The iPad cut the cord tying it to the PC with the iOS 5.0 update, meaning you no longer need a PC to setup your iPad. You can also back up your iPad via iCloud, which backs it up to Apple's servers. And for some, this means the iPad can effectively replace their laptop or desktop PC. But the iPad isn't for everyone, and depending on how you use your laptop, you may find that the iPad can't quite replace it yet.
The iPad can replace your laptop if...
Many people use their laptop or desktop PC primarily for checking email, finding out what friends and family are up to on Facebook, playing casual games and browsing the web. Those are all things that the iPad can not only do, but in some cases, even outperform the laptop. For casual gaming, the iPad easily comes out on top. Not only does it have cheaper games, it has a huge app store full of them. The iPad can also excel at browsing the web or checking Facebook, being much lighter and more comfortable to hold while curled up on the couch.
And just because you want to get a little bit of productivity done doesn't mean you need a PC. The iPad has a very functional office suite that includes a word processor and a spreadsheet, a number of different task lists and event scheduling apps, various calculators and photo editing software, and many other different utilities that you might otherwise think must be done on a PC.
However, if the iPad has a downfall for replacing your laptop, it is storage space. The iPad can go up to 64 GB with internal storage, but for those who have a huge photo collection or a lot of digital movies, these things can eat into that space.
If you just want to replace your laptop and keep your desktop PC, this isn't much of a problem. In fact, the iPad can gain access to your music and movies stored on your desktop via home sharing. But if you are wanting the iPad to be your only PC, you may want to look into some alternatives. Luckily, there are alternatives, which range from online storage from websites like Dropbox.com and Box.com to external harddrives that can be plugged directly into a router.
The iPad can't replace your laptop if...
The storage issue is a big one if you fit the profile for someone who could potentially replace their PC with their iPad but who has a large photo or movie collection. But who are the people who don't fit the profile at all?
One big reason why you wouldn't be able to replace your laptop or desktop with an iPad is if you use your computer for work, especially if you use proprietary software in order to get that work done. It is possible to get some work done on an iPad, especially tasks such as quick spreadsheet work or creating a presentation, but the iPad will run into problems if you use special software to get work done. Even if you sign into a website and work remotely through it, you will need to make sure the website is compatible with the iPad's Safari browser.
But proprietary software isn't found just in the workplace. Any application you run on your Windows PC or Mac would need a replacement for your iPad. This is easy when it comes to email and web browsing, but can be more difficult for other types of software. And just because there is a replacement for the software on the iPad doesn't mean it will be able to do the job. For example, if you need to do heavy photo or video editing, you might not find the solutions available for the iPad to go deep enough to cover what you need to do with them.
Hardcore gaming is another area where the iPad won't be able to compete with a PC. For Xbox and PlayStation gamers, this might not be a big issue, but if your idea of fun involves cutting back the demonic hordes in Diablo 3, farming for the best loot in Star Wars: The Old Republic, or taking out Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, you simply won't find the same experience on the iPad. There are some really good games for the iPad, but nothing that will rival a game like Skyrim.
How to figure out if you can replace your laptop with an iPad...
If you are still unsure, there is a simple way you can figure out whether or not an iPad will do the trick. Simply make a list of all of the tasks you perform on your PC. Start with the simple ones like web browsing and checking Facebook. But don't worry about going too overboard.
You don't need to list out everything on your first pass because we won't be making a decision immediately. Instead, keep your list handy on your computer, and over the next 4-6 weeks, add to it each time you perform a new task. At the end of this time, you should have a good idea of the tasks you perform on a regular basis and can compare them to what an iPad is capable of doing.
You might find that many tasks, such as keeping up with your finances, can be done on the web. For other tasks, you may find an app in the App Store covers it quite nicely. If you can check everything off the list, you should be fine going with an iPad. But before your final purchase, spend a few moments thinking about tasks you may only perform as little as once a year -- such as doing your taxes -- and whether or not the iPad will be able to handle it.