Choosing an IT device

Many people rely on technology to stay connected to the world and organise their lives. Buying a new device can be a difficult task. There are many options and factors to consider such as computer capability, physical size, Wi-fi access and security.

Laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone?

Photograph of laptop, tablet and smartphone There is a range of different models and manufacturers producing devices at various prices.

Before you buy a device, you should consider:

  • what you'll use your computer for
  • if you'll need to use it in different places
  • frequency of use
  • what other devices you need to connect to


If you travel often or want a computer that you can take anywhere, a laptop could be suitable for you. A laptop is a personal computer for mobile use. A laptop integrates most of the typical components of a desktop computer, including a display, a keyboard, a pointing device (a touchpad, also known as a trackpad or a pointing stick) and speakers in a single unit.

photograph of laptop A laptop is powered by mains electricity through an AC adapter or away from an outlet using a rechargeable battery. A new laptop battery typically stores enough energy to run the laptop for three to five hours, depending on the computer usage, configuration and power management settings.

When the laptop is plugged into the mains, the battery charges, even if the computer is not running. As the battery ages, energy storage will progressively decline to last only a few minutes.

If you want a device that you can work on comfortably for long periods of time and can store lots of large files, you might make the laptop your choice. A laptop accommodates all work functions from spreadsheets to emails and social media.

Laptop pros and cons

Laptops are great for all work, from spreadsheets to emails and have full-sized keyboards that make typing easy and comfortable.  They have large storage capacities -  around 500GB is typical (compared to 64GB offered by larger tablets).  Keyboards and track pads can also make photo-editing easier on a laptop than on a tablet.

A laptop is bulkier and heavier than a tablet and can be slow to start up compared to tablets - 3 or 4 G connectivity needs a 'dongle' which costs extra.


Image of a PC A desktop computer is a good option if you have a home office and you don't need to take the computer to other locations.

A desktop computer is a personal computer (PC) in a form intended for regular use at a single location, as opposed to a mobile laptop or portable computer.

Desktop and tower computers are two styles of computer case that use desk space in different ways. Desktop computers are designed to lay flat on the desk, while towers stand upright.

'Desktop' indicates a horizontally-oriented computer case usually intended to have the display screen placed on top to save space on the desktop. Most modern desktop computers have separate screens and keyboards.

Tower cases are sometimes incorrectly called desktop computers as some will put them on a desk instead of on the floor under the desk. Cases intended for home theatre PC systems are usually considered to be desktop cases in both senses, regardless of orientation and placement.


Image of a tablet device Slim and lightweight, tablets are a type of internet-enabled computer that work in a similar way to smart phones, with touch screens and downloadable apps.  

Although Tablets are capable of running work applications, they are mainly bought as a portable device used for quick web browsing (internet), emailing and portable entertainment.

As well as being simple to use and easy to carry around, tablets turn on quickly, providing almost instant access to the internet or your apps.

Apps can be downloaded to add an enormous range of functions, from drawing to games and work- based activities like Word Excel.

Here’s a list of the most common uses for tablets:

  • reading books, newspapers and magazines
  • browsing the web
  • playing games
  • watching catch-up TV
  • sending and receiving emails
  • making video calls

Tablet pros and cons

Tablets are quick to turn on, are portable, easy to use and there are lots of apps to choose from. But, they can be expensive and may not have have expandable memory.  Some may not have 3 or 4 G connectivity and if they do they may need a data plan contract with the extra ongoing expense. They also use touch screen typing and it's often necessary to buy a screen cover to protect from scratches and cracks. 


Image of a smartphone A smartphone combines the features of a mobile phone with those of other popular mobile devices, such as media player and GPS navigation unit. Most smartphones are accessed by a touchscreen, can run third-party apps and have camera phones.

Those produced from 2012 have high-speed mobile broadband and mobile payment mechanisms. Not only can you talk to one another on your smartphones but you can text, play music and games, get directions, take pictures, check e-mails, find a restaurant, surf the internet or watch a movie. 

Technical factors to consider


It's important to consider size when choosing a device, especially if you will be travelling with it. Devices range in both size and weight.

Screen size

Screen size is very much a personal preference, however, do consider what you are mainly using the device for. The size of a smartphone screen is usually about 6.5” to 8” in diameter, the screen size of a tablet ranges from 7” to 13.3” and the screen size of a laptop ranges from  11” to 17”. Resolution and clarity of the screen depends on the device. It's generally accepted that the larger the screen, the shorter the battery life. Smaller size is great for travelling, however, having a large screen can make watching movies and videos more visually entertaining.

The processor

The processor controls the speed and performance of a laptop. A processor's speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz).


Also known as 'RAM', Random Access Memory is a form of computer data storage and is what the computer uses to run applications, your browser and the operating system.

Gigabytes (GB) are units of computer memory storage capacity.

It's important to choose the amount of memory depending on what you wish to use the device for.

Photos taken with smartphones are improving in quality and may reach 4MB per photo. Using that as an estimate benchmark, 1GB would hold about 256 photos. If you take 10 photos a day, you’ll fill up 16GB in a little over a year.

Apps have also grown in size. Some games can go from between 40MB to over  1GB per game.

Hard drive

The hard drive determines how much storage capacity your computer has. When you download music, store photos and videos, you are taking up space on the device's hard drive. If you store many music, photo or video files, you should choose a device that has a higher number of GB. 16GB or  32GB is normally enough for most to survive on their mobile devices if not over storing Apps or files.

Battery life

You should check the battery life for a particular laptop or netbook. In general, the larger the screen, keyboard and device, the less amount of time your device can keep running on a charged battery.

Tips to help you choose

  • surf the internet for the specific information on each device and model
  • visit a retailer to get a better idea about any device you are considering buying
  • lift the device to gauge its weight
  • play around with the touchpad on the device to see how comfortable you are with it. 

For all computers and laptops, it's important to buy or download security software to protect devices from viruses.

Buying a device involves a series of decisions. Once you have assessed your needs, the process can be simpler. By keeping these factors and considerations in mind, you can avoid some of the frustration and confusion that accompanies finding the device that is right for you.

More useful links

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email:

For queries or advice about property valuation, email:

For queries or advice about land registry, email:

For mapping queries, email:

What to do next

If you can’t find the information you’re looking for in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) section, then for queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.