What's a word (or phrase) that includes laptops, tablets and cellphones (or similar portable electronic devices that resemble a computer)? I would prefer it to be a short (and intuitive) term.

I know computer could be a possible answer but while technically computer may refer to anything that computes, often times people think of a desktop PC rather than a portable device when a person says computer.

Any other words besides 'Computer'?

  • 2
    "Mobile device" is probably the most idiomatic term for this. It is, of course, incredibly imprecise, since a pitchfork is a "mobile device", technically speaking. So do you want precision or comprehension?
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:55
  • What do you mean “that resemble a computer”? Those are computers!
    – tchrist
    Mar 27, 2015 at 12:24
  • 3
    @tchrist - Nah, this is a computer.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 13:19
  • The problem is that you can either have a short term (such as "mobile device") which is an idiom understood by most people to encompass your above list, or you can have a precise, long-winded term. You need to pick one or the other.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 21:26
  • 1
    I am puzzled why this is downvoted so much. It is a legitimate question. And the answer is not out there on the internet unless you have been in the industry, handling all the terminology. And being lectured by executives who invented the terminology, who keep using them oblivious to the puzzlement of those around them. I'm going to upvote this question. Mar 29, 2015 at 22:02

5 Answers 5


Although I agree with Brian Hitchcock that "portable electronic devices" is a much broader category than might be desirable for the range of devices that the OP is interested in describing, it (or its short form, portables) is the one that the computer magazines where I've worked have settled on to describe the relevant category.

The first distinction that the magazines had to make was between devices that were light enough to carry around ("notebook computers") and devices that weren't ("desktop computers"). But in practice, some people regularly transported fairly bulky electronic devices (to LAN parties, for example), so the issue of what was portable and what wasn't was always a bit unclear.

The next idea was that if a device could operate without being tethered to an electrical wall plug, it was a portable. But then a subcategory of large and bulky laptop computers appeared that were dubbed "desktop replacements"; they were not intended for everyday travel, although you could use them that way if you were willing to lug them around. Effectively, however, the laptop computer category itself became subdivided into portable and nonportable models.

Meanwhile, cell phones, PDAs, Gameboys, and mobile music players (Walkman devices for cassette tapes and then CDs, and finally MP3 players) coalesced into a subcategory of very portable devices dubbed "handhelds," the common characteristic being that you could carry them (and to some extent operate them) in one hand. But again new items—e-book readers and then tablets—appeared and muddied the waters, since they typically required a two-handed grip during extended use. So the broader category name for these items became "mobile devices."

This category name is complicated by the fact that it includes devices that connect to networks wirelessly and devices that do not, which invites disputes about whether the latter qualify as true mobile devices. The Wikipedia article on "Mobile device" takes the broad view that everything from a battery-operated calculator to a digital videocamera qualifies.

As certain types of laptop computers (notably ultraportables and netbooks) became smaller and/or lighter, they became more and more similar to devices in the "mobile devices" category. Indeed one type of product—the hybrid tablet/laptop was essentially a tablet (a mobile device) with an attachable keyboard that turned it into a laptop (a portable device). Nevertheless, perhaps out of habit, we never assigned laptops as a group to the "mobile devices" category.

And laptops aren't the only portable devices not generally categorized as "mobile devices." Also fitting into that broader category are such things as portable (wireless) printers and portable (wireless) scanners. At the other extreme, things like ear-attached Bluetooth devices, wireless headphones, and smartwatches are certainly "mobile devices" but (for obvious reasons) aren't classified as "handhelds").

The upshot of all this is that the clearest line that can be drawn between various electronic devices is between ones that can be carried easily by a user traveling from one place to another and that can be operated away from wall plugs, and ones that can't. Devices in the former group share the category name "portable electronic devices," or "portable devices," or "portables."


If the device can access networks (voice and/or data) without a wired connection, it can be called a mobile device. This includes all cellphones, smart and dumb, as well as tablets and other small computers with connectivity built in.

If a laptop has no network connection, it is acting as a "portable computer" but not as a mobile device.

"Portable electronic device" is too broad; it could include boom boxes, automotive diagnostic devices, electrocardiogram machines on a cart, etc.

  • Indeed, _device_was the first word that came to mind, as in the acronym BYOD (bring your own device).
    – oerkelens
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:44
  • 2
    What is a "mobile device"?
    – Kris
    Mar 27, 2015 at 13:05

I think portable digital devices is the expression commonly used to refer to to tablets, smartphones etc.

  • A digital device is an electronic device that can receive, store, process or send digital information.
  • 1
    Actually, an abacus is a digital device.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:47
  • ..that can receive, store, process and send digital informations?
    – user66974
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:49
  • A "digital device" is a device that employs digits. An abacus is a device, and (even discounting the use of hands and fingers to operate it) it manipulates the data in digital form. Hence "digital device".
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:52
  • 1
    So it is also a mobile device, as suggested by Brian!!
    – user66974
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:53
  • @HotLicks - you appear to be very knowledgable about this issue ..why don't you try to give your own answer???
    – user66974
    Mar 27, 2015 at 13:41

An umbrella term exists: information appliance.

Which encompasses
  • internet appliances
  • mobile devices
  • wired and wireless connectivity
  • embedded devices

Unfortunately, the wikipedia article on information appliance is a stub and inadequately written.

However, a wikipedia category does exist for information appliance.

  • I've read "information appliance" in contexts where it seemed to mean some sort of "cloud" thing, not a physical device.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 13:17
  • I've worked in that area you down-voter. Don't go around down-voting everyone, because you think you know better. Mar 27, 2015 at 13:27
  • And mr hot, information appliance was a term used way before the current cloud thing. The cloud was actually a diagrammatic means for electrical engineers (of which I am one) to signify a lump of interconnects "somewhere out there". Mar 27, 2015 at 13:27
  • I didn't down-vote your answer. I can if you wish, however, to bring your perception of me more into line with reality.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 27, 2015 at 13:35
  • I didn't say it was you mr hot. "Someone". Mar 29, 2015 at 22:04

How about "computing device"? It technically includes desktop computers but as has been mentioned in an existing (and quite comprehensive) answer you probably don't want to exclude them anyway. Unless of course you're trying to sell batteries for them. I admit that some users may be unused to thinking of a phone as a computing device but this is likely to be true of any correct hypernym.

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