Comparing devices


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Comparing devices

A laptop, tablet and smartphone on a desk

What's coming up?

Desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets and smartphones have a lot in common, and do many of the same things. So what makes them different from each other, and what is the right one to use for you?

Let's find out.

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The size difference

The big difference between each type of computing device is size. The size of a device affects where you can use it.

A small device may be easier to carry around with you, but it also means a smaller screen. Typing letters, reading web pages and looking at photos can be harder on a small screen than on a big screen.

A desktop computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone

Desktop or laptop?

A desktop computer is made of several connected parts. It sits in one place in your house, so you can't carry it around.

A laptop is small enough to take with you, and still has a good sized keyboard to type on, and a relatively large screen.

A desktop computer vs a laptop computer
A smartphone vs a tablet

Tablet or smartphone?

Then there's the tablet, which is about the size of a thin book and will fit in a small bag. But typing on a tablet can be harder than typing on a laptop or desktop computer keyboard.

The smallest device is the smartphone, which will fit in a pocket. Some screens are small, but some smartphones have large screens. Typing and reading can be tricky on the small screens of smartphones.

Devices that need mains power vs those that can run on batteries

The power difference

Tablets, smartphones and computers are powered in different ways. Desktop computers need mains power permanently, so they have to be attached to a wall socket to work.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones each have a rechargeable battery inside. They can work for a period of time before the battery power runs down. Plugging the device into mains power recharges the battery.

Different types of control of devices: a mouse, a touchscreen and a keyboard

The control difference

Computers, tablets and smartphones are controlled in different ways. A desktop is controlled with a keyboard and mouse. These give a lot of fine control and are perhaps the most comfortable control method.

A laptop is controlled by a keyboard and touchpad. The touchpad works like a mouse, but you touch it with your fingers instead of holding it under your hand. You can also connect a separate mouse to a laptop if you prefer.

Tablets and smartphones are controlled by tapping, swiping and scrolling on a touchscreen with your fingers.

Which one is right for me?

There is a computing device to suit just about any need.

Desktop computer

If you have the space, and don't need a computer to be portable, a desktop computer may be a good choice. It has the biggest screen, the most comfortable keyboard, and uses a mouse.

A desktop computer
A laptop computer

Laptop computer

If you expect to do lot of typing, and portability is important, a laptop computer might be a good option. It can be carried around and used at a desk or on your lap, it has a physical keyboard, and can work even when not connected to mains power. You can also connect a mouse to a laptop if you find it easier to use than the built-in touchpad.


If you need a computer that's easy to carry around but has a good sized screen, a tablet may be the answer. A tablet runs on batteries and can do many of the things a laptop or desktop can. You can also purchase a compatible traditional keyboard if you don't like using the onscreen keyboard.

A tablet
A smartphone


A smartphone is perfect it you want a device that can make calls, and is small enough to carry in your pocket. Smartphones can browse the internet and do many of the same things as a tablet, but their size means that websites and photos may look very small.

Which device?

Which of these three types of computer devices is the largest and needs power from a power point to run?


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Sorry, not quite. Tablets are about the size of a book and can run on batteries.

Desktop computer

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That's right! Desktop computers are too big to carry around with you, and need to be plugged into mains power.

Laptop computer

Click to flip


Sorry, not quite. Try again. A laptop can use battery power, and is compact enough to carry around.

A couple watching catch up tv on their tablet


You've completed the Comparing devices activity. As you've seen from completing this activity, each type of computer device has strengths and weaknesses, depending on what you want to use them for.

Next up, if you have registered and are logged into the Be Connected website, you'll now be able to take a short quiz to finish the What is a smartphone course. If you're not registered, you are now at the end of the course.