Tablet or netbook?

With ever more tablets based on mobile platforms coming into the market, should you even bother looking at a netbook as a travel companion any more?

While devices such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab are certainly handier than a netbook and offer much better battery life, there are instances when a clamshell portable running on Windows has its advantages. We take a closer look and compare the pros and cons of each type of device.

When netbooks work best

Lenovo netbook

Lenovo IdeaPad (Credit: Lenovo)

Performance and applications

While some Android tablets do offer Adobe Flash support, the actual performance of Flash content on these devices is usually barely adequate. If you love playing games such as Restaurant City or FarmVille on Facebook, a netbook will definitely serve you better. For Apple iPad users who are travelling to parts unknown, we suggest leaving your tablet behind and bringing a mini laptop instead, as some many airlines and hotels have websites loaded with Flash content, which the Apple device cannot display.

Though there are many iOS and Android apps available, Windows-based programs have a longer history and offer a significantly wider range of options. Business travellers needing to connect to the office network to access internal databases via a VPN (Virtual Private Network), will more than likely need a desktop OS to do so. A VPN connection is also the only way for tourists to access blocked sites such as Facebook and Twitter in China.

Feature set

Only a handful of tablets sport a full-size SD card slot (the majority use the smaller microSD format instead) and even fewer are equipped with USB or display ports. On the other hand, almost all netbooks come with a five-in-one memory card reader, three USB ports and VGA output. Even if your tablet has a USB port, it may not have a driver written for your device as most peripherals are designed with Windows or Mac operating systems in mind.

Virtual keyboards have come a long way in terms of usability, however; nothing beats a real physical input device when it comes to typing long emails and documents. Another advantage is that while tablets now have multitasking capabilities, you can only display one app at a time. On netbooks, though, you can display a browser, email program and IM application on the desktop at the same time.

Storage size

Tablets use flash storage, which is faster and less prone to physical damage than magnetic platters. However, the former is pretty expensive and, as such, most slates offer between 16GB to 64GB of storage. Netbooks, on the other hand, rarely come with less than 250GB of hard disk space these days. Granted Windows and most programs eat up around 10GB to 20GB on most systems, yet there is still well over 200GB left to store your multimedia content.

Netbooks cost less

Due to declining popularity, netbooks are now going for a song and you can easily score a brand-new model around the AU$500 mark. In comparison, the Apple iPad (first-gen) starts at AU$629. No prizes for guessing which device is less painful to the pocket should it be lost or damaged during your holiday or work trip.

Why tablets rule

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The soon-to-launch Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Credit: Samsung)

Great battery life and instant on

Like smartphones, tablets are rarely powered off and only the display is put to sleep to conserve battery life. This not only allows the device to start up instantly, but also continue to download emails and receive IM messages 24/7. Battery life is also much better than netbooks, with the iPad promising 10 hours of uptime before requiring a recharge.

Cost of apps

Most Android and iOS applications cost between AU$1 and AU$20, making it cheap to deck out your tablet with programs. Windows-based programs, on the other hand, can go up to hundreds of dollars for professional-grade software.

Multi-touch screen

While some convertible netbooks sport capacitive multi-touch displays, Microsoft Windows was not built from the ground up as a touchscreen platform. However, Google Android, iOS, webOS and BlackBerry Tablet OS are developed for touch operation and, as such, offer a superior user experience in this respect. In cramped areas such as economy aeroplane seats or train benches, tablets would be easier to use than a netbook, which are heavy enough to require a surface to rest on.

Lighter and more portable

As previously mentioned, tablets are much handier to use on the move. Slates that are 10 inches weigh no more than 800g, while most netbooks are well over 1kg.

OS more suited for small screens vs. netbooks

Not only are mobile platforms created for touchscreen devices, but the original source of inspiration was from smartphones where screen estate is at a premium. As a result, applications and websites coded for tablets are designed to fit smaller displays. Windows programs, on the other hand, rarely take this factor into account.


If you are travelling for leisure and all you need is to check emails and social networking sites, a tablet is a great tool. On the other hand, netbooks offer greater flexibility when it comes to transferring photos from digital cameras and for business travellers who need to use a VPN and other professional programs.

Via CNET Asia

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DavidY posted a comment   

You can get netbooks with 12 hour (claimed) battery life and 2 second resume which you can use to play media on your tv.

200 grams makes little to no difference, and if you are that way inclined you will usually have a smartphone which receives IM, facebook updates etc...

I also prefer clicking on something instantly rather than having to zoom in on something to have it the same size as my fingertip before I can load a link.

Also with two buttons (Control F) I can find things easily on a page and switch between pages to copy email addresses etc... this is a pain on tablets as you have to highlight wait for it to register then click the copy icon rather than just double clicking and hitting control c.

If you add a case with a keyboard, which most people who use them for uni do you have a touchhscreen netbook with a 32 gb hard drive that costs twice the price but has no sd slots and only one usb.

Also as others have stated the cheap apps aren't very useful or gimmicky imitations. Although MS office is expensive you can get student editions which work way better and have compatibly with other programs like endnote which I need for referencing in assignments etc...


vihaan posted a comment   

I feel that tablets are better for the casual user, while netbooks are be better for office goers.


Peter T. posted a comment   

Another advantage of tablets is that they work in portrait mode.


Felixius posted a comment   

@pov Unless he is playing a martini drinking game...

While I think this is a terrible article, at least it is not one of those articles that tries to inflame the readership by spewing the words ADOBE vs APPLE or MAC vs PC


pooky posted a reply   

martini drinking game via webcam??

to me that sounds pretty crap :p

besides martini's?? i think i'll p****


D posted a comment   

This is one of the worst CNET articles I've read. Full of inaccurate info.


droopowerz posted a comment   

is a $1 app really a fair comparison to software costing hundreds of dollars??


Peter T. posted a reply   

You make a fair point, but on the other hand, how many people need all of the advanced functionality of expensive software. As an example, how many people use only the most basic functions in MS Office. I'll bet most would like to buy Office-lite, but there is no such thing. However, apps provide only the most necessary functionality at incredibly cheap prices. I'll bet pounds to peanuts that many people would get sufficient functionality in an app worth less then AUD$15 . . . I know that I do!


Chris posted a comment   

I've got the best solution, get a PC tablet, just make sure it has at least one USB port.

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