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Smartphone vs. Tablet: Which One To Get?

Updated: November 02,2022

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Our age has been one of rapid, unprecedented technological advancement. From the 1960s until now, computer processing power increased a trillion times - a unique historical occurrence by any measure. Never before has the human race experienced such a sharp jump in the technological capabilities at our disposal: today’s smartphones and tablets are several million times stronger than the computer that sent the first astronauts to the Moon back in 1969!

In this article, we’ll conduct a smartphone vs. tablet comparison, as the choice between these miniature powerhouses represents a pretty common purchasing dilemma among users today.

While these two devices are often similar in many aspects, such as in the OS they use and the overall interface, there are also significant differences - namely size and calling/ SMS messaging capabilities. Let’s see what each of these devices brings to the table.

What Is a Smartphone?

Smartphones are portable devices that combine computing and mobile phone capabilities. More precisely, smartphones retained the ability to conduct calls and send SMS messages found with the older feature phones while adding capabilities traditionally found on desktop computers. These include a fully-featured operating system, access to an extensive app library, and the ability to consume and reproduce multimedia content such as music, videos, and video games.

Modern smartphone features allow it to function as a miniature computer, and their hardware isn’t only superior to supercomputers of old but can easily outperform PCs from a decade ago as well.

New smartphones come with powerful CPUs, with the ​Apple A14 Bionic and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipsets bringing previously unseen levels of computing power to our pocket computers. Coupled with the hefty amount of RAM that the latest devices ship with (8 GB+, which is on par with lower-end modern PCs), and sizeable storage, smartphones can now run games with advanced graphics or stream high-definition videos.

The benefits of smartphones also include the ability to access the internet through mobile networks and Wi-Fi. Smartphone cameras have also developed relatively quickly over time, as they’re a hugely important element of the symbiotic relationship between smartphones and social media.

Last but not least, we have size. The smartphones’ main selling point is definitely their small size, which translates into unmatched portability. Thanks to the advancements in both smartphone software and hardware, they let users game, listen to music, watch videos, stream TV shows and movies, and communicate both through cellular networks and via the Internet.

When it comes to overall usability, smartphones, by and large, utilize touchscreens and ship with Android or iOS operating systems. Some manufacturers went with their own smartphone operating system, like the ill-fated Windows phones, Nokia’s former Symbian system, or Huawei’s HarmonyOS, but these are outliers, for the most part.

Smartphone key features:

  • Solid hardware
  • Small and portable
  • Internet-ready
  • Multimedia features
  • Powerful camera
  • Calling and SMS messaging
  • Access to a huge app ecosystem

What Is a Tablet?

Now we move on to the second contender in the smartphone vs. tablet matchup. Tablets represent the middle ground between laptops and smartphones but are best described as handheld computers. They represent a mashup of laptop and mobile phone features, but what you receive in the end is a unique product.

Let’s start with the main tablet vs. smartphone difference - the size. Laptops are, naturally, portable compared to desktop PCs, but you can only carry them around in a backpack or specialized bag. Tablets are smaller still, so much easier to carry underarm or in smaller bags. Still, they are considerably bulkier than smartphones, limiting their portability in comparison.

However, their larger build also allows them to sport stronger hardware than smartphones. This, naturally, opens up capabilities for using more advanced software like those meant for photo or music editing, gets you access to more demanding games, and allows you to complete tasks faster overall. Tablets are especially popular among people who like to draw digitally due to their ideal, paper-like proportions and powerful hardware that can run advanced photo editing tools.

A larger size also translates to a larger screen. Tablets also use touchscreens, although they also allow users to connect a keyboard and a mouse via Bluetooth (and sometimes USB). There are also tablets that ship with their own attached keyboards for users that find touch screens inappropriate for what they want to do with the device.

Other notable tablet features include the ability to connect to the Internet and access pretty much all apps that smartphones can, and more. However, unlike smartphones, tablets rarely have access to cellular networks. This means that you can only access the internet via Wi-Fi and can’t make calls, apart from those made via Skype, WhatsApp, and similar software.

Even if you somehow set up regular calling on a tablet, you can’t really put a tablet to your ear. On the flip side, thanks to their bigger screen size and better camera, they’re much better for Skype and Zoom calls, which have unfortunately become all too common due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is hardware that can let you use mobile internet networks on a tablet, but it’s not frequently used. Tablets do boast longer battery life than smartphones, though. This, coupled with larger screens, makes them more suitable for work.

