Mobile Computing: Tablets vs netbooks

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: December 3, 2010

I've been talking about tablets a lot lately, and quite a few people have either stated that tablets are pointless or have asked what their purpose is. With Christmas nearing and tablets being at the top of many people's Christmas lists, it leaves a few things to question like: which should you buy, a tablet or a netbook? Or should you skip that and just get a laptop? More things come into play than what most people first consider, and it can be a very tough decision.

The obvious answer is saying that it depends on what you want to do with it. If you are going to be using it for some laborious work, get a laptop. You will need the screen space, processing power, and full-fledged operating system. Tablets and netbooks are made for lightweight tasks on the go, mainly media consumption, emails, and simple document editing.

Keeping it simple, netbooks are just laptops with lightweight components and toned down specs; they are meant to do the most basic functions. It can accomplish some things that a tablet can't like, running Windows programs, reading CDs/DVDs through external (USB drive) CD drives, and many simple things you would never miss until you try to do it on a tablet that doesn't have the ability. It gives you the full capability of a computer while mobile, but lightens the load; the only thing you sacrifice is screen size and processor technology. Oh, don't forget that luxurious, spacey keyboard. Also, netbooks are typically made of cheaper material, how long will it last through the beating and banging of being carried essentially everywhere?

Tablets were built with large amounts of media consumption in mind. They are here to fill the gap between smartphones and computers, and do so quite well, better than netbooks, to be honest. You may be wondering why that is. The answer is simple – portability, media, and battery.

Most people are looking to eliminate having to lug around a 5-6 pound laptop everyday. I know that's why I bought one. In some cases this will work. In other instances, you will find yourself getting very frustrated with your limited-capability tablet. The point is, there are certain things I want to on the fly like, watching a movie or browsing the Internet – things that don't require a lot of text input. These tasks are more user-friendly on a tablet. Even for students, tablets are a great option to keep in mind. They are wonderful for keeping your data, notes, and other useful information in one place, easily and quickly accessible. That's the key, “quickly accessible.” But tablets have a little easter egg, they come with application stores that open you up to a world of gaming and social networking that you aren't open to with a netbook.

Netbooks are a good choice for students as well, as they have full text editors, you can create PowerPoint presentations from them, etc. But when it comes to taking it with you and going to class, every time you want to use it, you will either have to wake it up from hibernation mode or cold-boot it. This is where tablets dominate, and what really takes home the cake for me. Android tablets and the iPad have “instant-on” capability. You press the power button and the screen turns on. It's ready to be used.

The one place that netbooks slaughter tablets is the physical keyboard. Taking notes on a tablet, replying to emails, or just general typing can become a daunting task. If you aren't careful, spelling errors and crazy auto-corrections will plague your emails and notes. A Bluetooth keyboard is a viable solution and will usually be well worth the money spent. It creates a suitable balance between the tablet and the netbook.

I know not everyone will agree, but I've tried just about every option out there. Between mobility and functionality, tablets take home the win, whether it be Android or an iPad (I love them both). Bundled with a physical keyboard and stand (i.e.: the ZAGGmate solution), your tablet can become a netbook with a mobile OS on it. It becomes more versatile with the option to leave the keyboard behind if you know you aren't going to need it, but it's there to use when it is needed most.

So, both netbooks and tablets have their advantages and disadvantages. It's up to you, the consumer, to decide what fits your needs best. Whether having a detachable keyboard is more important or if Microsoft Office fits your needs best. Also, it is important to take the pricing into consideration. For which will you get the most bang for your buck? Always remember, the cheap route is not always the best route, nor the most expensive the best.

Some takeaways:

Netbooks

  • Full operating system (Windows, Mac OSX, etc.)
  • Physical keyboard
  • Microsoft Office, Open Office, etc.
  • Decent battery life
  • Roughly $250-$500+

Tablets

  • Mobile OS – Instant-on function
  • Great battery life
  • Option of adding a Bluetooth keyboard
  • Perfect for movies, Internet browsing, staying connected
  • Roughly $100-$850

Products mentioned