Computers & Laptops

Tablets vs Netbooks: The final Face-off

Updated on: Oct 06, 2011
















An unrelenting tablets wave seems to be sweeping netbooks out of store shelves. Even bored mothers are shunning the mother board. But, is this the end of the fight? Are tablets glorified media players or can they actually perform the job of a computer? Mahananda Bohidar and Ketaki Bhojnagarwala slug it out.

Mahi says

When I was a kid, correspondence with my brother, away in a residential school, involved sending inland letters and waiting for at least a couple of weeks to get one. I watched movies inserting a VHS tape into the player only to see the heroine's face all grainy and mosaic-ed due to tape wear. Growing up, I listened to more static than music on the radio. Today, I can do all four on one device, at the same time, if I wanted to - without the downside mentioned above. The invention of tablets, like Steve Jobs mostly aptly put, has ‘revolutionised' the way we communicate, work and play. When presented with more choices than one would need, it's important that you separate the wheat from the chaff and see which tablet is The One for you.

Turning to tablets

Ever wondered why pulling out an iPad2 from a slingbag is now a more common sight than someone trying to retrieve a netbook or laptop? Portability. Most tablets weigh in anywhere between 400-800 grams – a fraction of the bulk of most netbooks sold today.

A lot of people reason that a tablet is a rather inconvenient device to type on. To fix the issue, most companies, not to mention third-party manufacturers, now have keyboard docks to go with their tablets. You could also jazz up your tab with speakers and charging docks, portfolios, wireless keyboards and travel bundles in all shapes, sizes and whacky designs – a range of customisation options that most netbooks do not offer.

Those who can't decide on a dock can take a look at Asus Transformer TF101 or Lenovo IdeaPad U1 which serve as tablets as well as netbooks. And if not a physical addition you can always go the app way – download SWYPE or SwiftKey - to make typing a breeze.

In addition to role-playing as a tablet and a netbook, some devices in the market also serve as your tablet and a smartphone for example, Dell Streak and Acer Iconia Smart.

OS issues

With Apple's and Android's OSes dominating the tablet ecosystem, there seems to be a dearth of OS choices if you go for a tablet now. But, with the much-promising Windows 8 in the making, things are bound to get more interesting. Also, the issue of fragmented apps on the Android platform is to be fixed soon with the ‘Ice Cream Sandwich' which means you'll have an OS that will adapt perfectly to smartphones and tablets.

No matter which OS you are running, a touch-based interface ensures that your experience is highly intuitive and maintains a low learning curve. No wonder then that when the iPad was launched there were several instances where, surprisingly, toddlers took to the iPad, like fish to water.

The likes of BlackBerry PlayBook and the new Samsung Galaxy Tabs have gone a step ahead and done away with physical buttons, letting you manipulate the entire OS with just gestures. With sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope, G-sensor, GPS etc the experience of using a tablet is more engaging than working on a netbook. Imagine playing Angry Birds, Papi Jump or Drag Racing on a netbook – not half as much fun, is it?

Multitasking master

Tablets rule at multi-tasking. Check your mail while you listen to your favourite podcast, Skype while you are working on your spreadsheet or look busy as a bee while trying to get to the next level of Asphalt HD. Most tablets today run on 1GHz dual-core processors and it won't be long before the numbers go up. There'll be more power in your hands with NVIDIA Tegra announcing that they might launch quad-core technology in Android tablets this year. Qualcomm, too, is expected to come out with a tablet-optimised chip early next year. So, this remains future-proof.

The first few tablets did not offer as many connectivity ports as a netbook. New launches, however, also feature USB ports, HDMI ports and all the basic connectivity options. Upgrades in processing power and OSes will also lead to better, faster connectivity on tablets.

If you combine the apps available in the Android Market (2,50,000) and Apple App Store (5,00,000)– the two largest app arsenals – you'll probably find enough to do with your tablet for two lifetimes. Not only do these apps, games and productivity software come relatively cheap, if not free, (compared to software and games running on Windows OS or MacOS on a netbook) but also adapt to various hardware that you might be using. Also, with Sony planning to launch two tablets before the year end – you might even see PlayStation games optimised to be played on those tablets!

One of the things I most enjoy doing on a tablet is reading digital publications. Magazines like Popular Science, TIME and GQ look gorgeous on the tablet displays, some of which outdo netbook screen resolutions. The freedom to switch the display orientation - for e-books, games, email clients, almost all apps that you have on your tablet - is a big plus considering netbooks aren't flexible enough to let you do that.

