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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