Laptops vs. Ultrabooks vs. Convertibles vs. Tablets

If you have ventured out to shop for a laptop recently, you were probably surprised to see a wide variety of confusing options, including standard laptops, ultrabooks, netbooks, convertibles and tablets.  The differences between them may seem subtle, but they all have distinct features that make them unique.  So what are those differences and how can you tell which one is the right type for you?  Here is a handy guide to help you navigate the laptop aisle at the local electronics store.

Laptops – The traditional laptop, with many of the features of a desktop computer in a smaller package.  If you are looking to replace a desktop with something portable or to save space on your desk, this is probably what you need.  The higher end laptops often include the same type of video cards and processors that are included in a desktop PC, so they can do all the same high-end work, like editing video or photos and playing detailed video games.  The traditional laptops also includes plenty of USB ports, DVD drives and full-size keyboards.  They are a good selection if they will sit on a desk most of the time or be used for more complex programs, like Photoshop or design software.  Laptops tend to have the largest screen sizes available in a portable computer, but they also tend to have a shorter battery life.

Ultrabooks – These thin, lightweight computers are essentially the same as a traditional laptop, but they remove some features like the DVD drive and extra ports to cut down on the weight of the device for users who wish to travel without the bulk of a full laptop.  Ultrabooks also tend to have smaller screens and sometimes sacrifice speed and storage space to cut down on overall weight.  For the average user, they are sufficient since they can run most programs without a problem, including word processing, spreadsheets and photo editing, but they may fall short if you are a gamer or need to use high-end graphics programs or video editing.  Compared to a traditional laptop, ultrabooks usually have smaller screens but a slightly longer battery life.

Netbooks – The netbook was all the rage before tablets entered the scene, as they have small screens, long battery life and can do light computing such as e-mail, internet surfing, word processing or spreadsheets.  They are still made, but harder to find than five years ago.  Like the ultrabooks, they typically lack DVD drives and lots of USB ports to save space and weight.  The screen size is about 11 or 12 inches and they are popular for those who want an attached keyboard on a device that is the same size as a tablet.

Convertibles – The convertible is the newest entry to the market and is basically a tablet/laptop hybrid, often with a keyboard that either detaches from the device, slides down or flips to the back when not in use.  The idea is to be able to use a full keyboard when you need the device to be a laptop, but hide the keyboard out of the way when you want to use it as a tablet.  Convertibles come in a range of options, with some featuring full laptop capabilities and other functioning more like a netbook.  Because they are geared toward being a tablet alternative, most have small touch screens, usually no bigger than 13 inches.  Like the other lightweight options, they often lack a DVD drive and may not come with USB ports or media card slots.

Tablets – When it comes to tablets, there are many options available and selecting one depends more on what tasks the user wants to perform or what services they may want to access.  A tablet is not really a replacement for a computer.  Except for some of the Windows tablets, they cannot run traditional computer programs such as Word or PhotoShop.  There are alternative apps available, but the user should check compatibility and see if those apps have all the features they need from the program.  Although add-ons are available, tablets come without a physical keyboard and function mostly by using the touchscreen.  The devices also have proprietary systems, so an iPad user cannot use an Android app and vice versa, yet most apps are available for both systems.  Tablets are very good for surfing the internet, checking e-mail, watching streaming video, reading eBooks and using specialized apps likes games or recipe storage.  They tend to have the longest battery life of all the devices mentioned here and also tend to be the lightest despite still sporting screens up to ten inches.

- Laura N.

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