How to replace your laptop with a tablet

Make your computing even more portable.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro

Consider making a tablet your next computing device.Microsoft

Companies have been promoting tablets as serious computing devices for a long time—at least as far back as Microsoft's 2001 Tablet PC. And in the last few years, as both hardware and software become more powerful, they've started to look like genuine laptop alternatives. If your aging computer is coming to the end of its useful life, then consider replacing it with a new tablet for a simpler and more lightweight experience. Below, we'll explain the type of computing tablets do best, the pros and cons of switching devices, and everything else you need to know.

Make the decision

The gap between laptops and tablets is smaller than ever, but each type of device does excel in different areas, and switching won't be the right decision for everyone. So before you part with any cash, look into what these devices can and can't do.

Before making your decision, jot down the jobs you use your laptop for, and the applications you find yourself returning to again and again. Then research the tablet equivalents to get a better idea of whether switching is the right move for you. For example, if you can't function without a proper mouse and keyboard, then stick with a laptop or desktop: Although you can connect your tablet to a mouse via Bluetooth, it's not designed for this type of main control.

Beyond hardware, a tablet's abilities depend on its apps. While you can find image editors, word processors, and spreadsheets, the tablet versions don't offer as many features as the laptop ones, and generally struggle with large or numerous files. So if you frequently use your laptop to edit photos or write, a tablet may not be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you do a lot of your computing in a web browser, then switching to a tablet makes more sense. You can still spend time with Netflix, Spotify, email, and social networking without changing any habits. And if you already store most of your files in the cloud, the switch will be a snap.

Choose a tablet

The switching process varies considerably depending on which slate you choose: iOS, Android, and Windows 10 all have very different tablet operating systems. To avoid frustration as you make the jump, you'll need to pick out the right one. This means you'll have to weigh up not just what you want from your new tablet, but also where you're coming from. For example, if you're already using macOS, an iPad is a sensible choice, because a lot of the apps like Safari and Pages will be able to talk to each other. Swapping a Windows 10 laptop for a Windows 10 tablet is pretty seamless as well.

Opt for an iPad, and you'll get iOS 11. The latest version of Apple's operating system comes with certain features that make tablets easier to use as full computers, including an app dock, the option to drag-and-drop files and images between apps, and support for running two apps side-by-side. The higher-end iPad Pros ($649 and up) have extra ports for connecting to a keyboard, though any iPad ($329 and up) can connect to a keyboard via Bluetooth.

The Android operating system isn't quite as well-optimized for tablets as iOS is. While you do have side-by-side apps, you won't get a dock or any support for dragging items between apps. However, for those who spend a lot of time in Google's apps and services, an Android tablet will probably work best. This should also be a contender for those who prefer the more customizable nature of Android, which includes the option to decorate screens with widgets. Several manufacturers turn out strong Android tablets. At the high end, we'd recommend the Samsung Tab S3 ($478 on Amazon), and budget shoppers might prefer the Amazon Fire HD 10 ($100 on Amazon).

Then there's Windows 10. Because Microsoft has built its operating system to work on traditional computers and tablets alike, a Windows 10 tablet will give you everything a Microsoft laptop will, including desktop apps. You just lose a bit of power, due to the smaller form factor, and have to settle for a smaller keyboard and mouse (though some models let you plug in full-size peripherals). If you're already a Windows 10 laptop user, then a Windows 10 tablet makes a lot of sense. The systems is available on a variety of devices, with Microsoft's own Surface Pro line ($799 and up on Amazon) leading the pack.

Take your time choosing a tablet, because you'll need it to last a long time. If you want to do more intensive tasks, like gaming, video editing, and image editing, you need to push for a more powerful (and expensive) device. Look too at the accessories and add-ons available for the tablets on your shortlist, as these might make it easier to decide which one is best for you.

Move your files

Once you've chosen your tablet, it's time to move all your files to this new ecosystem. First, plan to run your laptop and tablet in tandem for a short time after the file swap, just so you can iron out any potential problems before saying goodbye to old faithful.

Next, pick a cloud syncing service, the easiest way to move files from one device to another. Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive work on all the major operating systems: macOS and iOS, Android, and Windows 10. Another good option is iCloud, although it's only available on the Apple operating systems and on Windows 10, so it won't work for Android users. Depending on how many files you have, you may have to pay for extra cloud storage space, but the whole process should still be simpler and cheaper than buying an external hard drive.

All these cloud-syncing services work in similar ways. To start, you install the computer app on your laptop and use it to transfer your files to the cloud. (If you use iCloud on macOS or OneDrive on Windows 10, the system might have already taken care of this task for you.) Then you can install the relevant app on your tablet. Voila—now you'll be able to access all of your cloud files from your new device, although the system won't download them to the tablet unless you need them. For more information on cloud storage, check out our guide to backing up photos.

Download your apps

Files alone won't make your tablet a computing device. You also need to download all of your favorite apps—or alternative versions—that you used on your laptop.

As part of your research, you made a list of the desktop apps you rely on the most. Many of these now have mobile equivalents, though they don't always provide identical features. For example, here's a list of the differences between various versions of Microsoft Word, and you can find similar feature-comparison lists for all your apps. Installing these programs is as simple as a visit to your operating system's app store.

Because tablet computing relies heavily on a good web browser, make sure to download your favorite one. Then sign in with your Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Firefox ID (depending on the browser) to sync data like passwords and bookmarks from the laptop version. Again, if you can keep your tablet and laptop running side by side for a few days, you can make sure everything that you need has made the switch.

With all of your data and apps transferred over, you can enjoy the lightness and simplicity of having a tablet as your main computing device. Plus you get the benefit of crashing on a sofa without having to contend with a bulky keyboard. And if you decide a tablet isn't ideal as your digital life's hub, you can always return to a laptop next time.