Face Off: iPad vs. Netbooks

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.

Overall Verdict
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:


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  1. J. Crawford Says:

    This is the wrong battle. For me the decision will be between the IPad and a dedicated e-book reader like the Kindle or Nook. The fact that I will probably have apps from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble available for books on the iPad make it a compelling as well as economical choice.

  2. Sarcast Says:

    I think this comparison is premature. It’s also flawed. May people buy netbooks end up using it as their primary computer as well. the people buying ipads aren’t using it as their main computer or even to fulfill their main mobile computing needs.

    What’s important is how well the iPad does to fill in the needs of 90% of what people do on the Internet, entertainment, and some mobile computing. Even I wouldn’t make such a declaration with playing with one for a week or so.

    And I KNOW you don’t have one in your possession to make the above calls. Heck, the iPad might be so lame that the netbook end up winning every category.

  3. William Says:

    talked about your article on my site (http://theamazingipad.com/the-ipad-vs-netbook-debate/). If you already don’t have the features that a netbook offers, don’t even think of buying an iPad

  4. Dru Says:

    Perhaps it would be better to focus on what iPad it is and is not —

    1. It is NOT a replacement for a desktop, laptop, or netbook computer (not meant to be, either)

    2. It IS a content consuming device (just like your TV)

    3. It is NOT designed as a content creation device (although that it can be argued with the pending release of iWork for iPad)

    4. It will NOT be using Adobe’s closed, proprietary software, Flash, to browse the Web. (Find out why here – http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2010/02/01/ten-myth-of-apple’s-ipad-2-ipad-needs-adobe-flash/ )

    5. It WILL be using the industry open standard H.264 video codec and HTML5 to process video. (Just like Google and thousands of other companies)

    6. It DOES use a real Operating System ( It’s a UNIX-based OS called Mac OS X. The OS for the iPhone and the iPad are a subset of OS X)

    7. It DOES run a 1GHz processor (albeit a newly designed one by Apple)

    8. It DOESN’T require a USB port. (Just like your iPhone and iPod’s don’t require a USB port. The iPad will sync with your computer to upload/download content)

    9. It DOESN’T need a camera. (You have other, much easier to handle, devices that’ll take pictures or video.

    10. It is NOT over-priced, under-powered, or over-hyped.

    When, and if, HP’s Slate emerges from the drawing board or Microsoft’s Courier makes its way to production and they are out and available in the marketplace (as well as those other 50 tablet devices set to explode onto the market) THEN the buying public will make a choice as to which device best suits their needs.

    PC manufacturers have tried, and failed miserably, at producing a tablet computer that the public actually wants to buy. Perhaps we ought to let Apple have a whack at it. It’ll either be glorious or catastrophic. My bet is glorious.

  5. Bruce Says:

    “Although Steve Jobs went out of his way to compare the iPad with netbooks during the tablet’s launch”– Actually, he did the exact opposite! He went out of his way to say that it iPad was different than a netbook.

  6. Philip Machanick Says:

    A netbook is obviously going to be better at things an iPod doesn’t have. The real question is whether there is a significant category of user who is happy without these things. I’m willing to reserve judgment until I have significant time to use one (I’m amazed that such a detailed review didn’t include enough time to test battery life).

    “Missing feature” analyses of each product where Apple has tried to go “different” have almost always missed the point: Apple does a few things that a specific market cares about better than anyone else, rather than trying to please everyone (a recipe for mediocrity). This means they will take out that market, but will leave some wanting a different product. I like this a lot better than Microsoft’s approach of trying to dominate an entire market without trying to be best of class in any way, but rather stifling competition by sheer size.

    It worked for the iMac, it worked for the iPod, it worked for the iPhone and seems likely to work for the iPad.

    For those for whom the limits of the Apple product are a show stopper, there’s plenty of space for competing products that can build on Apple’s innovations. If any of the missing features are really critical to a big slice of the market, that’s a great opportunity for someone. Ask Microsoft about how well Zune is doing … http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/electronics/1264866011/ref=pd_ts_e_nav

  7. Pete Says:

    I’m in the camp that says you can’t do this sort of comparison when you’ve–at best–spent a few minutes on one type of machine and potentially hundreds if not thousands of hours on the other type of machine. Most, if not all, of your comparison is invalid because of that. In other words, get back to us in a few weeks when you know what you are talking about when it comes to the iPad. When you’ve not held something, how the heck do you know anything about it?

