Just over five months ago, I made a short comparison of tablets and netbooks. Five months ago, those two items were worlds apart when it came to functionality, portability, battery life, and several other aspects. Tablets might not have won the first round, but they are now back for more.
Playing the role of Santa's little helper, I sought to filter out the mess and help those who were in the market during the holidays to decide which was better for them. But a lot has changed in those short few months. Google's tablet-specific version of Android has been released, serious Android tablets have entered the playing field, Apple outed the second generation of their tablet, BlackBerry released the PlayBook, and HP is on the brink of releasing the webOS TouchPad.
While all of this has been going on in the tablet world, the technology within netbooks has mostly plateaued. They are still the same size, same price, and have generally the same internals. Granted, Windows has been slimmed down and optimized a little more for the lightweight notebooks. But for the sake of this article, we will agree that netbooks are, for the most part, the same as they were five months ago.
Apart from size, the most noticeable differences between a laptop and netbook lie within its media consumption abilities. A netbook's display is usually low-res and they don't typically come with a ton of storage space. They have no problem handling some light media like Netflix or YouTube, but try to play a game or load it up with all of your favorite music and you might just be wishing you had bought a laptop instead.
Back in December when I was dissecting the mini laptops, one of the main setbacks that I pointed out was the lack of an instant-on feature. Carrying a netbook around, between classes or from office to meeting, isn't so bad. But if you have to power it down and power it back on multiple times, it can become nerve-wrecking. A tablet was built to be always-on. They go into a shallow sleep state but burn much less battery power as a netbook would if it stayed on all the time. Thus a tablet can be left on and you don't have to worry about the battery draining before your next use. Just push the power button and viola!
If that was the only thing tablets had going for them, they would hardly be selling like hot cakes and it would be impossible for me to suggest getting a tablet over a netbook. Fortunately, that is only the beginning. In just a very short time, the tablet world has evolved greatly. The blown-up smartphones have begun to emerge from their state of infancy and rise as legitimate tools in the workforce – mind you, they are only beginning this transformation.
The software, or applications, available on tablets are becoming more viable with increased functionality. For instance, software like Microsoft Office and Open Office, which were only available on full operating systems have found their way to mobile platforms and are capable of doing most of what their desktop counterparts can. There are some features lacking, but for what most college students would need it for, applications like Polaris Office, Quickoffice, or Docs To Go are perfect.
Not only is the tablet slowly getting better at productivity, but it is getting better at entertainment as well. Streaming TV shows, syncing your entire music library with the cloud, tweeting, reading the news, and browsing the web has never been easier. Surprisingly, it is only getting easier with each an every update, which netbooks rarely see.
Up to this point, a deficiency in the tablet has been typing. Software keyboards have their limitations and are generally a nuisance to use, especially if you want to get any real work done. But recently there has been an influx of keyboard solutions for tablets like the ZAGGmate for the iPad 1 and 2, or the keyboard dock for the ASUS Transformer, which bridges the gap between tablets and netbooks. These are the changes in the market that have made choosing the netbook route over tablet an increasingly tough one to make.
Just as a testament to their improvement, I received my ASUS Transformer in the mail early yesterday morning. I have typed every article since from this very tablet using the keyboard dock. While it isn't quite like using a computer and it may lack some features like automatic grammar check, it is an easy way for me to get a lot of work done while still on the go. I pop into a coffee shop and am typing in a matter of seconds, not minutes. And when I'm done, I don't have to worry about shutting down. Just hit the power button and the tablet is on standby, waiting for my next stop.
For the first time today, I recommended a tablet to someone over a netbook for both work and school. As an added perk, the tablet can double as a multimedia device that can outperform nearly any netbook on the market. The fine line that used to divide tablets and netbooks is quickly diminishing. If tablets haven't already surpassed them, they are certainly on their heels.
Albeit waning, there is still a market for netbooks. If you have been in the market for a netbook for a while and can't pull the trigger on a specific one, I would recommend considering a tablet and keyboard solution as a possible option.
Here are some takeaways:
- Quick, mobile operating systems
- Versatile (keyboard or no keyboard on the fly)
- 8-16 hours of battery life
- Instant-on and quick standby feature
- Immense and ever-growing application support
- Fairly regular updates
- Great multimedia tools
- Roughly $250-830
- Mini computers with full operating systems
- 6-10 hours of battery life
- No instant-on feature
- Can handle full desktop programs on the go
- CDs/DVDs via external drive
- Not ideal for media
- Roughly $230-500+