Connect with us


Can an iPad Replace a Laptop at College?



“Can the iPad replace a laptop at college?” is a question the GottaBeMobile team hears all too often as parents and students look to cut the cost of heading back to school by skipping a laptop and buying a refurbished iPad for as low as $319.

It’s tough enough to pick a laptop, especially with Windows 8 Ultrabook Convertibles in the picture offering a tablet and a notebook in one, but with the iPad and iPad mini in the picture students have a lot of options.

Tablets are great for many things such as playing games, taking notes and so on but it is debatable if they can really replace a laptop in a college setting.

To test if an iPad can replace a laptop at college, I used the iPad for taking notes, writing papers and studying to see how it can meet the needs of a college freshman, and where it falls short.

Taking Notes on the iPad

iPad taking Notes

The iPad is great for many tasks and taking notes is one of them. One of the biggest advantages the iPad has over a traditional laptop is the size of the device. Many college classrooms have extremely small desks, and for students with larger laptops, fitting them on the desk is a tight squeeze.

In terms of note taking itself the iPad does a very good job at competing with a laptop. The onscreen keyboard is adequate at taking notes but has its flaws. For many (including myself), taking notes with a physical keyboard is much quicker than on a touch screen.

Read: iPad Keyboard Cases

This being said there are many keyboard cases on the market that basically make taking notes on either a laptop or iPad the same experience. One of these cases is the Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 and it is one that I use daily to take notes in class.

Combined with apps like iAWriter the note taking power of the iPad is better than on a laptop alone. The increased mobility, same typing speed (with external keyboard), and size of the device make using an iPad for notes better than a traditional laptop.

Read: Essential College Note Taking Apps for iPad

The iPad also offers access to free and cheap note taking apps that can record a lecture and keep the written notes in sync with the audio.

Writing Papers on the iPad

iPad Writing Papers

Another area that is imperative for college students is writing papers. Writing papers on the iPad is possible, but there are definite drawbacks

The on-screen keyboard is good, but for longer writing such as a paper a bluetooth keyboard would be an appreciated addition. Even then, the keys on most iPad keyboard cases are smaller an offer a less comfortable typing experience than full-size keyboards.

Something that does not work as well with the iPad is comparing documents. On a computer looking at multiple documents and still being able to compose a document is not an issue but for an iPad this is a challenge. For example, if working on a research paper there are several tabs open in Safari, but to continue adding to the paper the user has to switch between the applications. Some apps offer side-by-side comparison with a built-in browser, but don’t compare to a laptop experience.

Read: Best iPad Accessories for College

Also another issue with writing papers on an iPad is saving and printing documents. Depending on the app used to write the paper, the only way to save the paper outside of the app would be to a service like Dropbox or iCloud. This can become an issue if the document needs saved in a different file type.

Also in terms of printing the iPad will print documents but only to an AirPrint capable printer. Students should invest in a Bluetooth or AirPrint printer.

Students that use the iPad to replace a laptop at college should plan on spending time in the computer lab to finish and print papers, or make friends with someone who brought a laptop and a printer.

Studying on the iPad

iPad and Studying

For studying the iPad is a wonderful sidekick. With the iBooks app reviewing a syllabus or homework pages is a breeze. The simple interface of the iBooks app also makes finding all the PDF documents for classes easy.

The iPad’s portbility makes it a great study tool. This is one area where an iPad can easily replace a laptop at college. The battery life on most laptops is short compared to the iPad’s 10-hour battery and the iPad is more portable than most laptops.

Battery life limits study sessions on my two-year old Mac unless I find an outlet. With the iPad I can go a couple of weeks before needing to recharge it, depending on my use, which is really nice.

There are also apps like Evernote Peek that helps turn the iPad into a great study companion.

Can the iPad Replace a Laptop?

Overall the iPad is a great device for college students, but can an iPad replace a laptop at college?

That depends on the student. There are still areas where a laptop is a better choice, for items like writing papers, comparing documents and printing, but the portability and app selection make the iPad a worthy contender.