Jump to the cloud

I save my word documents on Google Docs, listen to my favourite playlist on Grooveshark, upload all the snaps I click on to Picasa and Flickr. Even if involuntarily, I have become a part of the exodus heading towards the cloud. As the need for physical storage spaces decline and you can access all your data through a wireless or 3G connection, it makes sense to own a tablet.

Tablets might also appeal to some with a green conscience as they reduce your carbon footprint. It's not only to do with being smaller and using lesser material (mostly recyclable like aluminium and glass) but they also have longer battery lives and wake back instantly from the sleep mode to let you access your mails, music and games.

Which one's yours?

Although the options are aplenty, you should pick up a tablet – not because it's the most popular or it has the glossiest screen – but because it fulfils most of your needs. For a jet-setter who always needs to be in touch, something like the new iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 might be a good choice owing to their slim form factors. For people who mainly use it for recreation and multimedia, the Motorola Xoom with its amazing speakers or the iPad 2 with its bright display would be a good buy to listen to music and watch movies on. If you are a blogger or a writer and still want to opt for a tablet, a device like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer might make sense. For bibliophiles (the electronic types), pick something with a big screen (8.9 or 10.1 inches) to make reading e-books as real as it can get. BlackBerry fans, have the option of the PlayBook that achieves its full potential when used in sync with a Blackberry handset.

Ketaki says

When netbooks were first introduced in the PC market, they were like a breath of fresh air for people who had to lug around their heavy laptops with them all the time – business travellers, students, office goers and even families on vacation. Shaving off more than a kilo or two in weight and sporting a screen size of 10-13 inches, netbooks became the ultimate portable computing device. The likes of Sony Vaio and Asus' Eee seashell series looked cooler than lappies too.

However, the launch of the iPad by Apple led to a spurt of other tablets flooding the market, which had an almost guillotine-like effect on netbook sales. Longer battery life, more portable and an intuitive touch interface are just some of the reasons why many people are choosing tablets over netbooks as their secondary computing device. So is there still a market for the humble netbook? There might well be.

Plating it up

Most netbooks aren't really great in the heavy performance or multitasking department, but they let you perform the basic activities that laptops are the most useful for – browsing, writing documents, watching videos or video chatting on Skype. And let's face it that ticks most of the boxes in the list of an average person's computing needs.

Netbooks have other advantages too. The primary one being a physical keyboard. Most of us don't like the idea of long hours of typing or even using Gtalk on a touch screen device. It's not comfortable and it's definitely not as fast. Most netbooks nowadays come with island style or chiclet keyboards, like the one in the Acer Happy 2, which take a bit of getting used to but are really great if you want to hammer it out.

Another advantage of netbooks is the fact that they have a lid, which means the screen is always protected, so you don't have to worry about it being scratched.

A big plus in the hardware department is of course the inclusion of ports. Netbooks typically ship with a minimum of two USB ports, a card reader and an Ethernet port. Granted, many tablets now also have these features, but plug and play isn't optimised on most tablets yet. Even simple things like attaching an external optical drive or opening a word document from an external hard drive are tough to do in most tablets.

Another area where netbooks stand out is in storage capacity – some netbooks even ship with 500GB hard drives, whereas a tablet today only offers a maximum of 64GB. So you can store virtually all your media on a netbook and even carry a portable hard drive around for more.

Software issues

iOS has definitely improved a lot since the first iPad, and Windows 8 and Android Ice Cream Sandwich are being optimised for tablets. But there's still a long way to go before tablets can become your number one computing device.

In a netbook, you can choose from either Windows, Linux or Apple's latest operating system (in this case Lion). Netbooks are able to perform most tasks efficiently, and some of the higher-end versions are pretty good on the spec list. The ASUS Eee PC 1215B for instance runs an AMD E-350 processor and has 2GB of RAM, apart from USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI outlet. So while you may not be able to play power hungry games on this like StarCraft or Crysis 2, you should still be able to play most other PC games comfortably, as well as run multiple programs and even watch a flick.


As it stands today, netbooks can do most of what tablets can, but not vice-versa. You should opt for a netbook if your primary goal is product creation, because a better processor and physical keyboard will aid you here. Another factor to consider is that for many, netbooks can potentially be their primary computing device, especially if their needs aren't too demanding. You can't say the same for tablets though. And the price differential of about 50 per cent only adds to the list of pros for netbies.

To check out the tech specs of some of the most popular tablets and netbooks, click here.

Published on March 12, 2018

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