In the world of portable gadgetry, the mobile phone may hold precedence over quite a few other devices but the tablet is gaining ground as quickly as Bruce Willis hot on the trail of some bad guy. However, when it comes to deciding on whether it’s more feasible to opt for a mobile computing device like a netbook or an iPad, those who might not be very tech savvy will face quite a bit of indecision. Thus, we decided to help these guys out by pitting a standard netbook, that’s got the same UI that these users would be used to on a PC, against something they might consider to be a whole new experience i.e. the iPad.
There’s a lot going for both devices which makes the choice even harder so allow us to simplify the scenario for those looking to make a calculated decision about investing in a portable computing device and are torn between the iPad and a netbook.
Weight and Dimensions
Netbooks – Netbooks usually weigh anywhere between 1.2 and 1.4 kg. They are way lighter than most full-fledged notebooks, but nowhere in comparison with tablets in both weight and size.
Tablets – The iPad weighs in at just 607g (0.60Kg) making it a much lighter option and at just 8.8mm in depth it can compete with quite a few mobile handsets available today.
Netbooks – Netbooks come with a standard 9 or 10-inch screen and offer the same amount of workspace as a tablet. For most purposes such as watching movies or even working on documents, the resolution should suffice.
Almost identical to each other
Tablets – The iPad has one of the crisper displays found on mobile devices these days. It features a 10-inch touchscreen that’s scratch resistant and has a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 16 million colours. It’s easy to view in almost all lighting conditions be it indoors or outdoors.
Netbooks – Having a physical keyboard is a big advantage for netbooks. A hardware keyboard with physical keys is trouble-free – users make fewer mistakes and typing speed is usually better.
Physical keyboard versus a touchscreen
Tablets – When it comes to typing, the iPad’s onscreen or virtual keyboard can take a little getting used to especially if you’re more familiar with the standard keyboard of a PC. Although very neatly spaced out, you won’t find shortcut keys or number keys on the same ‘page’. But once you find your way around it won’t be too long before your fingers are flying on the screen. The keypad is, of course, a little smaller and more compact when you’re in portrait mode and does tend to take up at least 40% of the display when switched to landscape.
Netbooks – The storage space on most netbooks exceeds 120GB. With this kind of space, you can easily store over a 100 movies with a ton of music and software installed. You’re very unlikely to run out of storage space.
Tablets – The iPad is available in different capacities – 16GB, 32GB and 64GB but has no option to increase this amount. However for regular use, that’s quite a bit of space to store plenty of work or media-related data.
Viewing angles/seating posture
Netbooks – Netbooks might be bulkier and heavier than tablets but they are more comfortable to use in most scenarios. In a car or on a desk, the reclined screen offers a more ergonomic seating position. The netbook can be kept on your lap as well and there is comparatively less neck and back strain.
Tablets – The convenient part about the iPad form factor is that it can be viewed quite easily from all angles. It’s light enough to hold with one hand and type with the other. While you may not be able to keep it on your lap, unless it’s in a case that permits that, you can hold it up comfortably enough to get your work done even while standing. However, that being said, it isn’t really the best to view as your hand could get a little tired after a while. It may be lighter than a netbook but without a case to prop it up it can get a bit cumbersome when used for long periods of time.
Netbooks – Windows running on a somewhat limited processor and memory isn’t the most responsive of operating systems around. The hardware on netbooks is geared towards running software such as browsers and basic office suites.
Different processors for completely different platforms
Tablets – Although the iPad may seem like a lower powered device when compared to a netbook it does exactly what it needs to with a fluid sense of operation. The User Interface and Operating System i.e. iOS is speedy when it comes to functionality, accessing your information and multitasking.
Netbooks – Every netbook sold in the market today comes with inbuilt WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities. Wired network ports and memory card readers are a given. One of the things missing is the 3G connectivity option. Users need to buy separate USB 3G modems or look out for netbooks with built-in 3G functionality. These are rare to come by. All of these features are fully functional and there are no compatibility issues whatsoever and you can connect anything from flash drives to cameras to them.
3G connectivity is not common on netbooks, options are available though
Tablets – The iPad specifically, in the tablet segment, is not really equipped with the best connectivity solutions although it does meet basic requirements. For wireless connectivity it offers 3G for which specific plans are available of you can opt to use standard GPRS (much slower) or WiFi. It does offer limited Bluetooth connectivity as well for connecting the device to accessories like stereo Bluetooth headsets for audio or Bluetooth Keyboard docks, but it does not support file transfer through this medium.
Netbooks – In terms of viewing area, the netbooks are similar to most of the mainstream 10-inch tablets. Using a trackpad or a mouse isn’t as intuitive as using a touchscreen. In terms of a browser, the one on a netbook, say Firefox, Chrome or Opera, are way better than the tablet counterparts because of the customisations and plugins available to them.
Tablets – Safari is the native browser for the iPad but third part browsers like Opera are available for free and do tend to enhance your web experience just a little bit. Although Flash may not be supported on the iPad, the rendering of web pages on the device is a lot easier on the eyes visually as compared to others.