  8. Doug Petrosky Says:

    This is a really bad article because it starts with a faulty premiss. Steve Jobs didn’t say that an iPad was better than a netbook, what he said was that a netbook is never better than a laptop and in some usage situations an iPad actually is. Also, you didn’t actually compare the iPad to another device you compare it to sort of a best of class concept device that doesn’t exist, merging in price and features from all netbook.

    1. Pick a specific netbook or two to compare the iPad to and configure each. If you want to compare productivity apps, add the cost to each ($30 for ipad) and then actually try to use them. You throw down Office like it is free and works just as well on a netbook as a desktop and that is just not the case.

    2. Compare it in multiple usage methods.
    a) Sitting at a desk (with and without keyboard dock and or case). This is where the netbook and iPad will be the most similar.
    b) Sitting on the couch.
    c) Sitting on a plane.
    d) Walking around.

    The iPad solves a problem most of us didn’t know we had till the advent of the iPhone style phones came out. We were content to browse with a mouse at a desk, but the iPhone like device changed all that and now we are surfing and emailing from all sorts of places.

    With these things in mind I think you might change your mind about:
    1, 4, 5, 7, 8 and maybe even 10.

  9. Bob Says:

    Its crystal clear – both these devices are DIFFERENT. More practical and dynamic is the netbook while a more luxurious, time-out-hanging-loose-chilling-out device is the iPad. The multitouch in netbooks will improve .. it needs a lil’ bit of priority focus and Win7 will make it happen. See video: http://jkkmobile.blogspot.com/2010/03/viliv-s10-blade-review-20-ghz-w7-ssd-3g.html. It may not be great but its getting there. Also I doubt if iPad can have a 10 hour single-charge run-time .. one can go on about why iPad is niche while netbook is generically appropriate for daily use and they are getting way better with nVidia Optimus, HTML5, better battery lives, etc.. This may seem far fetched, but it seems like comparing a sedan car with .. umm .. a hovercraft. Sedan car is the netbook while the other is the iPad. Two different things, but they’ll still take you places !! Why compare ??

  10. Tony Says:

    Don’t underestimate the coolness factor. As Ngmoco CEO Neil Young said, “Forget the netbook. It’s a slow, clunky piece of junk. Do I want to look like the guy who couldn’t afford a real computer or the guy who went to the future and brought back a device that’s as cool as I imagine I am?”

    http://tinyurl.com/ygr6mlu

  11. Jim Says:

    One comment: People who buy Netbooks, tend not to buy software both because of hardware issues and because, well, they just don’t spend money. The Netbook is semi-popular right now because nothing else exist in the cheap realm of computing. The iPad is damn near cheap and will provide a much better user experience. Once you fall into the Apple ecosystem, it’s hard to get out.

  12. ton Says:

    “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.” yes if only you had a version of itunes for the pc.. oh wait there is one (actually it is a hog and i would not want it running on any pc 24/7)

    “8. It DOESN’T require a USB port. (Just like your iPhone and iPod’s don’t require a USB port. The iPad will sync with your computer to upload/download content)” i have an iphone it has a usb port, well on one side the other side has a different connector, the design owned by apple which is why the cable costs about $20 and i can’t use one of the 10,20 ones that i have

    oh btw the whole cost debate becomes easy once you realize you need a ipad AND a pc (could be a netbook) to use it

  13. Cliff Says:

    1 – The statement that “Both are well suited for their intended uses” is meaningless and misses the point. iPad is better for its intended use than netbooks and real laptops because it is more portable and lighter, more comfortable and intuitive to use (touch is better) . Sure, netbooks are better at notebook tasks than the iPad but real notebooks are better than both for notebook tasks. In other words, netbooks are better at nothing.

    4 – You act like there is no downside to the built-in physical keyboard, which is absurd. It makes the whole device awkward and less comfortable to use for many tasks like web browsing, media viewing, book reading. In fact, the keyboard forces the device into a horizontal screen orientation, which makes the device almost useless for magazines with a fixed vertical layout. Vertical also works better for the web.

    5 – Are you kidding? The iPad is made for on the coach web browsing and is WAY better. Flash – who cares?

