Round 4: Typing
One of the most common complaints we’ve heard about netbooks is that their keyboards are cramped, making them an ergonomic nightmare, despite their sub-three pound form factors. Even Apple’s COO Tim Cook has defended Apple’s decision not to get into netbooks, citing the crowded keys.
We at LAPTOP beg to differ. While netbooks keyboards used to be best suited for juvenile hands, we’ve seen plenty lately that are roomy and sturdy enough to type on for extended periods. The Toshiba NB305 is a prime example.
We’d rather type on a netbook with a good keyboard than on the iPad’s on-screen one (even with auto correction software). Suffice it to say, thumb typing on a small iPhone screen is not the same as trying to hold a 1.5-pound iPad with two hands while simultaneously trying to use two fingers to tap letters spanning the large 10-inch display. You’re more likely to peck with your index fingers with the iPad in your lap, or when attached to the iPad case ($39), which elevates the tablet for easier typing. Apple will also sell a keyboard dock ($69), but you can’t use it in your lap, and you have to type with the iPad in portrait mode.
Winner: Netbooks. We’re sure that once we spend more time with the iPad that typing will be less awkward, but it’s hard to beat a physical keyboard that’s always with you.
Round 5: Web Browsing
The iPad provides a more in-your-face web browsing experience because you’ll likely use the tablet closer to your eyes than you would a netbook. As you would expect, Safari is designed for finger input and support pinch-to-zoom, but there are a few additions you won’t find on the iPhone. There’s a new thumbnail view so you can see all open pages in a grid, and Apple includes a pop-over bookmarks menu you can access without leaving the page you’re on. You also get a 1024 x 768 resolution screen to surf on; that’s a little more real estate than the typical 1024 x 600 netbook.
As far as we can tell, however, the iPad doesn’t support tabs, which would make it easier to switch back and forth between open pages. Worse, there’s no Flash support, so you can’t enjoy sites like Hulu. Apple touts the abilities of HTML5, and some sites are making themselves over to support the technology, but at least at launch you’ll find a lot of sites or elements on web pages you simply can’t access.
Netbooks provide a more traditional browsing experience, but that’s not a bad thing. You have your choice of browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and others), and you can easily toggle between multiple tabs. Plus, you don’t have to connect your netbook with your primary PC to sync bookmarks, as you do with the iPad. All it takes is a plug-in like XMarks. Netbook browsers support both Flash and HTML5, so you don’t have to wonder if a site will work.
Winner: Netbooks. Although the browsing experience itself on the iPad feels more evolved in some ways, the lack of Flash support will be a major drawback–at least for the short term–and you don’t have a choice of browsers.
Round 6: Entertainment
For this category we include music, video, books, and games. And the iPad excels in all of them, with a few exceptions. With easy, one-touch access to the iTunes Store, fresh tunes, movies, and TV shows are just a tap away. And the new iBook Store turns the iPad into an eReader, with most of the major publishers on board. Page turns were brisk during our early hands-on tests, and we anticipate that many magazines will also come to the platform. The iPad also includes a touch-friendly YouTube app that was re-built for this device. Lastly, the iPad blows away netbooks when it comes to 3D games, both in terms of the variety of titles and more immersive experience.
Where the iPad falls flat is its lack of Flash support for enjoying free content. Assuming that a site like Hulu doesn’t launch an HTML5 version of its site by the time the iPad launches, we expect there will some dissapointed customers.
Netbooks have some things going for them, including Flash support and a wider variety of content providers. However, full-screen Flash playback on sites like Hulu often stutters. Netbooks with Nvidia’s Ion graphics can handle mainstream 3D games as well as 1080p HD video playback (something the iPad lacks). But those systems tend to be more expensive. Amazon’s Kindle for PC isn’t as polished as the iPad’s iBook app, and we haven’t been impressed with its touch friendliness on the few netbooks we’ve tried with that capability.
Winner: iPad. Despite the lack of Flash support Apple’s tablet offers a more compelling and well-rounded entertainment experience, and it pulls away from netbooks when you factor in books and games.
All Rounds of the iPad / Netbook Face-Off: