What is the difference between laptop and notebook?

Both terms are familiar, laptop and notebook - but what is the difference between the two devices? We explain how the terms came into being and how they are used today.

Laptop or notebook: Which term is the right one and when?

Whether you are an expert who has been dealing with computers for ages or a beginner who is just entering this world: The terms notebook and laptop are nowadays almost always used synonymously, there is no difference. However, the words themselves have different meanings. Notebook means "notebook" and laptop means something like "lap computer". But this difference is no longer important nowadays. Rather, it goes back to the past and the original design of mobile computers - more on this later.

If you want to decide on one of the two terms nowadays, the research results in a mixed picture that does not want to give a clear favourite. After a search with Google (as of July 2020) 1,970,000,000 entries were found for the word "laptop". For the term "notebook" there are just 783,000,000. Sounds like a clear winner, doesn't it? However, if you search for "laptop" on Wikipedia, you will be redirected directly to "notebook" - the online lexicon does not offer a separate page for laptops.

The laptopsunder30000.com leads definition pages for both terms. Here it says about the meaning of "laptop" that it is a "small portable personal computer". For the term "notebook" the corresponding entry is "portable, light-weight computer in which the screen, keyboard, drive, etc. are integrated into the hinged housing".

Thus, the relevant reference works do not make a clear distinction between a laptop and a notebook. The fact remains that both terms are correct for a portable computer and nowadays do not lead to misunderstandings even when used synonymously.

History: This is how the terms laptop and notebook came to be

What is the difference between notebook and laptop? A look into the past shows that the terms were used differently in the past. Originally, the word "laptop" was the term used by manufacturers to describe mobile computers that were so handy that the user could operate the device - unlike a desktop PC - according to the meaning of the word on his lap. According to the industry magazine Heise, the term "notebook" was only introduced by the Japanese company Toshiba at the end of the 1980s, "in order to better market particularly compact and light (like a notebook) devices".

At that time, laptops differed from notebooks mainly in size, weight and performance. For a long time, for example, devices with a screen diagonal of 15 inches or more, which had a CD drive, lots of power and many connections, were more likely to be called laptops. Accordingly, notebooks were smaller, lighter and less lavishly equipped. However, these differences have lost relevance as technology has progressed. CD drives have become less and less important, all technology is more powerful and takes up less and less space - all this has blurred the line between laptop and notebook and ultimately made it disappear.

Interesting information in passing: In early 2000, the term "folding computer" appeared in the German-speaking world. However, it could not prevail over laptop and notebook. No wonder, if you let the coolness factor of "folding computer" vs. "laptop" or "notebook" have an effect on you.