The Mobile Device War—Tablet vs. Phone: A Comprehensive Comparison
There’s a big dilemma most modern consumers face: whether to buy a smartphone or a tablet.
- Feature Comparison
- Common Applications
- Using a Tablet as a Phone Replacement
- What about the Smartwatch?
Now, if you have enough money, you can probably get both. But most people prefer to rely on one device.
The price point is not the only reason to distinguish between the two. Smartphones are famously good at some things, like making phone calls, while tablets are not.
Let’s get started with the obvious— how are smartphones and tablets different?
Smartphones are mainly phones that you can make calls on. Tablets, on the other hand, are like mini, portable computers.
You cannot make phone calls on most tablets (unless you use a calling app like Skype).
Now let’s take a look at the main difference between tablets and smartphones, and whether one would be better for your needs over another:
Read below for a comparison of different features that smartphones and tablets have:
This is the most obvious difference between smartphones and tablets.
Smartphones are generally smaller than tablets. Tablets have bigger screen sizes, typically the size of a paperback book or bigger.
The display quality, therefore, differs between the two devices.
What really differentiates the display clarity here is the number of pixels per inch (PPI). The more PPI a screen has, the better the graphics would look.
However, there’s a catch here. Smaller screens are better at packing dense pixels than larger screens.
For example, let’s take a 5.5 inch smartphone and a 7 inch tablet? The smaller smartphone screen would have a denser concentration of pixels than the larger screen.
And get this.
You will be able to see colors, read text and discern more details on the smaller smartphone screen.
Now, there are situations where the tablet may have a higher pixel concentration, but this is typically not the case.
And if a manufacturer does pack a tablet with a high pixel density, you can expect it to be quite pricey.
The distance at which you look at the screen also matters to how well the graphics are displayed.
Most manufacturers display PPI in accordance with the average distance people look at a screen.
If you plan on buying a tablet that you will place in a stand like a laptop, then you will need a higher concentration of PPI to retain high-quality display.
But devices with higher PPI typically cost a lot.
Smartphones generally have the advantage of displaying gorgeous graphics simply because the screens are small enough to pack a lot of pixels.
As a result, buyers can get top-notch display without paying extra.
Both tablets can smartphones these days are equipped with cameras.
Smartphones typically come with two cameras, one front facing and another in the back. Tablets usually only have a back camera.
Generally speaking, smartphones win when it comes to cameras. Smartphone cameras usually have higher specs than tablets, especially for the back cameras.
Smartphone cameras have higher megapixel counts as well as corresponding apps that allow you to take better pictures.
The logic here is simple. People use smartphones to take selfies, but not tablets.
The larger tablets are also much more difficult to hold as a camera. If photography is the main concern for you, then it’s better to go with a smartphone than a tablet.
Smartphones are small and highly portable. They are mobile phones after all. Tablets are thin, but have larger frames that make them difficult to carry.
You can carry a tablet in a backpack or a large handbag. But smartphones still fit in the pants pocket.
If you require a highly mobile gadget, then smartphones are undoubtedly the gadget you want.
Battery Life and Charging
Battery life is directly linked to the battery capacity.
Batteries with bigger capacities are larger. Tablets, which have bigger frames, tend to come packed with large batteries that last longer.
In fact, tablet batteries are even beating laptop batteries, which last only about 2 to 4 hours!
Manufacturers have tried to equip smartphones with bigger batteries, but such products have usually resulted in disasters like the Samsung Note 7 explosion scandal.
Smartphones simply cannot retain a small, portable size with a big battery.
So, if you need a device that can function for over 4 hours straight on a single charge, then tablets are the way to go.
Portable Chargers/Power Banks
Smartphones users frequently use portable chargers and power banks to extend the life of batteries.
Power banks are neat little devices that can pack an extra round of charge or two for your smartphone. Power banks work with tablets as well.
However, you will need to buy a large, expensive power bank for a tablet that can hold a charge for longer than 4 hours straight.
