Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q I think my child needs a computer now that she's starting secondary school. There's no iPad or tablet specified as part of her school curriculum, but I see other kids with them for school. Should I get my child an iPad or a laptop? Is there any difference between the two for what my child will need one for? And should it be an iPad rather than some other tablet brand?
A Apple iPads are getting close to laptops, and vice versa. An iPad can now be considered a bona fide laptop replacement because of the way Apple has updated the software and provided good productivity accessories such as keyboards. The latest software upgrade, iOS 11, even now lets you 'drag and drop' some files like a PC. And the iPad now has split-screen multifunctionality, too, so you can work on one progamme (such as Word or PowerPoint) while browsing another (such as email or Safari web browser).
That said, there are pros and cons that are specific to laptops and iPads.
Traditional laptops still retain a couple of advantages. There's rarely an issue connecting something like an external hard drive or a USB key to a laptop or PC, whereas it's tricky with an iPad or tablet. As a result, your child is more likely to end up using cloud storage with an iPad if he or she has lots of photos or videos to keep. Speaking of storage, laptops almost always have way more than iPads, unless you get the very top tablet model.
Another pragmatic advantage to a teen using a PC for school studies instead of an iPad is that there are less social media distractions. Your child's social media platforms (such as Snapchat and Instagram) are overwhelmingly housed within apps, rather than online in browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer. A home iPad with these apps installed will have constant notifications popping up, sucking the student away from their work. A PC won't have the same issue.
Despite these perks, there are some serious disadvantages to using a PC compared rather than an IPad.
Laptops and desktops routinely get viruses, ransomware and all sorts of other nasty infections. In general, iPads do not. PCs also have annoying pop-ups and shut down without warning 'to perform critical updates' just as you're in the middle of an important document. They go wonky far more frequently and are harder to fix. They also sometimes have a fraction of the battery life of an iPad, which gives a minimum of seven hours on a single charge.
And don't be fooled by laptops with touchscreens. Aside from these being the more expensive models (such as Microsoft's Surface), Windows is a poor fit for touch controls. They're clumsy to use in touchscreen mode.
Some workflow advantages that PCs used to have are disappearing. Printing is a good example.
A few years ago, this was solidly the domain of the traditional PC. But today, virtually all basic printers sold have wireless functionality, connecting to your home Wi-Fi. This means that tablets and iPads print automatically to whatever wireless printers is detected on your home Wi-Fi network.
As for tablet brands, Samsung makes some solid models. But most education applications are still built with the iPad in mind.
The bottom line is that a laptop may still be the best productivity computer for a student. A bigger screen combined with no social media distraction shades it. If the budget allows, get a MacBook to avoid viruses and pop-ups.
RECOMMENDATION: 13-inch MacBook Air, education edition (€1,061 from apple.com/ie)
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