Tablet or Laptop?


Tablet or Laptop - what should I buy for my child?

“I am a primary school teacher with a pupil about to leave for secondary school. We recently received an ICT assistive technology grant for this pupil. I am looking for a recommendation on laptop/tablet to purchase with a view to secondary school.” -  Seán*

“Last week my son was granted the AT grant from the Dept of Education... His teacher is now asking me if I think a laptop or iPad is the way to go…. You probably get asked this question all the time but would you recommend an ipad or laptop? His teacher thinks laptop but I am not sure and totally confused to be honest.” - Síle*

“I would like to get your advice regarding supportive technology for my daughter who has dyspraxia. Her main struggles are with writing, maths and organisation. She was given a laptop at the start of this year and but only using it for typing. In your opinion would a laptop suffice or would she have more options for support with maths and organisation with an iPad.” - Veronica*

*not their real names

We have received many such queries from parents, teachers and SNAs over the last couple of months.  While we try and reply to everyone, we thought it might be helpful to also give an overview of what is best for your child/student - laptop or tablet. In this article, we give you information that will help you take an informed decision.

Reading and writing can be a serious challenge for many children with learning difficulties. But technology can greatly facilitate them to not only cope with these challenges but also successfully overcome them. The main devices on which such technology can be used are laptops and tablets. But with a range of options and functionality offered by both these devices, it can often be confusing to know which is more appropriate for your child. 


Here are some things to know about tablets and laptops -we’re getting quite technical here, you might want to grab a cuppa... if viewing on a mobile, best to turn to landscape now.

Operating Systems:
Apple iOS (e.g. iPad)
Microsoft Windows (e.g. Samsung, Surface, etc.)
Android (e.g. Samsung, Lenovo, etc.)
Apple Mac/iOS
Microsoft Windows
Technical Specifications** **Generally, later versions better support Apps & software
iOS (several versions, with 12.3.1 being latest), Windows 7, Windows 10, Android (several versions, with being 9.0).
Windows 7, Windows 10, Mac (several versions with Mac Mojave being latest).
In-built storage:
Starts at 16 GB and goes up to 1 TB.
Starts at 16 GB and goes up to 1 TB.
Weight, Battery Life and Portability:
Light-weight which makes them easily portable. Their longer battery life (usually 8+ hours) means they can easily be used throughout the school day. It also makes them easy to use in spaces where power supply is difficult to reach/find.
Most are heavier than tablets which makes them less portable. The ones that have longer battery life are usually higher priced.
Typing is achieved using virtual keyboard (ie., on the screen). However, external small keyboard can be purchased for most devices, though at additional cost.
The physical keyboard included as part of the laptop is better for students who will type notes/exams.
Getting started
Can be used without any start-up delays in a variety of situations due to their instant-on feature. This facilitates their use for several shorter periods during class. This feature makes it easy to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’ within school, at home, in outdoor learning situations, or while on the move.
Laptops take longer to start-up which can inhibit their use for short periods.
With a front and rear camera far more options, including learning using apps based on augmented reality.
Only front camera so limited options.
Touch Screen
Provides a higher quality of touch screen interactivity including zoom, rotate, etc.
Some laptops have touch screen functionality. However, interactivity features are relatively less.
Screen can be set to rotate automatically when the device’s orientation changes. This provides a better and uninterrupted user experience. This could be particularly handy for children who need to move in order to focus better.
Screen does not offer rotation function as laptop orientation is fixed.
Wireless devices so physical connections are limited. May have mini-USBports or expansion memory slots. However, they generally have less memory storage than laptops. Hence, your child may use online or cloud based services, such as ‘dropbox’, ‘google drive’, etc. for storage or collaboration
Laptops usually have a good amount of storage built into them. So using online storage is optional, not necessary.
Technical Support:
Require less technical support than conventional laptops and desktops. This makes it relatively simpler to use.
Likely to require more technical support.
Starting at €369 for an iPad
Depends on specifications - expect €450+

Important to Remember

Reading and writing is well supported mainly by applications (Apps) and to some extent by software. Most software is available for use with both types of laptop, that is, Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows. However, the variety of Apps available on Windows tablet and Apple iPad varies, with tablets running only the latest version of Windows, that is Windows 10 having an Apps option.

Tablets can be more intuitive and easier to use than a laptop. This is particularly resonating from a primary school perspective. When you take into consideration most young students have access to or use a tablet device at home (think iPad, Android etc.). Nonetheless, children struggling with reading can benefit from physical keyboard of a laptop to learn touch typing.

Recommended Configurations when Selecting a Device

Laptop: Windows 10 with 8GB+ of RAM, a 256GB SSD hard-drive, a Core i3 Processor or greater, screen size of 14” or smaller and a weight no more then 1.5KG. This may cost you around €500 - €700. If you buy a cheap model, it just won’t last or work for your student. Be careful with “back to school” specials.

Tablet: We only recommend Apple iPad. With that in mind, the best for students currently is the entry-level iPad 9.7. Starting at €369. The Wifi model with 32GB of storage is fine for most students’ needs. As online storage like iCloud or Google Drive can be used if required. You might need to think about a bluetooth keyboard and a good drop-proof case.

Other things to consider if buying a laptop

Keyboard. Let your child play with a few keyboards and have them tell you which they prefer. The closeness of some keys, brightly coloured and decorated areas on keyboard, illumination on keyboards, responsiveness of the touchpad and keys can make a big difference in ease and preference for using the keyboard. Keyboards that are clunky and noisy to use may not be very suitable for use in the classroom. They may also attract unwanted attention from other students.

Durability. Aluminium, carbon fibre or magnesium alloy provide additional sturdiness. Spill resistance is also an important feature.

High-resolution screen. Look for a model with a display that is at least ‘Full HD’: 1080p, or 1920 x 1080. Even sharper screens are often labeled as 4K / Ultra HD (3840 x 2160), 2K / QHD (2560 x 1440) or are just listed by their pixel count.

Wi-Fi. Get a laptop with 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, rather than the older 802.11n.

Ports. If possible, get a laptop with a USB port as this would be required for connecting a mouse or for backing up files. USB 3.0 is the latest, transferring data up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. 

Ease of use. If your child is unable to open the laptop and safely place it on the surface then it is not for them. Once you have shortlisted a few models, make sure they play around with them in the store. If they have problems with fine motor skills then this may influence your decision making. Avoid the 2 in 1 laptops with detachable keyboards and monitor stands as these require set up and are prone to drops more often.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting a device

  • Does the device meet your child’s needs - what software will they be using?

  • Is the technology easy to use and setup?

  • Is the size and weight of the device manageable for your child?

  • Does your child need training on using the product?

  • Is training and support available?

  • Will the child have support at home to use the device?

  • If the device is purchased for school use only, will your child have access to a comparable device to use at home?

Disclaimer: Please note that Apple iPad and Microsoft Windows 10 laptops are the main referral points here. This is due to the fact that these devices and their apps/software are well supported by developers. That is not to say other options don't work. Please use whatever device you feel is most fitting for your child. We are only outlining out opinion here and every student will have unique requirements.

We hope you found this article useful. If you have specific queries, please mention them below.