Round 7: Productivity
We have to admit we were a bit surprised when Apple announced that it would be offering Pages, Keynote, and Numbers (the Windows equivalent of Word, PowerPoint and Excel) to the iPad. After all, the device is designed more for content consumption than creation. But these $9.99 iWork apps do provide some impressive functionality for the price, and have been designed to leverage the iPad’s touch interface. For example, when you move an image in Pages with a finger the text automatically wraps around it. And in Keynote you can reposition multiple slides at once.
Netbooks, of course, can run Microsoft Office, Works, OpenOffice, or any productivity suite that’s compatible with Windows. Office in particular has more depth than iWork for the iPad. And then there’s Google Apps, which in our experience has worked better on netbooks than on Safari’s WebKit browser (at least to date). The two biggest advantages that netbooks have in this round is that they come with a real keyboard for faster, more comfortable, and error-free data entry and the ability to multitask. You should be able to have multiple productivity applications open at once, especially if they’re related to the same project.
Winner: Netbooks. Even if you feel like full-blown Office is overkill, there are plenty of affordable options for netbooks, and word processing is simply better with a physical keyboard. The inability to multitask on the iPad also hurts the device in this category, although some may feel its zippy performance makes up for this shortcoming.
Round 8: Apps
The iPad has a heck of a head start versus other tablets, thanks to its ability to run the more than 150,000 apps available in the App Store. All it takes is a tap on the screen to supersize all the programs you can get for your iPhone or iPod touch, from Facebook and TweetDeck to Foursqaure and Madden NFL. Plus, developers are rolling out apps specifically designed to take advantage of the iPad’s larger display, including The New York Times and even more compelling touch-based 3D games.
Netbooks can ostensibly run any Windows program larger laptops can, but not always very well because of their slower processors. Then again, there’s a ton of useful freeware that adds functionality to netbooks without draining resources. To help netbook owners download apps optimized for their smaller screens and lesser clock speeds, Intel recently rolled out its own app store. However, most netbook owners don’t know about it.
Winner: Draw. The iPad does a better job of running apps that are tailor made for the platform’s design and capabilities, but netbook owners also have a vast array of programs from which to choose.
Round 9: Battery Life
This round is a little tough to call because we’re not sure how close the iPad will come to Apple’s 10-hour battery life claim. If it does, this tablet will beat most netbooks in terms of endurance. However, we’ve tested some netbooks that get well over 8 hours of runtime. In a way, the iPad sort of has an unfair advantage in that it’s not running a full-blown desktop operating system. Then again, netbooks running Windows 7 Starter Edition also benefit from the lack of such special effects as Taskbar previews and other eye candy.
Winner: iPad. Apple’s tablet wins this round for now but we reserve the right to make it a draw or give the edge to netbooks should it fall short of the 10-hour mark.
Round 10: Value
Before Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, many expected the device to cost in the $800 range, so it came as a bit of a surprise when Apple announced that its device would start at $499. Models with built-in 3G connectivity cost start at $629. Compared to eReaders like the 9.7-inch Amazon Kindle DX ($489), the iPad is a steal. But that’s not the focus if this showdown.
Then there’s the accessories. If you bought the base model iPad with Wi-Fi only and then added the case ($39), keyboard dock ($69), camera connection kit ($29), and VGA adapter ($29) the price would balloon to $665. Netbooks pretty much ship with everything you need right out of the box, including a keyboard, VGA port, memory card reader, and USB ports. Plus, good models start as low as $299.
Winner: Netbooks. If you think of both the iPad and netbooks as complements to and not replacements of primary PCs, the latter provide more bang for your buck.
Although Steve Jobs went out of his way to compare the iPad with netbooks during the tablet’s launch, they don’t necessarily appeal to the exact same buyer. The iPad is a mobile Internet device that focuses on multimedia and dabbles in productivity. It’s a supersized iPod touch with enhanced capabilities, which has benefits (intuitive interface, lots of apps, great entertainment experience) and drawbacks (no multitasking, memory card slot, Flash support, or webcam).
Netbooks are basically smaller, less powerful laptops, and that’s why they’ve sold so well: because they can do almost everything their bigger Windows-powered brothers can. And netbooks have improved since the category’s inception, now sporting larger screens, more comfortable keyboards, and (thanks to Intel’s latest Atom processor) longer battery life. Netbooks are also a great value, with most models costing between $300 and $400–with no extra accessories to buy.
So if the iPad and netbooks are so different, why compare them? Because in this economy, most shoppers won’t buy both types of devices for themselves, which means consumers will need to vote with their wallets. And if you look at the rounds, Netbooks won 5 of them outright, the iPad won three rounds, and the the two combatants tied twice. Netbooks win this battle, but the war will rage on.
All Rounds of the iPad / Netbook Face-Off: