Last week, I asked readers. Those in favor of a Netbook--or notebook, in some cases--stated practical reasons, while those in favor of the Apple device often pointed to its media-viewing capabilities and novelty.
In all, Netbooks seemed to come out on top, in terms of clear utility. That's probably because they have been out there a lot longer and have time-tested designs. The iPad, on the other hand, is not only new, but it defies traditional usage models, lacking a standard PC operating system and physical keyboard.
A couple of items worth noting: this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. To state the obvious, the iPad and Netbook are different designs. But a purchase decision can come down to an either-or choice, when considering that both devices fall into the gap between a smartphone and a high-end laptop--not to mention the fact that not everyone has the luxury of buying both. It's also worth noting that a few readers saw the choice as simply the traditional mainstream laptop versus the iPad.
I've listed some of the more cogent and/or representative arguments in favor of buying either device.
- Cheap, simple: "[The Netbook] fills a unique need for casual computer users who need a cheap, simple, portable computer [that] can perform any computer-related task. So...while the iPad is interesting, I don't see it filling a need for cheap, simple computers, which can do everything."
- Full keyboard: "At the end of the day, my Netbook goes to class with me. It has a full keyboard and Microsoft Office." And another reader: "A keyboard is the fundamental difference. Virtual keyboards just aren't as efficient in their current form as physical keyboards are. The iPad's solution, a separate keyboard module, is much less elegant than the integrated keyboard of laptops."
- Multitask: "I don't see the iPad replacing my Netbook when the iPad can't multitask. That means I can't get NZBs, use uTorrent, be on IRC, and have Trillian and Winamp running all while I use Firefox."
- More open: "If Apple would just drop the walled garden, I would say the iPad. Until then, Windows is more open than the iPhone/iPad OS. (Moreover), I can install Linux on a Netbook." And another reader said: "Personally, the app restrictions are quite insulting to me, as a programmer, so I would never buy an iPad (or an iPhone, for that matter.) But I understand that not everyone is a programmer, and an iPad might be more appealing to them."
- USB and connectors: "As a musician, USB, FireWire, and driver support means I can do work (i.e. recording, mixing, writing) on the road with a Netbook in ways that the iPad doesn't allow."
- PC market is where it's at: "If you were to add up all the iPhones, Macs, and iPads ever sold, the total would not come remotely close to the PC market."
- Can't have both: "I would love to have both a Netbook and an iPad...But to be practical and with a constrained budget, I would start with a Netbook."
- Maps: "The Google Maps app, with GPS and [a] large screen, is fantastic. All I have to say to people who didn't try it: just check it out."
- Virtual keyboard is fine: "Once I got the iPad cover to have it tilt at a 45-degree angle, I actually noticed I typed faster on the iPad than my Netbook." And another reader: "Interestingly, by trusting the predictive spell-checking, I can type faster on the iPad than (the) Netbook."
- Better travel companion/entertainment: "The iPad fits in perfectly as a lightweight, mobile platform for e-mail and Web access, as well as remote access to my servers while I'm on the move in a package the same size as the Day-Timer (that) I used to carry. It's also much more pleasant to use when traveling for entertainment and document review than my laptop, and more functional than my iPhone. This is the perfect in-between device for me."
- Like the controlled-app environment: "I like the idea of the controlled apps--and there are so many of them to select. My main loves are the touch interface and the power-up speed." And another reader said: "That 'closed' App Store has more apps and games than any mobile platform...How is that closed?"
- Flash not that important, anyway: "I think Flash is in trouble...I am able to watch shows from major networks (on the iPad). (But) if you're a FarmVille (game) addict, then you will need Flash."
- Try it; you'll like it: "I think many of the people who favor the Netbook have not used the iPad...for any length of time. With numerous desktops and laptops in our house and at work, I bought an iPad...You don't have to be computer-illiterate to appreciate a well-designed, user-friendly device...The iPad is different from a Netbook. Neither are appropriate for real computer work, but for using the Internet, mail, games, and/or light computing, the iPad is the better choice."