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Should you get a netbook or a tablet?

Netbook or tablet?

With all of my talk about the Motorola Xoom lately, you’d think my answer would be “tablet”, but it’s not that easy to say.  For the past year, I’ve had an Acer netbook that has been an awesome little device to carry around.  Similar to most tablets, it’s very portable and has an amazing battery life.  However, I’ve been using it a lot less now that I have the Xoom, so what would I recommend to someone that has neither?


The problem with a tablet (from any manufacturer) is that it can only do about 90% of what I need.  That might sound like a lot, and it is, but that other 10% can be critical.  If a client sends me an image to post on their site, it can be tough to get it from your email up to a website while you’re on a tablet.  With a netbook it’s a breeze.  This is why when I bring my tablet to lunch meetings, I also keep the netbook in the car in case I need it.

Cover the basics first

With that in mind, I think most people need a netbook/laptop before they should worry about a tablet.  I’m finding that the Xoom is amazingly useful, and I’ve put a lot of mileage on it already, but it won’t replace my laptop for quite a while.  I think most people will find a few small areas where the tablet makes things difficult and having a netbook handy would be quite useful.  With prices around $200, netbooks don’t cost much and can accomplish quite a bit.

I was recently talking to a friend that was debating between a laptop and an iPad 2, and we eventually decided that for the price of an iPad 2 she could get a netbook and a used first-generation iPad.  For a lot of people, that might make the most sense.

Convenience can be money

The tablet is really about convenience.  I don’t think anyone would argue that.  Compare any decent laptop to any decent tablet, and the laptop is far more functional and likely costs less.  However, the tablet is easier to use on the couch, at a meeting with a client, waiting for my kids at taekwondo, etc.  It’s great for that.  But is convenience worth money?  It depends who you are.

I pride myself on solid productivity.  My systems aren’t perfect, but I always work to make things a bit smoother.  A tablet helps with that.

In most cases, the tablet doesn’t replace my laptop; it replaces my phone.  I love my phone, but a tablet is much easier to get work done on.  In the places where I use it (again, lunches, taekwondo, etc) I’m much more efficient that if I only had my phone.  Suppose it saves me one hour per week.  That’s 52 hours/year.  If your time is worth more than $10/hour, your tablet has effectively paid for itself.

So, netbook or tablet?

It’s not a question that can easily be answered, but for most people the answer is netbook.  However, if you already have a functional netbook (laptop, whatever), then a tablet might be a great device to compliment it.  If you’re at that stage, deciding which tablet to get can be a tough decision as well.  Check out my Xoom vs. iPad 2 post for some direction, but there’s no clear-cut answer there, either.

What do you think? Do you have a netbook, tablet, both or neither?  Why?

About the Author

Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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