    8 – The app store way is so much better for normal users it is a joke to claim a draw here. Sure, “netbook owners also have a vast array of programs from which to choose” but do they even know where to find them? And has anyone done any quality control review like Apple or checked whether they are spyware?

  14. John Small Says:

    For that same $500-650 there is another catagory beyond netbooks to consider. That is the ultrathin or thin and light notebooks. For $500 on sale you can snag a 13.3″ HP Pavilion dm3 or similar with good battery life, real keyboard and pleasing screen real estate. And very little additional weight, especially with ASUS’s offerings. I have long had towers, desktops, laptops, convertables and netbooks. When shopping just 3 months ago I choose the HP 3dm as it has dual core, 13.3″ real keyboard AND HDMI output.

    As many have noted and so have you in the article, the iPad is not mobile in the same sense as the iPhone, Touch or smartphone. So going smaller I current defer to both a Droid and a Touch for the best of both worlds. I, like a growing number of observers, see little room here for a tablet other than in dedicated vertical markets. And in these settings the tablet will need to be robust and not break when dropped from a standing position.

  15. Derek Says:

    I switched to Mac about 10 years ago and have been supremely happy. I own an iMac and an older PowerPC mac laptop. When I heard about the iPad – I was totally set on picking it up… until I heard about the specs. For pretty much every reason listed in the article, I decided that it would be a better value to pick up an ultraportable laptop (not netbook though – Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T) for $620 on Amazon.

    Although I have to learn Windows over again, I think the amount of features you can get with the PC netbook/ultraportables, make it very difficult for the average person to spend about the same amount of money for an iPad.

    Still love my Macs though!

  16. John Says:

    A “missing feature” is my primary reason for buying an iPad. I testify in court regularly and have to get a court order to bring my laptop into the court EVERY TIME, because it has a camera in it. Hard to find a decent laptop without a camera now (actually impossible, if you only consider Macs to be decent computers ;-> ). I am delighted to have the option of putting the documents I need onto the iPad and not needing a court order because the camera is “missing.” Yippeeee!

  17. Salaryman Ryan Says:

    Besides the flash issue, I say internet browsing, reading documents and ebooks will be much more comfortable with the iPad then netbooks. For a narrow set of general purpose use I think the iPad has it hands down in ergonomics.

  18. chuck daly Says:

    What makes the UI of the iPad so great, can you not just post your frequently used windows app icons on the desktop? When the iPad’s screen is full of icons, its difficult to find any particular app.

    Most of us make fun of people with windows machines with desktops full of icons, now we are praising it, because its on an apple device? The UI is designed for a pocket sized device. On a large screen this UI is overly simplified (Great for kids and grandparents), but for the rest of us, its primitive.

  19. plaincoffee Says:

    The first line in Round 3: Ports and Features : syas

    Because the iPad is more like a supersized iPod touch . it explains it all .

    all of media are annoying us about this product ,just because its from apple.
    Also read this article on this link : http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2358590,00.asp

  20. Andrew Says:

    What i wanna say is this, ipad is good but not good enough for me…people don’t fall for the hype,get something that you need but not because of the trend.I need a full browser with all the web plugin like java flash etc….and i can trade forex on the move and i can say tablets running windows xp, windows 7 or linux is the best and truly web experience as i am using one from viliv running windows and really loving it.Ipad is not that bad but it’s just not for everyone.From my point of view ipad is a great media consumption device like watching movies,reading ebooks and surfing basic html website and not intent to use it on work related.

  21. Alan Says:

    I can’t have a device with no USB port and no webcam. I like the user interface for the tablets, but until they mature a bit I’ll keeping watching and not buying.

  22. jamie murmann Says:

    i run ubuntu on an acer d250. it runs linux fine. i dont need antivirus or anti spyware anything and have never had a problem. the ipad doesnt even have a usb port or sd card slot. im still scratching my head why anyone would want one other than just as a status symbol. oooh i got an ipad, big deal! try watching hulu on it in bed for a while and pretty soon youll want your netbook back. id rather have one of the small android running tablets i see coming out of china for $125.00 than 500 for an ipad. at least those have an sd card slot and usb ports. whoever designed the ipad should have their head examined for not adding connectivity for peripherals! apple used to be good stuff but lately its just crap. good luck with your iphone 4! linux or death! linux for life!