Students that plan to take courses in fields with specialized apps may not be able to replace a laptop with an iPad. When it comes to programming on the iPad or photo editing on the iPad, students won’t be able to use the same tools as the rest of the class, causing problems. The same goes for special software for stats class, dietetics and more.

For now, the iPad is not going to replace a laptop for most students, but it can be a laptop replacement for many college tasks like studying and taking notes.

Students could use an iPad while on-the-go and keep an older, possibly heavier laptop in the dorm room.



  1. Oliver

    11/27/2012 at 10:28 am

    I’m sorry to be blunt but who in their right mind would even attempt to do college work solely on an iPad and why does the world need an article about this?

    – Taking Notes? Oh come on – “taking notes” as an argument on THIS blog? On a blog that used to talk a lot about digital inking and Tablet PCs? Taking notes in One Note or in/on Slides using tools like PDF Revu on a real Tablet PC is much, much more powerful, faster and more ergonomic than on an iPad.

    – Writing Papers? Let alone not being able to do multitasking: Yeah, right, because working without easy access to very basic, cross-disciplinary needed tools like literature/reference management systems, LaTeX, and other, more powerful tools (statistics software, IDEs, whatever, you mentioned it already), makes so much sense for academic work and will make you and your special iPad needs and worries so very much liked by your colleagues with which you have to work on projects, share data, write/work collaboratively,…

    – Price as an argument? I’m sorry but that is just lying to yourself in order to justify the shiny new toy. An old (used) Thinkpad X61 Tablet or similar machine will handle almost anything ever needed in college (leaving alone 3d-modelling, rendering and similar tasks for which you will need a really beefy machine and special software which will be provided by your college anyway). It also has a great keyboard, an active digitizer (*that* I call notetaking), the battery can last 4-6 hours and… It’s dirt cheap – cheaper than your 319 dollar iPad for sure. Regarding the size issue: Well, I’ve never seen a table where you couldn’t fit a 12″ notebook…

    Don’t get me wrong, I like iPads per se – they are a lot of fun and nice products which sometimes make a lot of sense, like when using it for study sessions like you described. I just don’t get why people try to shoehorn the things blindly into usecases for which they simply are far worse than a lot of alternatives.

  2. Jeremy

    11/27/2012 at 10:49 am

    An iPad is extremely portable.. and ways almost nothing compared to a laptop. When I go to school the only thing I take with me is my iPad and I do just fine taking my notes, completing assignments, and turning in papers. So for me an iPad has completely replaced my laptop. To be honest, I do not even own a laptop anymore. I have not had a problem yet by replacing my laptop with an iPad, so I do not understand what the problem is.

    • Oliver

      11/27/2012 at 12:42 pm

      While I agree in principle that less weight is nice, for an average human being in his or her college days, it should hardly be straining to carry around, say, a 2kg notebook from and to the means of transport and between classes… Weight and portability do matter for stuff like reading (i.e. holding the device), but that is not something you do much in an average college day where you basically sit around on a table all the time. Different use cases – like I said above.

      I never said that an iPad is incabable of taking notes or writing papers, just that it doesn’t to these things very well. The alternatives available are so much better that the comparison is a joke. I think, I’ve stated a few things above but, again, just a few factors: Seriously – how the hell do you work and write productively without a proper reference management system, without access to a structured file system, without a sensible way of creating documents (i.e. LaTeX, a proper, compatible Office Suite plus specialized tools like Visio, Mindmanager or what have you), without access to more sophisticated software, without having applications side by side and/or multiple applications visible at once. These are just a few things you cannot do on an iPad (or Android tablet or whatever) and there still are the things you can do much better on other devices like precisely annotating, handwriting, drawing, sketching with an active digitizer…

      Again, I’m not against iPads per se – personally, I’m brand and device agnostic and embrace whatever gets the task done -, it is just that iPads and similar devices can’t do / can’t do well a lot of stuff everyone I ever met in an academic working context simply needs while being an absolute pleasure and sensible to use in other contexts like rehearsing / learning stuff.

