere specific like the office, or just the tablet and maybe the Chromebook if I’m taking the train or hanging out with friends or family.
All four of these devices overlap in many ways but they also serve different use-case scenarios. After so many years, using the wrong device for the wrong scenario is like trying to hammer a nail with pliers.