Netbooks – If you’ve used any other Windows system, you’ll find the netbook to be almost equally easy to use for sending e-mails. Compared to tablets, typing e-mails is quicker and accessing features is simple on the netbook. Composing documents, saving them and attaching files for example is really simple as compared to the iPad.
Tablets – Built in apps and optimized web-page rendering make reading emails on a tablet a little more convenient. Although the versatility of a PC-like interface does offer easy access to some tools, the Tablet UI is far more comfortable for viewing. Even social networking or just chatting using apps is made a lot easier and more intuitive on the iPad. Apple has also included FaceTime which is native only to their products that allow you to video-chat with family or friends using Wi-Fi.
Netbooks – Office applications such as word processors and spreadsheets are hard to use on tablets. The keyboard on a netbook allows you to type much faster than you could on a tablet. Since it has a dedicated, physical keyboard, there’s more space on-screen for the spreadsheet or word document. The ability to drag and drop using a touchpad or a mouse is also much simpler than on tablets.
Tablets – The tablet may seem like an oversized PMP at times but it’s quite a handy device even for the work force on the go. With apps like QuickOffice, Adobe PDF viewers and Apple’s KeyNote app for creating presentations, the tablet has now become a sophisticated business asset. It may not be as versatile as a netbook, but it does pretty well for itself.
Netbooks – Since the netbook wasn’t designed to be a high-power computing device, it doesn’t have the standard spec hardware found on most of today’s notebooks. If you’re looking to play the latest PC games, you’ll find the performance of the netbook far from impressive.
A better gaming platform than the netbook
Tablets – Gaming is far more interactive on a tablet thanks to accelerometers and gyro sensors that allow you to use the entire device for control. Games are also quite colourful and simplistic enough to get into and while away a few hours when necessary.
Netbooks – The netbook is great for DVD quality movies but full high-definition movies aren’t going to run very well on it.
Tablets – The iPad requires you to use iTunes to transfer media as well as any other data to and from the device but it also acts a single space to compile your music data base, create playlists etc and transfer them to the tablet. The iPad 2 in particular supports full HD (1080p) video playback, but will require specific players to play these files. They might not be free.
Netbooks – Software availability is great on the netbook. It’s free most of the time. Pricing is extremely high. On one hand, it’s easy to get a free software and on the other hand, commercial software is often much more expensive than on the tablet. There really isn’t any shortage of software for the netbook. There's also the chance of your netbook getting infected by viruses, which isn't present on tablets.
The iPad has a well organized app store but it won't have everything
Tablets – Apple’s AppStore is a tremendous resource of apps for any and all purposes that range from the ridiculous to the most effective for enhancing your tablet experience. Thousands of apps are available across the board and more are being developed every day.
Netbooks – Netbooks come with different battery capacities. Those with 6-cell batteries offer roughly five hours of battery life with minimal workload such as browsing sites. With videos playing, this can come down to three hours or so. This is still a lot better than mainstream notebooks that offer roughly two hours of battery life with considerable workload.
Tablets – The iPad is designed to offer quite a bit of battery life. In our testing we found that we were able to watch over 7 hours of nonstop video playback and still had a little juice left to send emails and check out social networks. It will give you a day’s worth of usage without ever having to switch it off. Usage will include emailing, web surfing, Push emails and messages from social networks and chats as well as a little media like music and video thrown in.
Netbooks – Most netbooks are priced in the Rs. 15,000 – Rs. 20,000 price range. This includes the standard hardware – a 1.66 GHz processor, a gigabyte of RAM and a 10-inch screen – and will set you back by roughly Rs. 15,000. There’s not a ton of variation as far as configurations are concerned and you can’t really go too wrong with them.
Tablets – The Apple iPad 2 is a premium device and is not only available in three different capacities viz. 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, but it’s also available in two models a WiFi only version and one with 3G capabilities as well. The range starts from Rs. 29,000 and goes up to Rs. 46,000.
We ran a couple of simple practical tests to see how well, both netbooks and tablets performed. Netbooks running Windows 7 generally took much longer than the iPad to start up. For example, a netbook takes roughly 35 seconds to startup right upto the Windows desktop. A tablet in comparison takes just 20 seconds. Shutdown on the iPad is much more impressive. Windows took more than a minute to shutdown on a system that has a decent amount of software installed. An iPad took no more than two seconds.
Click for larger view
We also wanted to see how practical both devices were for everyday use, so we did a typing test. Candidates were asked to type out the same paragraph in text on the tablet as well as the netbook. Two out of three people took between 25 and 65 per cent longer on a tablet to type. One of the test candidates took exactly the same time to type on a netbook as he did on the iPad.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, we have to admit, although it was a really close fight, the tablet proved to be far more versatile device. Sure it's a costlier option but it does offer quite a bit of overall functionality not to mention significantly more battery life in comparison to a netbook. So this is what we say, if you're looking for that specific portable device to get work done on the go and one that's not your mobile phone, we recommend a good tablet, even if it does happen to be a WiFi only iPad, Motorola Xoom or any other.