TechMama: Why Families Need Both a Laptop and a Tablet

Today’s households can really benefit from both types of gadgets.

Like many parents, I can get overwhelmed by the technology choices available to families. Today’s tech devices touch every part of family life, starting with our documents, photos and music, then continuing to family videos, entertainment and communication. These devices make available to all family members the plethora of information available on the Web, including the “making a soda-Mentos exploding volcano” instructions my son misplaced and the refrigerator repair manual that really came in handy last weekend as guests were arriving.

So the big question is, “what devices do family households need?” Asking the kids results in an overwhelming vote for everything with a power cord or battery pack that either surfs the Web or makes cool sounds like a weapon. But approaching the question with a budget results in a more logical answer with a focus on function and value.

The most common question I hear at both trade shows and PTO meetings is “Family laptop or family tablet, which should I buy?” While it may not seem economical at first, I say get both, and here’s why. They are not redundant and serve different functions for the family. 

Tablets

As a starting point, tablets are devices for media consumption. If you’re looking for an “entertain the kids” device for apps, games and reading, leading to education and great Web access, tablets are a great fit. There are several very good e-Reader tablets available for families who like to read and play a few games while on the go. Different members of my family use both the Nook and the Kindle to satisfy that craving to carry seven or eight novels around with them when going to doctor’s office or waiting on line at the movies.

When evaluating full-featured tablets, the iPad should be top of mind because of its ease of use and sizable app store. In addition, if your household also contains Mac laptops and iPhones, then an iPad syncing to the iCloud and iTunes with all electronics singing the same electronic song and working together in harmony is the best choice.

If you are like many households (including ours) that have several different devices and operating systems which you already use and enjoy, then there are budget-friendly iPad alternatives worthy of consideration. Google Play has more than 450,000 apps and growing, making Android Tablets a strong alternative, though keep in mind that only some are optimized for larger screens.

Consumers with many Windows devices at home may want to investigate the new set of Windows 8 tablets coming out soon. The Windows Store has already launched as part of the Consumer Preview and shows promise.

Laptops

While tablets have some power for photo and movie creation on the go, there are limitations. So when it comes to serious media creation and accomplishing bigger tasks, laptops with their full keyboards and more robust features are the right fit.

There are many other factors to consider when buying a laptop, including size, your budget, processor and hardware specs, battery life and comfort of the keyboard/touchpad. For power-users editing videos or playing graphics intensive games, there are great models with dedicated graphics processors.

If you want something light that can go with you, consider an Ultrabook. These Windows machines offer a full laptop experience in slim designs, plus the instant-on like responsiveness of tablets.

Soon, “hybrid” notebooks will be added to the menu of options, which are part tablet and part laptop. My kids like to call them “Transformer notebooks! There’s more than meets the eye!” while singing the Transformers theme song.

One hybrid on the way that just may offer direct competition to tablets is the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga. This beauty really turned heads at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Freecycling

Parents looking for a laptop or tablet for their kids may also want to consider going the hand-me-down route. That’s how my husband, when growing up, always wound up with his older brother’s pants and shirts. Keeping technology in the family by passing gadgets on to younger users and then buying a new upgraded model for yourself is always a great option. Kids can be very tough on keyboards and touchpads, and getting the remnants of a PB&J sandwich off the letter “D” is less painful when the computer is several years old.

When my kids were very small, anything with buttons was deeply appreciated. As they advanced through elementary and middle school, their technology selectivity increased along with the cleanliness of their hands. Rather than covering new computers with plastic like my grandmother’s sofa, I’m very happy giving computers a last chance with juice-box hands building trucks on legos.com.

Guest columnist Beth Blecherman covers family technology at TechMamas.com and @TechMama on Twitter.

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  1. amy @teachmama Says:

    super article, Beth! Love that you covered all options in a concise and comprehensive way–and I have NEVER heard of the Ultra Books or hybrids. Something to certainly look for for our family!

  2. momisageek Says:

    Good article – if I agreed with the concept of the shared computer. The hand-me-down system is alive and well in my household, and I am at the top of the pyramid.

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