These big power banks take a long time to charge too. So this might not be what you want when you are on the move.
Apps are designed to suit a particular operating system, like Android or iOS. However, apps are also designed for specific devices, like smartphones and tablets.
Technically speaking, an app that works on a smartphone also works on a tablet. However, in practice, not all smartphone apps transition well into tablet interfaces.
This is largely due to screen size. Most apps are optimized for smaller smartphone screen sizes.
An app designed for a 5.5-inch screen will not work similarly on a 10-inch screen.
Some apps, like Whatsapp, do not work on tablets altogether. The reverse is true in some cases, like Spotify, which is available for free on tablets but not for smartphones.
(Update: Spotify can be downloaded for free for both tablets and smartphones.)
Some apps like HBO Go can be installed on tablets but are very difficult to use.
And you know what else?
The case is worse for games, like TapTap Revolution, which does not run on tablets well or even at all.
There is a distinction between smartphone apps and tablet apps.
Mainly, if the app enables communication features like calling or texting, it will work better on a smartphone than a tablet.
Most gaming apps run well either on smartphones or tablets.
If you have a particular app that you need to use, it’s best to check and see which gadget the apps run on best.
You can buy a host of accessories for both smartphones and tablets. You can buy cool cases, VR headsets, screen protectors, stands and a number of other accessories.
Smartphones get more accessories that facilitate life and entertainment on the go. Tablets, on the other hand, have accessories that mainly support working in one place.
For example, you can buy keyboard cases for tablets that instantly transform your gadget into a mini laptop.
For smartphones, you will typically find wallet cases and such.
If you like watching movies, tablets commonly support HDMI connectivity via external add-ons.
You can buy HDMI adapters for smartphones as well. However, only a handful of smartphone models at the moment support HDMI.
The same operating systems available for smartphones (Android, iOS, and Windows) are available for tablets as well.
Each of these operating systems is optimized for the device.
You don’t really have to worry about the OS for smartphones and tablets because they work the same despite the difference in device sizes.
But you will have to decide which operating system you want to use.
Whether smartphones or tablets load websites better is really up to debate. It depends on other factors like the connection speed as well.
Tablets have bigger screen sizes, which makes browsing the web easy.
Some websites, however, are mobile responsive, meaning these are optimized to load best on small smartphone screens.
Therefore, you will see some websites load better on smartphones and not tablets.
This is mainly because on the bigger screen of a tablet you may see responsive web pages smaller than they should appear.
Ultimately, it’s up to the user to decide which device is best for browsing the web.
If you like online shopping a lot, you may prefer smartphones.
If you like browsing news websites with a lot of reading content, you will like tablets better, for example.
Smartphones are great for making calls while tablets are great for working.
Here is an overview of how each device fares for the most common applications:
Smartphones are smaller are far more portable. If you are traveling, you will find that smartphones are the easiest to carry around and not the bigger tablets.
Tablets have bigger screens capable of higher resolutions than smartphones as discussed above.
Therefore, if you love watching movies a lot, tablets should be your choice.
Kids mostly love playing games. They are also not very good with small things.
Therefore, tablets are better for kids, especially toddlers, to play games with. Even older kids will benefit more from tablets for using apps than smartphones.
One of the biggest advantages tablets offer is the large screen highly suited for reading books (or anything else). Tablets are sized similarly to books too.
If you are an avid reader, tablets are definitely the way to go.
While the bigger screen of the tablet should be an asset to gaming, this really depends on the game you play.
Some games are designed for smaller smartphone screens with various touch capabilities. These games won’t play well on tablets.
Then there are games that are suited only for playing with a tablet.
If the game requires higher graphics capabilities, then a tablet is the best choice. If not, smartphones will not pose a problem.
If you need to browse the web, read e-textbooks, and type notes when studying, then hands down tablets are your choice gadgets.
Teachers are already promoting tablets in schools. Some educators are even debating whether should tablets replace textbooks.
Yes, you read that right.
