Since the rise of the Apple iPad there has been talk about how we are now in the post-PC era and that tablets are quickly replacing desktops as the computer of choice. As an MBA student, how does this affect you? To answer that I am going to look at the differing features between tablets, laptops and desktops, the costs and most importantly, how as a student you will use each one differently.

Portability matters

During your MBA you will be bringing your computer with you to class every day. Unlike when you were an undergraduate student, as an MBA student this is not matter of choice. It will happen. There are the usual reasons such as being able to download presentation slides for class, making notes during lectures, quickly looking something up that the professor had just said, working last minute on a paper that is due and just surfing the net because you are bored. However, these are all secondary to all the group research, papers and presentations that you will be doing.

Given the fact that you will be carrying your computer around with you every day then portability will be high on your list of priorities and the tablet wins here. With tablet options ranging from 7-inches to 12-inches, they are all still very lightweight. A phablet, that cross between smart phone and tablet, is possible, though not probable. Its small screen size would not be conducive to actual productive MBA work which I will be getting to further.

A laptop by its nature is portable, but you will want to consider its size and weight. Currently most of the options are in the 11-inch, 13-inch and 15-inch screen sizes. 11-inches may be the smallest and lightest, but they also have the least amount of screen real estate which means you will see less of that research paper or financial report on screen before needing to scroll the page up, down, left and right.

13-inches is in that sweet spot of still being very portable, light and many manufacturers now offer high resolution 1080p screens with them.

At 15-inches there are a number of tradeoffs. The larger screen real estate also means a physically larger and heavier laptop. Will your carry bag or backpack easily fit a 15-inch laptop along with your other daily things? Remember that you will be carrying this laptop with you every day during your MBA and while 6 to 7 lbs does not sound like much now, it will actually feel like more when you are carrying it every day.

tablet or laptop

How about a desktop?

Obviously a desktop PC is not portable, but you can use any size monitor along it, thus giving you as much screen real estate as you want. For many people, sitting back using a larger screen is more comfortable on their eyes and having that larger keyboard is more comfortable on their wrists. You could also easily copy any files and work from your tablet or laptop to work on at your home desktop. Of course however, this negates anything that you need to do immediately with your group.

Prepare for group work

Now I have talked about group work as being a primary factor when it comes to deciding whether you will want to use a tablet, laptop or desktop during your MBA and this is why: With any sort of group work you will be interacting, researching, combining notes, writing papers, creating slides, working on presentations and editing all of that together with and in the same room. Not literally always in the same room, but for a good amount of time you will be.

It allows for efficiency in brainstorming, sharing information and collaboration when it comes to creation, editing and finalization on papers and presentations. Your primary applications will likely be Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. While Apple Pages, Numbers and Keynote are also great applications, often the choice comes down to ease, compatibility and what applications the majority in the group already have and are using.

Productivity counts

You want to consider your ease and speed when it comes to content creation on the computer. This means typing, entering mathematical formulas and designing slide deck presentations. You will be doing a lot of web searches and reading a lot of research papers. Are you more productive with a physical keyboard or with a touch screen? You will be working on a lot of spreadsheets and creating slides. Do you prefer using a mouse for speed and accuracy? You will be sending your notes and written parts to your group members. Can you easily send or give access to files to other people? So do you want a tablet or a laptop?

The prices of tablets range from as low as $250 to as high as $1,000 primarily depending on screen size and storage options. You may want to also budget for a case and/or keyboard as well to go with your tablet. On the laptop side of things, prices range from $500 to $1,200 for better performance and up to $2,000 for top of the line performance.

Final Word

Ultimately the choice is yours, but when making your purchase decision just keep in mind your needs when it comes to portability, cost, access to applications and how productive and efficient you will be on that tablet/laptop/desktop.

Andrew is a marketing, e-commerce and customer relationship management enthusiast. He has lived overseas studying trends in emerging markets.