Should you get a netbook or an iPad?

Should you get a netbook or an iPad?

Weighing the pros and cons of each device

by Michael Arcand on December 2, 2010


The introduction of the iPad tablet by Apple earlier this year signaled a perceptible shift in portable computing. Practically overnight, the device became Apple's bestseller. Meanwhile, you've been contemplating buying a netbook. You're not really interested in a bulky laptop and would prefer the netbook for portability and ease of use. After all, most of your use would be for online stuff, right?

But what if the iPad could serve your needs? Which should you get? Let's take a look at the pros and cons for both a netbook and an iPad and see which one fits your bill.

Netbook

A look at the basic netbook
A netbook is called by that name because its primary use is online, on the 'net. Netbooks do not feature optical drives, so you can't use any CD-ROMs or DVDs with a netbook. They do feature USB ports and usually video output ports to allow for presentations. Wifi connectivity is standard on a netbook, given its primary purpose, as is an ethernet port.

The pros of the netbook consist primarily of two things: size and price. Netbooks vary in size, but as a general guideline, the average netbook has about a 10" screen size. The screen is much wider than it is tall, which allows for a full QWERTY keyboard on the device. For the price, you can't do much better than a netbook. A basic netbook can be found for as low as $200 at some big box stores and online retailers.

The downside to owning a netbook is that you don't get a whole lot of computing power. While a netbook is decent enough to run online applications such as Google Docs or Gmail, they don't usually come with production suites like Microsoft Office, because it's a stretch for these devices to run them. Additionally, without an optical drive, you don't have many backup options or new software installation options. Remember, a netbook's purpose is to help you use the internet, hence its name.

iPad 2

So what about the Apple iPad?
Can this tablet take you where no device has gone before? Can it be a better solution for your needs than a netbook? With a 3G model, the iPad can actually take your computing needs where no device has gone before without external mobile solutions such as MiFi hotspots, USB modems or mobile phone tethering. Whether it can be a better solution or not depends on your specific needs and budget.

The appeal of the iPad stems from two factors: its size and the fact that it is made by Apple. The device comes in a variety of optional packages, including models with wifi only and models with 3G capability. The 3G service, as provided by AT&T, comes in a monthly pricing plan with no long-term contracts.

The popular iWorks programs are available for the iPad, providing some productivity use for the tablet. The Safari browser provides robust internet browsing support. The latest iOS update (4.2.2) also provides wireless network printing support for certain printers.

Adobe Flash

Why not an iPad?
So if the iPad has all of these features, why wouldn't you get one instead of a netbook? Despite all of the positives, the iPad has some pretty big drawbacks as well. First is the lack of Flash support. For most people browsing the internet, that's pretty important. Whether you're watching video or playing short Flash games, Flash is still an integral part of our online experience. Apple attempts to make up for that with specific apps, such as the YouTube app. However, even these have a limited use, as all videos are still not formatted correctly for viewing in this app.

Next up on the list of cons would be storage. The iPad is available with solid state memory options of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. A basic netbook should have at least 120GB of storage on a hard drive. In addition, the iPad has no access to software or files other than through Apple iTunes or specific file-sharing apps such as Dropbox. There is no USB support and limited video output support, which requires a specialized kit sold separately by Apple (not to mention integration into each app using it).

Last but certainly not least is the iPad's price tag. We mentioned that you could get a basic netbook for around $200. An iPad starts at $500 for a basic, 16GB, wifi-only model. So if budgeting is a real concern, there is no question that you can get more bang for your buck out of a basic netbook. However, if you're looking for the cutting edge of technical devices with the ability to work over a 3G network natively, then the iPad can serve your purpose.

Your final decision
The bottom line in deciding between a netbook or an iPad is your need for functionality. Although it has been touted by some in the media as a netbook killer, the iPad is a long way from that. It can provide some limited productivity functions, but it will serve you much better as a great new way to consume content rather than create it.

As for a netbook, it will fill that gap between your desktop and that bulky laptop. When you don't need the processing power of a laptop and are looking to work in the cloud or on smaller projects, go with a netbook. Both of these devices represent a move towards more portable computing options, and both can have a place in your collection of gadgets.

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Weighing the pros and cons of each device

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