iPad versus Netbook-Tablet Hybrid Head to Head

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The iPad As A Work Machine

Here's the first, and possibly most important, point. Many users looking for a new mobile machine because they want to get work done on the go. Productivity is paramount, and they have to be able to access and use certain applications in order to consider a given machine for purchase. The iPad excels in a few ways here, and falls noticeably short in others. Let's look at a few positives:

For starters, the
1GHz A4 chip performs far better than its gigahertz rating would indicate. iPhone OS 3.2 screams on this machine, and there's essentially no lag whatsoever when opening any application. It's blazing fast doing what it can do, but therein lies the rub. There's a serious limit to what the iPad can do in terms of getting real work done. Does you work require full access to Gmail? The Mail app and even Gmail's optimized iPad Gmail web app aren't "full versions" of Gmail, so you'll lose important extras like being able to send as a different address. Trying to use the desktop version of Gmail within Mobile Safari is a battle you'll eventually lose, as not every aspect of Gmail works as intended on that browser.



Then there's the issue of real, desktop applications. Do you need Photoshop? Microsoft Excel? A specific plug-in to work with a special media player? None of those are available, nor will they ever be. Apple has no intentions of ever allowing a full desktop operating system to run on the iPad, so you'll be stuck with a glorified mobile phone OS for the life of the product. This is a potential deal-killer for some, particularly those who need to get real work done in desktop applications.

All that said, power users aren't the only ones out there that need to work from the road. Does your "work" consist of replying to basic e-mails, scanning PowerPoint or Word documents and replying with suggested changes, or simply keeping tabs on your colleagues? First off, we envy your job. Secondly, the iPad might work well for you. If you only need basic e-mail capabilities, it's a nice machine. The on-screen virtual keyboard is better than some cramped netbook keyboards, and it's actually really easy to get into a groove and bang out a serious line of messages on the iPad. Keeping you focused on one application enables you to hone in on the task at hand, and there's no doubt that the iPad really hums along on e-mail. It's also super portable, has excellent battery life and is easy to operate.



The iPad As A Fun Machine

Here's where Apple really starts to look smart. The iPad is easy to grab, has 10+ hours of battery life, is tied directly to iTunes (which you probably already use if you're an iPhone or iPod users) and has apps available to stream ABC, Netflix and more Web content. It's easy to hold, the screen is gorgeous and it can play back HD video content very well. It's really one of the better portable viewing options on the market, and no file seems too taxing for it to play back beautifully. The elegant iTunes interface makes pausing, rewinding and adjusting volume a cinch.

It's also an iPod, and again, the user interface is a sight to behold. It's easy to comb through your music and enjoy it in the background while working in another app, and it does so without the lag associated with the desktop version of iTunes. There's also a huge, huge catalog of apps to choose from. Everything from Netflix viewer to DJing a party is possible, and considering that over 3500 iPad-centric apps have been created already, there's a good chance that you'll soon have more apps to choose from than you have time to try and use.

This is Apple's ace in the hole. No netbook has an App Store, and while Intel is trying to change that, they're too far behind in their efforts (in our opinion) to give the App Store a run for its money anytime soon. People know the App Store by name, and Apple has made it super easy to browse, buy and download apps. The true potential of the iPad has yet to be seen; it's all in the hands of the developers who are crafting apps right now for the device. Over on a Windows-based netbook, you're limited to desktop software. And while there's a lot of that out there, it generally takes longer to develop and acquire. It's also spread out everywhere, making it harder to find exactly what you need. If you're a power user, this probably doesn't matter, but for the casual computer user, the App Store is a clear winner.

Overall Usability

Is Apple's iPad fun to use? Absolutely. It's only frustrating from a software standpoint. You can't use real desktop apps, which is annoying, but what it can do, it does very well. The touch panel is top-notch. We haven't touched a more responsive touch panel at this scale, ever. The colors and viewing angles are also best-in-class. It's easy to use outdoors, and enjoying media on the screen is easy thanks to the rich colors and sharpness. Apple has figured out a way to make computing with your fingers easy, intuitive and enjoyable; few other touch panel machines can say they've even come close to accomplishing the same.