  23. Janet55 Says:

    Yeah, I really love the iPad, i agree that the ipad is nice because it has the bigger screen and long battery life.
    The big screen size of iPad is really cool! and the long battery life is fantastic! ~ Im on the plane 14hours from Canada to Singapo, watching the movies which ripped by ifunia DVD ripper pro to my iPad, reading PDF and listening music, the bettery still don’t run out~~~

  24. Alex Says:

    There is battery and the touch screen, and not many more in favor of iPad, and both can be addressed by many netbooks.
    The lack of keyboard is a major turn down for iPad, virtual keyboards are not the same thing and u loose screen “real estate”.
    And the long lasting battery on iPad is mainly related with slow processors.

  25. rickbehr Says:

    A iPad -vs- Netbook. Are you kidding. An iPad is not even in the same category. Can you skype on the iPad? Can you connect your Iphone to an iPad to upgrade? Can you upgrade your ipad’s ram memory? If you don’t like iOS can you install something else? How about Flash, Is there flash suppport for the iPad? The ansyer to all of these questions is NO YOU CAN NOT I dont know about you but i want the most for my money. The iPad is a status symbol. Thats All. Its not worth $600-$1000 and functionally not even in the same category as a netbook. by the way for you Apple fanboys you can get a touchscreen for most netbooks today so i dont want to hear any B.S. about How the iPad has a touchscreen

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Acer-Aspire-One-Solderless-FLEXIBLE-TOUCHSCREEN-KIT-AOA-/260681109363?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3cb1ce0f73

  26. Trevor Says:

    @Derek

    Why not install Ubuntu Linux on that Netbook of yours? It is equally attractive as OSX, completely free, the window buttons (close, minimize and maximize) are on the left side just like in OSX. Just visit the Ubuntu homepage and the instructions are all there. Download and follow the simple (easy and quick) instructions and you can install it in no time. http://www.ubuntu.com

    @Everyone

    Despite the Netbook being the clear winner in the poll, the comment section has been won over by the Apple fan-boys. I will add something very important to the Netbook argument.

    I just purchased a Netbook yesterday (Acer Aspire) and it is extremely attractive, easy to carry around and great for web-surfing. It took me several weeks of debating what I should buy as my Dell Laptop is aging rapidly. Should I buy a laptop (Notebook)? (too big to carry around easily) Should I just buy a Desktop? (No portability) Should I buy a Laptop and a Desktop? (Overkill) Should I buy a Netbook and Desktop? (Sounding better) Should I just buy a Netbook? (Is it possible to use a Netbook as my ONLY computer…?)

    You see, a Netbook can be not only a portable computer, but it can also become a primary or secondary computer in the home. After a day of toting your Netbook around, just plug in your Netbook to your monitor with the included VGA port, attach a keyboard, a mouse (everybody already has all of these laying around) and buy an external DVD drive (or buy a DVD drive and get an external USB case for it). From this point forward you have a Desktop computer capable of Web Surfing, Email, Word Processing and more.

    Moreover, a Netbook allows freedom that the Ipad will never allow. The Ipad sacrifices freedom for simplicity. If we want to live in a dumbed down society and be people who don’t have to think for themselves, the Ipad will quickly replace the Netbook. But if you are a person who wants full control over the computer that they use, then the Netbook is definitely the way to go. I want to be able to have full control over the hardware that I am using, to be able to use the software that I want, the way I want to use it. This is not possible with an Ipad. With a Netbook I can run every operating system under the sun, I can attach it to any hardware under the sun, I can use any software under the sun. I can find a hardware configuration that I like, and someday maybe even be able to replace internal hardware that is defective. None of these things will every be possible with the Ipad.

    Lastly, the technology in Netbooks will continue to improve. Larger and larger harddrives, more Ram, Video Cards instead of Built in Ram, faster processors, etc.. In a few years you will be able to run some pretty high-end games on that Netbook of yours, especially while attached to a monitor.

  27. KC Says:

    compare the ipad to the notion ink android tablet, lets see how it compares.

  28. Dallas Realtor Says:

    I will go with a notebook every time. I think of the Ipad as a toy where you can map golf courses, find best Disney World rides, get good clowns for birthday parties, etc… I can actually do real office work on a notebook with a real keyboard.

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