Having trouble deciding whether a Mac, PC or tablet is the best choice for you? The decision really comes down to what you plan to use it for.
With that in mind, we’ve prepared this brief guide that examines what people most often use their computers for, and how each stacks up within that category.
Getting Work Done
If you need a computer primarily for work, you can immediately narrow the choice down to either Mac or PC for most professions. Tablets simply struggle too much in terms of horsepower, available software/apps, and interface. Inherent issues such as typing lag and more limited internet browsing capability are a constant bother with many tablet models, and typing on a screen can never replace a proper keyboard. Once you add in the weight and bulk of carrying a keyboard dock around, the portability advantage of a tablet is greatly negated, and it also adds an extra point of failure in terms of the connector potentially breaking or Bluetooth ceasing to function for a variety of reasons.
Certain career fields do find a tablet more handy than a laptop, though. Artists drawing with a light pen, architects, and construction field workers, for example. In general, however, tablets are not well-suited for office work and anything involving typing or the creation of media. You’ll have to go to the extreme upper end of the tablet market just to start to get on par with the lower end of the laptop market, looking at devices such as the Surface Pro that cost as much as a very powerful laptop would.
As far as the Mac or PC choice goes for work, it’s mostly a personal preference call as they are about equally good. This choice will likely be influenced most heavily by what the people at your place of work tend to use. Windows emulation is decent on the Mac, but Mac emulation in Windows is virtually non-existent.
PCs are generally seen as the superior gaming platform since they have by far the greatest library. The knock against them has typically been that they were traditionally complicated and expensive to get into for the purpose of gaming, requiring you to build your own “gaming rig” and sometimes struggle with configuration settings and patches to get games running. There’s plenty of options now for buying high-end pre-assembled desktops or gaming laptops that work right out of the box, and digital distribution platforms like Steam and GOG have made getting games running much easier than it was in the past. Hands down, the PC is the only serious choice if you’re serious about gaming.
That doesn’t mean tablets shouldn’t be considered, however. Tablets have a robust lineup of mobile games that often aren’t available on the PC. Since they don’t have the same horsepower, these tend to be more retro-style titles. If you like social gaming and online cooperative or competitive multiplayer, however, there’s a strong case to go with a tablet. And though PC gaming has become simplified in recent years, tablet gaming is as bone-simple as it gets. Tablets have moved into the “easy to play” space that consoles ceded when they started requiring internet connections and large patches to get games to work. Tablets also double as excellent multimedia devices for movies and TV shows, reading and listening to music.
Mac, unfortunately, just doesn’t work for games. The platform has simply never been taken up as one for gaming by developers. The best you can hope for with a Mac is a handful of ports of titles that were first released on the PC, usually months to years later. Mac computers have many positive qualities, but they are absolutely the wrong choice for a dedicated gamer.
Flexibility / Customization
This is another category where the PC stands out as the clear best option. Macs and tablets are designed as “walled gardens” where it’s harder to screw technical stuff up and get viruses, but the price of that is giving up a lot of control and customization. PCs, on the other hand, can be broken down and built back up on a part-by-part basis.
This extends not to just the hardware and physical design, but the software. Mac and the mobile operating systems want you to only run software approved by a central marketplace. This has the advantage of making viruses much more rare, but also limits choice to a great degree. You have to be more pro-active about your security on a PC, but you also get a much greater range of software to choose from.
Tablets clearly win this war, but they do so by offering much less horsepower and flexibility in terms of software. PCs are typically less expensive than Macs, and can save you a lot of money when problems crop up or it is time to upgrade as it is easier to swap out parts rather than paying a high fixed fee at a “Genius Bar” or replacing the whole thing. Macs do generally deliver excellent build quality and a long life span for their price, however.
What Do The People Say?
According to the research firm Gartner, Android tablets are actually winning the popularity contest by far, with over a billion more units shipped in recent years than either Mac or Windows devices (though that number does include Android phones as well). Mac is slightly ahead of Windows in units shipped, at 297 million for 2015 versus 283 million for Windows. If you want to factor in Apple phones, however, then iOS and OS X are just behind Android at over a billion units worldwide.
Web browsing statistics do show that most internet users are still running Windows, however, indicating they are on a PC. And the Steam gaming service reports that about 95% of their users have been running Windows for the last few years.
As far as polls go, a 2012 survey by Business Insider found that older generations had a strong preference for tablets, but younger people opted for a computer over a tablet nine times out of ten. And a 2014 poll of office workers found that 41% preferred a laptop computer, 23% preferred a desktop, and 21% preferred a tablet.
Summing It Up
In summary, these are the relative pros and cons of each format:
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