Unfortunately, Apple has also limited the ability to expand the iPad's uses on the hardware side. There's no WiDi, there's no USB port, and there's no SD card slot. The latter two can be added through a $30 accessory bundle, but even the USB port only accepts image uploads from tethered cameras. There will be no support for USB printing, USB webcams or any other USB device aside from a camera.

The Highlights


Pros:

  • The iPad is extremely quick at managing apps, and feels faster than any netbook we've used.
  • The iPad is an excellent "fun machine," and excels in playing back HD media, songs and photo slideshows.
  • The 10+ hour battery life makes the iPad extremely compelling for true road warriors.
  • The App Store will only enable the iPad to do more over time, and keeping a steady hardware platform ensures compatibility with new apps.
  • The display (colors, depth, viewing angles) and touch panel (responsiveness) are both best-in-class.

Cons:

  • It's limited to a mobile OS; the full version of OS X cannot be installed.
  • Getting "real work" done is difficult with the limited e-mail capabilities and the inability to install "full" desktop software.
  • It's locked to Apple's iTunes ecosystem.
  • There's no stand included, so you either have to hold it or buy a third-party stand when using it.
  • No hardware upgrades

 

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I was going to try typing this in on my iPad, but unfortunately your rich text editor confused Mobile Safari to the extent that it was not allowing me to type :-(.

It was very interesting to see you compare the strengths and weaknesses of the iPad versus the netbook.  It looks like Steve Jobs was right: The netbook does everything terribly, while iPad does fewer things, but does them exceptionally well.

I run Photoshop on a 27" iMac with a gorgeous huge screen.  I have run it in the past on a 15" MacBook Pro, but in all honesty I don't think it was designed to function on a screen much smaller than that.  I think it would be sheer agony to try and use it on the netbook model you are describing.  It might sort of work, but if you think I am going to be sitting on a tight airline seat, netbook on the tray table, trying to fumble through Photoshop, I think you have overestimated my ability to deal with extreme pain. 

But what about my iPad, and Brushes or Sketchbook Pro, both under $10?  I might well be on that same airplane seat, with the same tray table, dabbling with drawing and getting some stuff done.  I'm certain there will be a "good enough" photo editing program available for iPad that will do things like switch colors and make image adjustments.  So before we even know it, we will have something that will drag a photo from my photo library, let me crop and adjust it and fit it to a document.  And that's pretty much all the Photoshop I need on the go.

In fact ... um .... I can do this already!  I go to Pages, put iPad in vertical orientation  for the menu, click on the picture icon, grab a photo from my library, resize it with my fingers, and it sorts out minor details like how text flows around it.  So really, if you want to create a document with photos from your photo library fully integrated, it's already there.  I would even say it's easier, sleeker and more intuitive than how Pages works on my Mac.  And it's all buttery smooth, never a lag, never an irritation.

iPad does not have Excel, but for everything I've tried to do, Numbers is better.  If you need to trade complex spreadsheets with corporate HQ it's probably not going to work.  But if you want to create your own financial projections, I like Numbers a lot.  It's sleek, beautifully designed and makes fantastic use of the on-screen keyboard system.

Most of what people are going to realistically work on in planes or coffee shops deals with text.  Apple has kindly provided (alas, not for free!) an external bluetooth keyboard that enables you to use it for heavy text entry and editing.  I haven't bought one yet, but I'm sure I will soon and I'm sure it will make iPad into a killer writing machine.

So the question is whether you are better off with a machine that is physically capable of sort of doing everything, but poorly, or a machine that can do a subset of everything, superbly.  I'd prefer the latter and I have already placed my bet with my own money :-).  And I think as more software is developed for iPad, it's going to get more and more capable, to the point where many people will actually prefer it to a Netbook or even full-fledged computer.