Tablets often use mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS, but there are tablets with Windows and Linux installed as well.

Now that we’ve covered the basic characteristics, drawbacks and benefits of tablets, we’ll list their key features and move on to discuss when you should buy a smartphone or a tablet.

Tablet key features:

  • Middle ground between laptops and smartphones
  • Bulky but portable
  • Strong hardware
  • Big screen
  • Durable battery
  • Internet-ready but only via Wi-Fi
  • Can be used with a keyboard/mouse combo
  • Suitable for work

Tablet vs. Smartphone Comparison: How To Make Your Pick

As you can assume, your decision should largely depend on what you plan to use the device for, as well as your budget. Neither device is universally better or worse, and they are made and marketed with somewhat different uses in mind.

The strongest feature smartphones have going for them is definitely size. No other device carries so much computing power in such a small package. Due to a vast selection of different smartphone models on the market, users have a hefty dose of flexibility as to what kind of device they want to get.

Another reason phones do well in the smartphone vs tablet showdown is because they have access to most of the same apps tablets do, so in theory, you can do the same type of activities like streaming or gaming, just on a significantly more compact device. Also, smartphones let you make calls and send SMS messages. This allows you to communicate even when you don’t have access to the internet, which is something that most tablets lack. Also, smartphones can connect to both cellular and Wi-Fi networks, meaning you’ll be connected to the internet more often than not.

Tablet advantages are equally numerous, though. If you’re looking to do work on the move, and a laptop is either too heavy or too costly for you, tablets are the ideal solution. 

They’ve got enough hardware power to let you create presentations, attend online meetings, write emails and perform similar work tasks ill-suited to smartphones. As we said, you can even do image editing or music production, but don’t expect tablets to be on par with modern PC rigs explicitly made with those tasks in mind.

The extended tablet battery life is a blessing for long workdays spent commuting, while its bigger screen makes working, reading, or watching media significantly easier. Smartphones, on the other hand, never seem to have enough battery life, which led to the popularity of smartphones with replaceable batteries. Tablets also tend to be cheaper than high-end smartphones, which is another important element of any purchasing decision.

Speaking of decisions, which device to get boils down to your personal preferences, needs, and budget. However, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. Many people overcome the tablet vs phone dilemma by buying both, as these devices fill in different roles in your everyday life. If you’re strapped for cash, though, consider what we’ve said so far.

Let’s summarize the pros and cons of each device:

Smartphone Pros:

  • Compact
  • Easy to carry
  • Calling and SMS capabilities
  • Good power for its size
  • Rich selection on the market
  • Very flexible

Tablet Pros:

  • Strong hardware
  • Budget-friendly
  • Good laptop alternative
  • Great battery life
  • Great for video meetings
  • Well-suited to certain types of work

Smartphone Cons:

  • Potentially expensive
  • Battery life can be a problem
  • Can’t handle more demanding software

Tablet Cons:

  • Bulky
  • No cellular network
  • Most have the same OS and apps as smartphones

Phablet: A Possible Alternative

Funnily named but definitely a real thing, phablets are somewhere in between phones and tablets (as evident from their name). A phablet is practically a massive smartphone that resembles a tablet - there really isn’t much more to it than that. In case you find tablets too big and regular smartphones too small, a phablet might be the perfect solution.


What Is the Difference Between a Smartphone and a Tablet?

The main difference between smartphones and tablets is screen (and overall) size, hardware power, and battery life. Other aspects, such as the operating system and apps used are largely the same.

Can You Use a Tablet as a Smartphone?

In a way, yes, if you use VoIP calls instead of regular cellular network calls and get the necessary hardware needed for tablets to connect to mobile internet.

Why Buy a Tablet When You Have a Smartphone?

Tablets are better suited for prolonged use, especially for work activities such as sending emails, participating in video calls, or creating presentations. They’re also a reasonable and inexpensive alternative to laptops.

Can a Tablet Make Phone Calls?

Not in the same way you would call through your smartphone. Tablets aren’t connected to your mobile carrier in any way, apart from Apple tablets which have some cross-functionalities. As we’ve shown in our smartphone vs tablet summary, tablets can only make calls over the internet by using apps such as Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.

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