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How (and Why) to Turn Your iPad or Other Tablet Into a Computer

You'll need some accessories but may find it cheaper than buying another device

woman studying at home with books, newspaper and digital tablet

Fabio Principe/Getty Images

En español | If you don't want to spend money on a new computer or can't fathom adding a new device to an already crowded home, your tablet, such as an iPad, can easily transform into a laptop with an accessory or two.

After all, sometimes you might prefer a computer keyboard and mouse to get work done rather than tapping and swiping on a screen or using a stylus. Plus you can connect your tech to a larger monitor or television if desired.

Turning a tablet into a laptop is probably best for basic tasks such as posting to social media, reading emails, web browsing and word processing. More memory-intensive applications, like playing multiplayer games while chatting on a headset, are better suited to a laptop or desktop.

Android and iPad tablets also don't have a USB port to insert a flash drive for added storage, though some Android tablets support microSD cards. So long as you're OK with these restrictions, here are a few ways to turn a tablet into a computer.

Transform an iPad into a laptop, of sorts

Apple iPad — the most popular tablet in the world — has supported Bluetooth wireless keyboards for several years now. Many double as a stand to prop up the device and a screen cover to protect it when not in use.

But only recently did Apple start offering support for a trackpad. A trackpad is a similar experience to using a mouse and moving a cursor along the screen to interact with content. What's more, the trackpad also supports intuitive multi-touch gestures, like a trackpad on a Mac, such as using three fingers to switch between spaces, pinching to zoom and swiping to go to the home screen.

To get going, you'll need an iPad running the iPadOS 13.4 operating system or newer. All supported iPad models are listed at the bottom of this webpage.

Be aware that Apple's own accessories are relatively expensive. Apple sells its standalone wireless mouse, Magic Mouse 2, for $79; plus it has the Magic Trackpad 2 for $149; and the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro for $349, which has an integrated stand, keyboard and trackpad. Sure, these are less than a new MacBook Air laptop, which starts at about $999, but it's something worth knowing.


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Also, bear in mind that iPadOS doesn't support scrolling or other gestures with its first-generation Apple Magic Mouse or the first-generation Magic Trackpad. Third-party mice connected over Bluetooth or USB also are supported.

Once you're up and running, you can adjust trackpad settings on an iPad by going to Settings | General | Trackpad. You can tweak how quickly the pointer moves, double-click actions and more.

To adjust mouse settings, go to Settings | General | Trackpad & Mouse. To customize the pointer, such as its size, color, level of transparency and how it works, go to the Settings | Accessibility | Pointer Control.

Get your Android tablets in the running

Those who own an Android-powered tablet, such as a Samsung Galaxy or Amazon Fire, can add a wired or wireless mouse and keyboard to turn it into a laptop without breaking the bank.

You have several options for these accessories, but battery life for wireless devices, comfort, design, price and quality vary greatly. Personally, I like Logitech mice and keyboards, which cost considerably less than Apple's family of gear. A Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard costs $39 and works with Android, Chrome, iOS, Mac and Windows.

Turn on your accessory and go to your Android's Settings | Bluetooth area to search for nearby Bluetooth devices. Tap the name of the mouse or keyboard to pair it with your device, just as you would pair a Bluetooth headset or speaker.

For a wired keyboard and mouse, which costs even less and can be plugged into the micro-USB or USB-C port of an Android tablet, the operating system should recognize it immediately and let you begin typing or using the mouse. If not, while the setup process may vary slightly depending on your model and the exact version of Android you're running, you may need to go to Settings | System | Languages & input. Here you can select the external keyboard from a drop-down menu.

That's it!

Do you know about SideCar?

iPad owners might not be aware that they can use their device as a second display for a Mac.

That's right. You can mirror your Mac desktop or extend the display between the two screens with both side by side. It's pretty easy to pull off.

1. Click the AirPlay icon in the menu bar on your Mac, then choose iPad.

2. Or go to System Preferences | Displays if you don't see this option. Make sure that Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available has a checkmark.

3. By default, your iPad should now show an extension of your Mac desktop; therefore, you can move windows to it and use it like any other secondary monitor.

4. Mirror your Mac display so both screens show the same thing by returning to the AirPlay menu and choosing the option to Mirror Displays.

5. End your Sidecar session by returning to the AirPlay menu and choosing the option to disconnect.

Pro tip: While you can use Sidecar wirelessly, plug your iPad into your Mac via USB cable to keep it charged.

Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out, aims to break down geek speak into street speak.

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