Like iPhone, iPad is unique, eccentric and brilliant in its innovation.  Unlike the netbook, it will only get better with more and better apps.

Hope that was helpful.

D

 

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Hey Dave! Thanks for your comments and input. Welcome to HH. I'd beg to differ with Jobs that netbooks doing things terribly, there are many things they do quite well, like productivity and web apps but multimedia is just not something they're remotely strong at. Though I'd suggest that's changing now slowly and will continue to evolve. Right now, primarly as an entertainment or infotainment device, the iPad is pretty darn great. I'm also looking forward to the upcoming slates with Droid other OS types. Will be interesting!

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See :P told you the reply box is messed up on safari (iPhones/iPods/iPads) HH! :D

David Dennis

Your response is bias because you are just taking the iPad side. It also just depends what you will be using your iPad or Netbook for. You are using it for photo editing so i would say the iPad could do better then a Netbook at simple things like cropping and color changes but if you want to do more then that you might not be able to unless you find a app for it. If it was me i would rather have the Netbook and a mouse for photo editing then a iPad as i think it would be less pain. If it was the ipad i would have to hover over it while its on the tray and edit but for a Netbook just sit back a bit and look straight. Even if the iPad was on a stand it would be moving alot while you try to use it. But its your personal feel and use that counts for yourself.

 

Edit: Ya the iPad would be great for entertainment on a plane but not for editing photos and stuff :)

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Inspector, this is with the forum interface, not the news comments interface, right? We're looking into a new editor actually and updating the forum software, which will hopefully help. I like Safari a lot, so we need to get it done.

And Insp, you're dead nuts right on there. I'm heading out on vacation soon and have an iPad here. I'll take it with me for the wife and kids to use, sure... but for my HH work, when I'm supposed to be "not working" at night when all is quiet, I'm breaking out a thin and light notebook to check in with this passion I have called HotHardware.com. :)

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I don't think it's necessarily being biased to support iPad over its rivals.   I will admit to loathing Windows, however, and so I would probably never be a serious netbook customer.  I might consider Linux or Chrome, but truthfully I'm really happy with the Mac platform and I enjoy developing iPhone/iPad apps.  

So I may not be impartial, but I think I can be fair.  And your article admitted the netbook was sluggish, didn't run applications well, had crummy battery life and was essentially the same price as the iPad.  The iPad was fast, ran applications extremely well, had excellent battery life and you were paying the same price as the Netbook.  I think this gives us a clear winner unless you absolutely have to run Windows software.  

I am a horrible artist but I will say I find it easier to try painting with my fingers than a mouse or Wacom stylus, both of which I found horribly clumsy.  I will admit, though, that iPad does not yet have a photo editing application I can use and I leave that in the hands of my much more powerful iMac.  I think that will change in time.

For drawing and photo editing I would put iPad on a desk and use my fingers to directly manipulate it.  It feels very natural when used that way to paint.

By the way, the reply box works fine for Safari on the Mac, just not on the iPad.  Odd because iPad does fine with every other DHTML web site I try with it.  I think it has something to do with how keyboard entry is handled - it does not pull up the onscreen keyboard for iPad, so you can't type anything.  You don't need to change it to be compatible with Safari unless you are concerned about supporting iPads.  Oddly enough, epinions.com has a similar interface design and I think theirs works with the iPad, so you might want to check how they do it.

Dave, if you can try hooking up iPad to a Bluetooth keyboard I think you might find it easier to edit HotHardware.com on the iPad as opposed to the netbook.  If you do that, I'd be curious to hear the results.

By the way, I do need to give you credit for making this test.  I understand HotHardware is likely to be biased somewhat against Apple because their systems are expensive and designed to appeal to people who like a fully designed product instead of tinkering.  I think you have made a genuine effort to engage and consider both sides, and to me that's important in this debate.

Hope that was of interest.

