Prior to the release of the iPad, there were a multitude of articles – some touting 15 ways the iPad was better than a netbook, and others talking about the 42 ways the netbook was better than the iPad, and so on. As my Netbook Gamer series indicates, I am a netbook lover. I am also a proud iPad owner, and have had a few weeks using them both to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each. So here are 5 ways I feel each is better than the other … and I leave it to you to decide whether any of these matter!
5 Ways the iPad is Better
1. Speed - tap an app and it opens, tap a web link and it appears, and so on. Listen to music while doing stuff and see no impact. I wrote about the ARM Cortex A9 being perhaps faster than a netbook even at 500MHz, and my experience with the iPad affirms that Apple’s A4 chipset has plenty of muscle.
2. Size - the iPad is nearly the same size as my Lenovo and half the thickness, but the fact that everything is done through the single screen interface make a huge difference. It is also the same size as the Livescribe notebook I carry around, making it trivial to carry into meetings.
3. Media Mogul – I was very picky about what I put on my iPad – only specific apps made the cut, most of my iTunes library (which I had trimmed so I would have <10GB and be able to put it on my Droid & PSP), a few movies, and so on. The speaker sounds great and the video quality is awesome – but there is more. Since there is also YouTube, ABC Player, Netflix, Slacker, Pandora, Wolfgang’s Vault, and on and on … the media integration is amazing.
4. Battery Life – Apple claims 10 hours … and while I haven’t done any torture tests, all I know is that it lasts virtually forever in terms of my use. With my netbook or Alienware I am always concerned about the battery since I use them for heavy processor work. Not so with the iPad.
5. Flexibility of Use – the other day I was waiting in the office of someone who had scheduled me for a meeting, but was running late. After doing a bit of note-reviewing, I grabbed the iPad and flipped it open and checked my email before noting some to-do items, editing a document, and finally turning it to portrait mode and reading a few pages of a book before he arrived. Point is, the iPad is very good at a large number of things and the screen rotation and virtual keyboard help.
5 Ways the Netbook is Better
1. Games - while there are some cool iPad games, once you get beyond the simple casual games there is no comparison to the massive historical database of games you can play on a netbook. From Fallout 1 & 2 to Deus Ex to Planescape Torment, there are at least 100 games for the netbook that are orders of magnitude better than anything for the iPad.
2. The ‘Full’ Internet – I really don’t care about Flash, so don’t think I’m going there. But ‘mobile Safari’ on the iPad is more or less the same as the iPhone version, and has limitations including page size, images, videos, number of windows and more. Personally I hate imposed limitations, and therefore prefer the netbook since I can simply pop open Chrome or Firefox and open tabs until I bring the anemic system to its knees!
3. Google Docs & Others – I use Google Docs as a cross-platform tool for editing all of my articles for various sites. I might prefer Evernote, but my work network blocks it so I have stuck with Google Docs – so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the iPad couldn’t edit Google Docs!
4. Configurability – Because I am a ‘Netbook Gamer’ I am constantly tweaking my system out for performance, and also have a number of apps for work installed so I can get some tasks done using the ultra-portable. Part of that is using USB ports and inserting a SD card to back stuff up, and so on. I can even manage DOSBox on the netbook to pull out some ancient stuff … and if needed I could easily install Linux.
5. Multitasking – Yeah, you KNEW this was coming! To me multitasking means more than just playing music while doing something or having a pop up notify me of a message on Twitter or Faecbook. It means editing something in pages, realizing I have to send a quick email … and not constantly worrying about what apps properly save state and which ones need me to reload stuff.
One question I’ve been asked more than a couple of times is ‘have you ditched your netbook now that you have an iPad’, and the obvious answer (based on the above) is ‘no’. I use my netbook on a regular basis for classic games and light computer tasks.
On a recent trip I made the choice to travel very ‘tech light': aside from my work laptop and smartphone I brought my iPad and PSP Go. During the trip, I had my iPad with me at all times, reading books in iBooks and Kindle, watching a couple of movies, listening to music, playing games, checking emails, browsing the web, typing stuff into Evernote (since Google docs is uneditable crap on iPad) and WordPress, and so on.
Since I typically travel ‘tech-heavy’, with a second laptop, a dedicated iPod and at least one handheld gaming system, I was interested in how I would adapt: would I depend on my work laptop more? Well … yes and no. As I mentioned, most everything worked well on the iPad, but I loaded up a few ‘netbook games’ (Din’s Curse, Eschalon Book 2 and Avernum 6 in specific) on my work laptop to make some progress while away from the netbook.
As for the PSP, I never touched it and actually stored it on my checked luggage for the trip home. That is at least as telling – I have talked about how Sony is the biggest loser in the fast-spreading success of the iPod Touch as a media and gaming device, and that problem only worsens with the iPad. On past trips I converted DVDs for the PSP screen, but why do that now when I can view wide-screen HD graphics on the iPad? The gaming library for the PSP remains anemic, and having just finished the recently released PSx 1996 shooter Star Wars Dark Forces, I had nothing unplayed on the PSP – nor anything I wanted to buy!
But the iPad is clearly not ready to completely replace someone’s primary computer completely, as there are too many limitations in the apps and hardware. I tend to rely quite a bit on the various Google apps (Docs, Reader, etc) and they are uniformly awful on the iPad. This means getting special purpose apps for the iPad, which in turn means losing the ability to read stuff on one device and have it stay read on another, or edit something one place and immediately access it elsewhere (I am using Evernote to an extent, but it is blocked by my work firewall).
Of course, the comparison I make here is between the iPad and my Lenovo s10, a very traditional netbook. What I don’t mention is how my Alienware m11x has become the dominant computer in my life at this point, which means that my Macbook Pro has become stationary and the netbook has been relegated to pretty much only being used for playing classic games.
I have meandered far beyond the initial ‘5 ways each is better’, but I did it for a reason – a netbook is fairly well defined based on technical capabilities: in other words, you are doing ‘normal computer stuff’ with it to the extent it can handle the tasks.
The iPad is not so clearly defined – it is definitely a ‘big iPod Touch’ as my kids first described it. But the size of the screen, the flexible screen rotation, quality of the on-screen keyboard (I can’t believe I just praised a virtual keyboard!), and the quality of the apps allows it to excel in a number of areas from media to gaming as well as light computing tasks.
So what is my conclusion? As I said from the start, both the netbook and iPad has usefulness separate from one another as well as areas of overlap. If you use a netbook as purely an email/web browsing device, the iPad could easily replace that and provide even greater casual utility in terms of music, ebooks and video watching. But if you are using the netbook to run Windows (or Linux) specific programs, classic games, or other things that require the full hardware accessibility options of a PC, then the iPad is inadequate as a replacement.
What about you? Do you own both devices? What has your experience been? Chime in below!