iPad versus Netbook-Tablet Hybrid Head to Head

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Breaking It Down: Netbook/Tablet Hybrid Strengths And Weaknesses

The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible As A Work Machine:

So, the S10-3t can fold over and become just as much of a tablet as Apple's iPad, albeit somewhat larger and heavier. So that's taken care of but what it can also do is flip back and become a netbook, with a real, physical keyboard. That's a huge bonus for true professionals. There's just no way to type out even an article as large as this on a virtual keyboard with any level of extended comfort. Real keyboards are necessary to get real work done, so the netbook/tablet wins in a landslide here. Then there's the issue of ports. The S10-3t, as well as many other touch panel-based netbooks (Asus' Eee PC T91 comes to mind from last year), has a few USB 2.0 sockets that can be used for mostly anything, as well as an SD card reader, VGA output for showing content on an external display and oftentimes an eSATA socket.

Again, the S10-3t just feels more like a "real" computer here. If you're looking to get work done that requires those ports, there's no question that the iPad will let you down, while the S10-3t and tablet convertibles like it, will manage. On the software side, Lenovo installs the full version of Windows 7 on the S10-3t, so aside from exceptions of soiftware that requires a really powerful CPU or GPU, you can install any real desktop app onto the tablet/netbook hybrid. Need Photoshop? It can install. It won't run with blazing speed, but it works in a pinch. The same can be said for any special media player you prefer or most any other "work app" that is only compatible with Windows systems. In case you haven't realized, a machine with a full-blown operating system crushes the iPad in terms of its ability to get actual work accomplished.

The issue here is that real work takes longer to get done on the S10-3t. We were underwhelmed with the performance, with the N470 processor taking long periods of time to launch basic applications and handle rather basic tasks but it did get them done.  If you go into it knowing that your netbook will perform noticeably slower than a Core 2 Duo or Core i3-powered notebook (not to mention your quad-core desktop), you'll be okay. If you expect to whiz in and out of applications like you can on the iPad, you'll be let down. It's a matter of compromise, but at least the S10-3t acts like a real PC, even if slowly.

The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible As A Fun Machine:

Here's where the S10-3t starts to look a little less appealing. Whereas the iPad is tailor made to scream through HD content and interact seamlessly with Netflix, ABC and loads of other Web programming, the S10-3t stutters through the same thing. The integrated GPU is no match for most 1080p material, and even some 720p content stutters and lags in places. Even YouTube HD seems burdensome. The desktop version of iTunes works well enough for audio, and playing back image slideshows is also fine. But for HD media playback, the iPad simply wins out hands down. A discrete GPU would turn the tables significantly for the tablet convertible, but it would also raise the price by at least $100, if not more.

Then there's Flash. The iPad cannot handle Flash, and if the bickering between Adobe and Apple is any indication, it never will. Many websites are shifting to HTML5 just to suit Apple, but you can't count on every single site doing that. The bad news is that the S10-3t doesn't really handle Flash well. It will (slowly) load it, and most content plays back steady if no multi-tasking is going on in the background, but again, it's a compromise. It will handle Flash, but slowly, and with occasional playback issues. Apple would rather you just see HTML5 media in a seamless fashion. You'll have to be the judge as to which philosophy you'll subscribe to.

The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible Overall Usability:

Here's where we describe the mixed bag that is using the S10-3t. The S10-3t can act like a real PC. It can do "grown-up" tasks. It can load Photoshop and Word, and it can easily attach documents and files to e-mails. But it does so slowly. It won't blow you away with speed, and in fact, it will probably frustrate you on occasion. If you're looking for a machine that works quickly, with "instant-on" sort of speed like the iPad, this isn't it. But in order to get real work done while having that sort of performance, you'll need to spend far more on a robust ultraportable or full-size notebook, and then you're really comparing apples to oranges.

The touch panel also needs some TLC. Responsiveness is generally lacking, and the Windows desktop just isn't meant to be used with a fingernail or stylus.  There are some desktop apps that make frequently used menu items larger in order to touch them more easily, but it's still no quicker than using the trackpad. In our opinion, the S10-3t falls badly short as a tablet PC, as does Windows 7's touch interface currently.  Neither really makes using a computer with your fingers a joy, and both make it very easy to just throw your arms up in frustration and go back to the keyboard/trackpad input method.
You really need to bolt on some third-party UI, like HP's TouchSmart interface for example, to provide a reasonable touch UI experience on Windows 7 as it stands today. 

The innovation that Apple has engineered in this space has not yet been replicated in the PC space. If you have very specific uses or know of very specific software titles that were built to work with touch panels, you can consider this point moot, but the average consumer should know that using a touch panel on a Windows 7 netbook isn't a very productive experience.

At the end of the day, the S10-3t is a far better work machine than fun machine, and it will actually enable you to get "real work" done, which is something the iPad can't say. Using it may be cumbersome on occasion.  However, if you're willing to deal with a few hiccups and a touch panel that isn't nearly as beautiful or responsive as the one on the iPad, you may, at some point make a decision to consider a netbook or tablet convertible and get down to business. Of course, you need to make sure your work won't keep you away from the AC outlet for too long.  In our testing, the S10-3t's battery only lasted 2-3 hours, which is around 4x shorter than the iPad's battery life.

The Breakdown:

  • Acts as a tablet PC or a true netbook
  • Has a real, full OS installed (Windows 7)
  • Can get "real work" done, just like a "real PC"
  • Very expandable thanks to numerous ports
  • Can't handle HD multi-media
  • Touch panel performance is lackluster
  • Windows 7 interface isn't tailor made for touch use
  • Battery life is nearly 4x shorter than the iPad

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