David

 

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@ DD, that was all definitely of interest, though again I'll correct you slightly because the word "biased" as a journalist, makes me more than a bit twitchy. :)

The real deal is, as Tech enthusiasts and journalists here, we love elegant design and superior function, along with competitive prices. Apple definitely hits two out of three here with the iPad.

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I'm sorry, I should not have said biased, I should have said that we both come to these devices with a point of view :-).

I would say Apple gets three out of three, for the purposes for which the device was designed.  Certainly nobody would disagree that it is elegant.  It is faster and the software sleeker than the competition, so it has superior function.  And the price is about the same as the netbook you pitched against it, so even the price is fair.

That being said, yes, if you need a Windows laptop you should buy one.  Based on this review, though, you should not bother with a netbook but buy a full-fledged laptop instead.  After all, you can get something from Best Buy with a full-sized laptop label on it for $599, which is exactly what I paid for my 32GB iPad.

David (another one! We are taking over the world!  Ha!)

 

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Welcome David,

I thought that Apple fanatics were supposed to be the ones that are open minded and Eco-friendly. I grew up with Apple, yet when they Stopped producing computers that couldn't last, as upgradeable machines for more than two years. I had to switch to PC's just so the tech can keep up with the software development. Now you have to basically buy a new Apple every other year to keep up, unless you get an Intel bases G5Pro.
 
For what the IPad is capable of in terms of sketching, it is cheaper to just get a sketchbook and a pencil for getting ideas worked out on the go. With the IPad that is about all you get is elegance and flash.
 
Apple has hit the ground running in a market that most people thought was a lost cause, because everyone before them was charging way to much for the tablets. Yet if you ask any doctors, the tablets they use for work are invaluable and way more powerful than most laptops available to consumers. Of course the Fujitsu tablets and others like them are still highly priced, and a specific platform that most people don't feel they need.
 
I feel once we see all the competitors come out with their own versions, you will see Apple finally being forced to step up their game plan. When things like the Slate arrive with more features at the same price or less. Apple will have to follow suit and lower prices and increase features.
 
I have had my Gateway Tablet for close to five years, and it still serves me well still.  I have always touted how much this is the next wave and how everyone should have the added portability of a tablet.  But just because a company come out with something first does not mean it is the best!
 
Apple has tried taking over the world and they have failed. Then they had to bring back the Turtleneck salesman to rally their stormtroopers to take over the chancellery. :P

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Thanks for the review. The iPad seems to be a lot better than what we were all speculating in the forums pre-launch and pre-review.

 

I didn't know that the iPad had a keyboard accessory until I saw the picture of it in your review. I went and looked it up in the Apple store and found out that the keyboard/dock was $69.99. Pretty steep price.

 

I'm glad you did a comparison with a tablet pc. The tablet pc will fit my needs much better, but I don't think I will go with the Lenovo one. For comparison purposes, the Lenovo unit was great because it sat in the same price range as the iPad. I'll probably go with the HP Touch Smart tablet laptop. Or maybe wait until they stick an i3 in there. Not sure how the Core 2 Duo SUxxxx performs.

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I have 2 MacBook pro 15 Old +17 New and iMac, just got the new Wi-Fi + 3G 64GB iPad and think it was the wrong thing to get just get yourself the MacBook white with a dongle, you cant Yahoo on the Ipad it at all and in Facebook you can't IM and also you con't  use IWork it will cost you another £18 the hole point of getting the iPad is so you can work on the move and that it is smaller computer than a laptop all it is good for is playing free games. and that is all we have done with it I have taken the sim card out of the iPad and gone back to my MacBook Pro & dongle and a large bag, as I can do all my work on the MacBook Pro don't waist your money on the iPad get a Small MacBook I wish I had got a small MacBook as I still loose my MacBook to my wife when we are out and the hole point of getting the iPad was so she could chat on it and play on the net but this was a waist of Money. it is not fit for purpose. as apple advertise it as a small computer. and it not as good as the iPhone.

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