  3. Wormy

    11/27/2012 at 12:18 pm

    If you are taking notes in school with anything but OneNote you are lowering your organization and productivity. IPad is slow and laggy. The keyboard attachments are annoying and bulky. Many schools like my graduate school and my undergraduate school I recently left use assignment/homework websites that integrate video via flash and load funny on a tablet or phone. I would not recommend surface rt either or any android tablets for alone-use for a college student, but if they really wanted a tablet I suppose surface rt with tacticle keyboard cover would be the best.

  4. mottiblogMotti

    11/28/2012 at 3:59 am

    I used to read Mashable and now I am trying this blog. I have the same question I asked them earlier, has it ever occurred yo you to be more generic? Are you getting paid by Apple or are you a bunch of blind fanboys worshipers?

    If talking about a tablet talk generic. Why? Because there is nothing you can’t do (many times even much better) on the iPad that you can’t so on any other tablet. And youu can buy a new one for the same price as a used Apple (Google, Amazon).

    If I have to ask you that you are not worthy enough blog to read. Bye.

    • John Smith

      02/27/2013 at 2:19 pm

      Blunt, brutish and adds nothing to the discussion… Good riddance!

  5. Ashley Faye

    11/28/2012 at 11:13 am

    just before I saw the paycheck which had said $6787, I accept that my cousin woz like they say realey taking home money in there spare time on their computer.. there best friend haz done this 4 only 21 months and recently took care of the loans on their apartment and got a great new Ford. we looked here, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  6. Denise Lee

    02/25/2013 at 2:18 am

    obviously, this article is outdated (but even at that time of writing i could still do more), and ipad one-sided. for a few dollars more than your ipad i could get a:

    Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Walmart Refurb $379:
    -Comes with 2GB of RAM, Quad Core Exynos 1.4Ghz Processor, Upgradable to Jelly Bean Android Operating System
    -Has VPN and Corporate Security
    -About same portability as the iPad
    -Weighs around the same as the iPad
    -Better battery life than iPad
    -More productive than the iPad with multi-tasking
    -Supports Adobe Flash, iTunes music files, Quicktime video files
    -Can use almost any kind of file type
    -Comes with Photoshop Touch full version
    -Comes with a compatible Microsoft Office Suite for creating/editing native Word/Excel/Power Point files, and can view PDF files right out of the box
    -Comes with 50GB Dropbox storage for FREE for first 2 years
    -Can remotely control TV or other Infrared remote controlled devices
    -Doesn’t need iTunes to transfer or download files ever
    -Can save file type to device and transfer instantly by multiple flexible means (Wifi direct, Android beam, bluetooth, external flash stick/card/hard drive)
    -Can print to almost any kind of printer (wifi, bluetooth, USB) using Print Share app
    -Works with portable bluetooth/MicroSD portable scanners
    -Can be used with a USB Hub
    -Can attach multiple files to composed email
    -Can export PDF and Text files
    -Can use up to 64GB UHS-i Class 10 microSDXC cards
    -With a simple adapter, can use almost any kind of external Flash card (compact flash, sony, etc)
    -Can hook up to an overhead projector or HDMI output or share audio, video, or presentation over Wifi to a DLNA compatible monitor, laptop, stereo system
    -Works with any (and multiple at same time) Bluetooth 4.0 or backwards compatible accessory (speakers, headset, microphone, keyboard, mouse, game controller)
    -Has a digitizer pen that is more precise then an iPad
    -Comes with digitizer pen
    -Has stereo speakers on the left and right bezel sides facing operator
    -and a whole LOT more than the latest ipad

  7. Lizzie Smith

    07/18/2013 at 10:29 pm

    I am in my last year of college and my computer just died. I am seriously considering using an iPad. I would write my papers on it then finish the formatting on a desktop in the computer lab. I will not need to compare documents so that limitation will not be an issue. Am I crazy or does this sound doable? I dread buying another computer right now. The ones I do like are a few generations away from me actually wanting to purchase them. I only need access to Netflix, spotify, Internet, and some sort of word processor. Will this work?

    • Fraser Jones

      06/20/2014 at 6:48 pm

      You should be good with a iPad. Microsoft just released Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and One Note on it. If you have the subscription from your laptop, just log into on the iPad. I use the skydrive to keep my notes organized and accessible from a desktop if I really needed to. I can print off one fairly easily also.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.