iPhone 3G vs Netbooks: Who's the mobile Internet daddy?

You want the Internet on the go, but you're not sure which device you'd rather have, an iPhone 3G or a netbook. Read our comparison to find out

Andrew Lim
4 min read

If like us you need the Internet like you need air and sugary drinks, you'll be utterly thrilled by the advent of affordable and portable netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC, and the new and improved iPhone. But you've only got so many pockets, and smashing the piggy bank only goes so far, so what if you could only pick one mobile Web device?

We've lined up the iPhone 3G against mini laptops in an effort to find out if you're better off being a netbook ninja or an iPhone 3G thrasher. It won't be a pretty fight, but we hope at the end of it that we're closer to figuring out which we value most.

iPhone 3G
The most apparent advantage of the iPhone 3G against any netbook is its size. You'll barely notice the iPhone 3G when it's nestled in your pocket, whereas a netbook won't even fit in your trousers unless you're MC Hammer.

But a smaller size means a smaller screen -- just 3.5 inches across -- and while browsing the Internet on the iPhone 3G's screen is very good, it's not exactly the same as having a 8.9-inch or 10-inch display in front of you, to show off Web sites in all their glory.

The other obvious disadvantage of the iPhone 3G's design is the lack of a mechanical keyboard. Admittedly, some netbooks' keyboards aren't very good, but we'd sooner type out a long email on an MSI Wind, for example, than on the iPhone.

What the iPhone 3G has that a netbook doesn't, of course, is a phone for actually talking to people -- maybe if IM is down, we don't know -- and there's built-in Wi-Fi and 3G too, which means you can browse the Web or send emails almost everywhere you go. You also get GPS, which helps if you get lost.

Battery life on the iPhone 3G isn't too bad either and while it's difficult to compare it with a netbook's battery life because of the different features involved, we think that the iPhone's battery copes better overall than most netbooks.

What'll it set me back, guv?
The lowest price you can expect to pay for all this Apple-induced mobile goodness stands at £99 for an 8GB iPhone 3G on a £30 per month contract for 18 months. By the end of your contract, you'll have paid £639 in total and in return get 75 minutes of calls every month, 125 texts and unlimited Web browsing via 3G and Cloud Wi-Fi hot spots.

A standard netbook ranges from 8.9-inches to 10-inches in screen size and while this makes it much more portable than your average laptop, it's certainly not very pocket-friendly. That said, the larger size affords it a larger screen and a mechanical Qwerty keypad.

As we mentioned earlier, the advantage of having a mechanical Qwerty keypad is that it's easier to type large amounts of text on it than it is using the iPhone 3G's on-screen keypad, which some people find fiddly.

A large screen and a mechanical keyboard make netbooks very appealing compared to the iPhone 3G if you're planning on doing serious work on the go, particularly when you realise that you currently can't edit Microsoft documents on the iPhone 3G.

There's also a good deal more storage space on netbooks, which is useful if you want to take your movies, music and work around with you at all times. And while we like the iPhone 3G's screen, watching the BBC's iPlayer on a netbook is much more enjoyable.

But unlike the iPhone 3G, you can't make calls via GSM and you'll most likely have to buy a USB dongle if you want access to 3G data. You also don't get GPS as standard on current netbooks, which means if you get lost, you'll stay lost.

When it comes to battery life, most netbooks last for two to four hours of constant use, which isn't too bad, but since you're less likely to snack on functions using a netbook than you would using an iPhone 3G, we think the iPhone wins this one.

What'll it set me back, guv?
The cheapest mini laptop is currently the RM Asus miniBook, which costs £162. You can get a USB data dongle from the 3 network for around £10 per month (on a 12-month contract) with a 1GB cap or £30 per month (18-month contract) with a 15GB cap. If you want Wi-Fi access to the Cloud too, you'd have to pay around £7 per month. So if you opted for the £30 per month USB data dongle and Cloud access, in total you'd pay around £828, which is £189 more than the iPhone 3G's deal.

By the end of this fight we're really torn to pick a winner. If you're a serious Internet user with a need to copy and paste text, run a mulititude of Linux or Microsoft software and write long emails in comfort -- ie, do work -- we'd advise you to get a netbook.

But if you value being able to access the Internet at all times with a device that you can carry in your pocket, and you like the idea of having GPS and other features, such as all the third-party programs from the new Apple app store, we'd suggest the iPhone 3G.

As for what we'd choose, well, we really like netbooks, but the iPhone 3G's features and size make it a winner in our eyes. It's not a perfect device by any means, but it does offer a truly portable Internet experience -- at better value for money, we feel. Combined with the ability to make calls and get directions on the go, that makes it one cool cat. -Andrew Lim