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Why I ditched my Netbook for an iPad to cover E3

There's no better trial by fire for the iPad as part of a reporter's arsenal than jumping straight into one of the biggest tech press events of the year with it.

LOS ANGELES--When Apple first released the iPad tablet, there was an instant burst of debate over whether it could or would replace Netbooks as the portable computing platform of choice. After all, both classes of devices have similar smalls screens and use low-power parts to provide long battery life, far beyond the average 15-inch laptop.

My initial view was that the iPad was not a Netbook killer. Despite its strengths, it lacked the software flexibility, and the traditional keyboard/touch pad input scheme, that most productivity tasks require. At the same time, figuring out how to substitute a small, lightweight iPad in situations where one would normally carry a laptop seemed like appealing challenge.

There's no better trial by fire for the iPad as part of a reporter's arsenal than jumping straight into one of the biggest tech press events of the year with it. Since the tablet was released after CES (and even I would think twice about trusting our coverage of that show to an iPad), the E3 video game expo seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first step was testing CNET's in-house blogging tools with the iPad's Safari browser. While not optimized for Safari, we found the blogging dashboard worked well enough, even though we had to pinch in to zoom into some of the smaller buttons.

The biggest problem was uploading photos to the blog tool--a message informed us when logging into the blog dashboard that Flash was needed for that. Of course, even if it did work, the iPad lacks a traditional desktop or folder system to upload from. I found I could, however, import photos from a static URL, and then use our normal blog photo tools on them.

After testing several possible solutions, an eventual workaround was devised to allow blogging of E3 news on the fly from the iPad. Assuming that most from-the-show stories would feature original photography (I've been using pics snapped on various phones in blog posts for a couple of years because of the immediacy I can get that way), I set up the Flickr app on my phone (currently an iPhone 3G) so photos could be quickly uploaded online.

From there, I would access my Flickr account from the iPad, grab the static URL of the photo, and import it into the blog tool. After that, the actual writing, categorizing, previewing, and publishing of blog posts worked almost as well as it does on a Netbook.

Of course, these extra steps make the process more cumbersome than it should be, and I'm certainly far from declaring that this is the way to go for onsite reporting in the future. But, it did end up being a more workable option than I originally expected.

It's also worth noting that I'm keeping a traditional full-size laptop on hand for processing larger photo galleries and writing long-form pieces when back at my hotel, so this doesn't make packing or traveling any easier. But it does make my daily carry bag lighter, which is important when you're on your feet almost all day. Also, whipping out the iPad to write something or look something up online and being able to get started right away is a huge change from sitting around waiting for my usual Netbook to come out of hibernation.

The biggest surprise of this experiment was how easy it was to actually type out the articles (including this one, written in its entirety on the iPad). Using the built-in Notes app at first, then breaking down and getting Apple's Pages app for its spellcheck and exporting features, I found typing to be only slightly less natural than on a Netbook (although I admit my years of experience working with dozens of cramped Netbook keyboards, from decent to dreadful, may have helped).

At the halfway point in this experiment, it's a mixed bag of results. The light weight, long battery life, and instant-on gratification of the iPad worked in its favor, as did the fact that typing manuscripts on it wasn't as painful as I imagined it would be. On the other hand, the photo-uploading workaround is a hassle, and actually editing photos with Photoshop or putting together slideshows is impossible, requiring the use of a separate backup laptop.

What do you think? Can an iPad replace a Netbook for on-the-go blogging or other laptop-centric tasks? Share your experiences in the comments section below.