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In a previous post I made the case for using a tablet as your sole device. Ted Kritsonis argued for going all in on a smartphone. This time around, I’m arguing on the side of a laptop. If you can carry one device and one device only, it’s tough to beat an old-school portable PC, especially if you need to be productive.

Tablets and smartphones are great devices for a mobile lifestyle and for casual use. Firing off a text message, updating your social media account, playing a game, listening to music, maybe watching a streaming video. These are the kinds of tasks they’re perfectly suited for.

If you actually need to be productive, though, these mobile devices are often a series of compromises. The app versions of popular productivity software like Microsoft Office keeps getting better, but it still isn’t as feature rich as the versions you run on a PC. Virtual keyboards will quickly drive you batty if you need to type more than a few sentences and while Bluetooth keyboards are much better, that’s another accessory you need to lug around.

If you have any intention of actually getting stuff done and have to make the choice between smartphone, tablet or laptop, the laptop would be the best choice for most people. That’s the route I would take.

Laptop: Jack of All Trades + Portable Power


The primary case for a laptop as your sole device is that out of the three choices—laptop, smartphone or tablet–this is the one that offers the fewest compromises for the sake of mobility.

A laptop is portable (some more than others), but it is a portable PC and that makes a world of difference for those who need something that’s not only suitable for casual use, but also lets them be fully productive.

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A laptop has a display that’s usually larger than a tablet’s and often higher resolution. You won’t find many laptops with a display that’s smaller than 11-inches and many are in the 13-inch to 15-inch range, making them well suited to being a workstation. Those displays are hinged and mounted to the bottom case, making them easily adjustable without having to buy a special case or stand. The keyboard uses actual physical keys (often full-sized) instead of virtual ones. If you like the touchscreen navigation used by a smartphone or tablet, many Windows 8 laptops offer multi-touch displays.

laptop battery life.jpgPerhaps most importantly, a laptop is a PC. Inside is a CPU powerful enough to run Windows, OS X or Chrome. These computers are capable of running the same software applications you use for work, not just an app version. You can use the same peripherals you do with any PCs, including printers, external monitors, input devices and external drives. Laptops tend to be much more generous with storage space, too.

Technically, you can open and edit an Excel spreadsheet on an iPad, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not something you want to be doing all the time, especially a large spreadsheet.

Many laptops offer battery life that’s competitive with tablets. For example, the 13-inch MacBook Air is good for 12 hours of web browsing. At 1.26 kg, the Dell XPS 13 shows that laptops are also approaching the lightness of tablets, making them a breeze to carry.

You can still use a laptop for casual tasks including watching movies (you can stream them but you’ll also have the storage space to carry them with you), listening to music, surfing the web and playing games—although many laptops have the ability to play the more complex PC gaming titles instead of having to make do with casual app-style gaming.

The one downside to laptops is their lack of built-in cellular capability. I’ve seen a few offered with LTE, but they’re few and far between. However, Wi-Fi is so widespread these days that it’s not difficult to get connected even when travelling (check out this post on computer security for tips on securing that Internet connection). And if you need to make a phone call—remember, no smartphones allowed—that’s what Skype is for.

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Convertible Laptops

At the start of this post I mentioned “old-school” portable PCs. That’s what most people think of when they think laptop: a clamshell case with the display on the top half and keyboard on the bottom.

They’ve been making these things for at least four decades now (longer if you count early portables like the IBM 5100 that were essentially a desktop PC with a built-in CRT display and a keyboard all stuffed in a suitcase). The latest Ultrabooks and Apple’s new MacBook push the limits of how thin the form factor can get, but they are still recognizably a portable PC.

There’s a relatively new form factor that’s gained in popularity since Microsoft released Windows 8. Convertible laptops—sometimes referred to as hybrid laptops or 2-in-1 laptops—convert between being a traditional laptop and a Windows tablet. This is the device I would choose if I was taking a laptop as my sole device.

Yoga Pad 3.jpgI like the Lenovo Yoga Pad 3. It features a stunning, 13.3-inch QHD+ LED IPS touchscreen display that’s big enough to actually get work done, with resolution so high text is incredibly crisp. An Intel Core M CPU with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD give you the power needed to run Windows 8.1 and the space to install Windows software. A full-sized backlit keyboard with touchpad beats a virtual keyboard any day and is more convenient that having to lug around a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to use with a tablet. Multiple USB ports and HDMI out offer expandability. In other words, the complete PC package, yet it only weighs 1.19kg.

And … flip the display so it’s facing backwards and the Yoga Pad 3 can be used as a Windows 8 tablet. It’s a little thicker than a standalone tablet, but you get the full experience with a touchscreen display that’s tough to beat.

If you want to push the definition a little more and cross into that convertible laptop grey area that really blurs the line between devices, you could go with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or HP Envy x2. These are Windows tablets that use detachable keyboard covers to transform into laptops. Lose the keyboard cover and there’s no trickery—these devices are then purely tablet in form factor.

My point is, if you go with a convertible laptop, you don’t really have to give up a tablet. You can choose a laptop as your “sole” device, but you’re really getting two devices. Living without a smartphone will be easier for some than others, but if you are always around Wi-Fi, that laptop will be a complete all-in-one, including the ability to make voice calls and send text messages.

You may be interested in reading the other articles in this series:

Smartphone, tablet or laptop? The case for choosing a smartphone as your sole device

Smartphone, tablet or laptop? The case for choosing a tablet as your sole device

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. I have been writing about technology for several decades for a wide range of outlets including Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, MSN,, Kiplinger, and GeekDad. I’m in my 10th year as a senior contributor for Forbes with a focus on reviewing music-related tech, Apple gear, battery power stations and other consumer electronics. My day job is with the Malware Research Center at AI-native cybersecurity pioneer CrowdStrike.