Tablets act as mini laptops and they are designed particularly for professional use. Tablets are really great for accessing digital textbooks.
There are even subcategories like textbooks on iPad. If you are a student, then a tablet would be a great choice to save money on buying a laptop.
Tablets are definitely the best choice for work use as well, much like for studying. Tablets like the iPad are designed with professionals in mind.
Tablets are like a highly portable version of laptops for busy professionals.
Unlike smartphones, tablets facilitate better document processing. If you have to edit a spreadsheet, you’d definitely want to do it on a tablet, and not a small smartphone.
If you are looking for a device for work use, then tablets should definitely be your choice.
Using a Tablet as a Phone Replacement
If you are wondering whether to buy a tablet to replace a phone, then you should first ask yourself these questions:
What can a tablet do that my phone can’t?
Tablets generally pack more processing power than phones. Tablets will be able to run certain apps, like docs or spreadsheets, that smartphones typically can’t.
If you want to view a PDF, then a tablet would be the best choice. Tablets are better for viewing professional data than a smartphone.
Think of tablets as mini laptops that can do things that most smartphones can’t.
What can a phone do that my tablet can’t?
It’s important to understand that tablets, while useful, are not phones. You cannot make phone calls on tablets the same way you can make phone calls on smartphones.
It’s very rare for a tablet to come with a SIM card slot that makes it possible to make phone calls over a cellular network.
If you buy a tablet, then you will have to rely on VoIP software like Skype to make calls.
Obviously, this is not the ideal choice for someone who has to make dozens of calls a day.
Tablets with Wi-Fi vs. Tablets with Cellular Connectivity
All tablets have Wi-Fi connectivity. Recently, some cellular services have started offering 4G connectivity for tablets as well.
Wi-Fi tablets are cheaper in general, but only have internet connectivity if you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Tablets with 4G will connect your tablet to a cellular network, so you can have access to the grid even when you are outside a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Also, 4G makes it possible to convert your tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot. Also, 4G tablet plans will give you access to more data.
If you travel a lot or consume a lot of data, then a cellular 4G plan is worth considering. Otherwise, a regular Wi-Fi tablet would suffice your needs.
What is a phablet?
The “phablet” is a term coined for smartphones that are larger than average that looks more like a combination of a tablet and a smartphone.
It’s important to note that a phablet is still a smartphone and not a tablet. Phablets, while bigger than most smartphones, are still smaller than the average tablet.
Phablets are great if you want a smartphone with a tablet-like screen for watching movies and playing games.
What about the Smartwatch?
Smartwatches are different sort of gadget from smartphones and tablets. Smartwatches firmly fall into the “wearable tech” category.
You can wear a smartwatch around your wrist, which will have a digital screen with apps. Smartwatches can easily be synced with smartphones.
Smartwatches have their own operating systems, like smartphones. However, capabilities of smartwatches are much more limited than smartphones.
A smartwatch can act as an activity tracker, and display notifications when synced to your smartphone.
For example, a smartphone can give you notifications of new emails, Facebook messages, or incoming calls. But you will have to take your phone out to answer the call or check Facebook.
Smartwatches are like a hybrid of smartphones and fitness trackers that you can wear around your wrist.
It doesn’t meet the processing capabilities of tablets or the functionality of smartphones, at least not yet.
But you know what?
In the future, smartwatches could be capable of doing things that smartphones of today can.
You may be able to answer calls while jogging with a smartwatch or access emails without needing a smartphone to have it synced.
A smartwatch that can act like a smartphone is a wonderful idea, but that tech is still far away in the future.
Right now, smartwatches are only great as wearable fitness trackers that you can sync to your phone.
These little gadgets are very handy when you work out or sleep.
- Check out this link for decent phones under $200
- List of budget smartphones under $100
- This article lists super cheap budget tablets under $50
- If you want a portable charger, this list has plenty of options
- Here is a good list of smartwatches to consider
- This list includes budget smartwatches you can get under $50