Sunday, February 7, 2010

iPad or netbook?

Having absorbed all the super-hype about the "Magical and Revolutionary" Apple iPad, I made a decision yesterday.

The iPad is a splendid little device, indeed. Wouldn't it be great to read newspapers and illustrated books in full color on it -- and play with my favorite iPod Touch apps on its big screen?

And it's an Apple! I'm a big fan of Mac computers, having owned seven of them, including two laptops. Their design and ease of use has been second to none, and the the Mac OS X operating system has no peer.

Still, the 5.2-pound Macbook that has been my road companion for more than three years is getting heavier as I age. I've been yearning for something half that weight, and the iPad weighs just 1.5 pounds by itself.

Some features of the iPad are not for me. I don't listen to music and am not a lover of downloadable movies or video (almost none are captioned for the deaf and won't be any time soon) and I refuse to inflict photographs of my family or my travels on other people.

Most important, the iPad looks as if it will be an unsuitable writing machine, even with the dockable keyboard that will bring the weight to 2 1/2 pounds, the same as the average netbook. The iPad doesn't have real text editing software, and moving files to a laptop or desktop will be clumsy and involved, for there are no USB ports.

Even with an iPad, there'd still be the need for a laptop on the road. An iPad would just be piling on the weight.

And so yesterday I ordered a PC netbook.

It will do everything I need -- except display e-books (and, presumably, Apple e-books as well). For that I'll keep my trusty iPod Touch, on which I've read 15 books so far. Its handiness makes up for its tiny screen.

A netbook is much less expensive than the iPad, $250 to $400 rather than the iPad's $500 to $800.

Netbooks have grown up in the last year. They're powered by faster processors and boast 160-to-250-gigabyte hard drives. They have perfectly usable 10-inch screens, slightly larger than the iPad's. Their larger, redesigned keyboards are 92 to 95 percent the size of the norm.

I spent much of the day yesterday playing with and comparing Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Toshiba netbooks at Best Buy and Office Depot, paying particular attention to the feel of the keyboards. The Acer and Toshiba keyboards especially suit my smallish hands.

While none of the machines is as powerful as a modern laptop, all are fast enough for emailing, Internet surfing (including video watching, if that's your bag) and brawny enough to run Word (or OpenOffice, my word processor of choice). I am assured that simple photo editing software such as Google's free Picasa will run well on the new netbooks.

A netbook's not going to replace the Macbook for car trips and the like. Heavy editing and formatting will be much easier on that than on a netbook.

But the 2.6 pound Toshiba NB305-N410W netbook I ordered yesterday from B&H in New York (no tax, free shipping) will be my new road warrior for airplane and train trips.

For $399, it offers a 10.1 inch LCD screen, the latest 1.66 gHz Atom N450 processor, 1 gig of RAM upgradable to 2 gigs, a 250 gig hard drive, three USB ports, 802b/g/n hi-fi, webcam and mike, a 6-cell battery for a claimed 11 hours of computing time that is actually closer to 8, Windows 7 Starter Edition, and a host of software including Internet Explorer 8 and Microsoft Works. Five years ago that'd have made a powerful laptop.

On all my Macs, by the way, Apple's auto-correcting TextEdit software changes "netbook" to "netback" or "notebooks" every single time. What's a netback? A certain way to calculate the price of crude oil. Huh.

It's almost as if Steve Jobs knew his new iPad won't suit everyone, but wasn't going to help them buy netbooks either.

The Toshiba NB305-N410W I ordered from B&H in New York yesterday.

FEB. 10: Hitler responds to the iPad.


  1. My initial reaction when I saw the Apple iPad was confusion. What functionality does this device offer over and above the Apple iPhone? And what market is Apple aiming this device at?

  2. I'm with you, Henry. Please report on your impressions of the Toshiba after it arrives, especially how it is to write long blocks of text on.

  3. Could you review tosh nb305 on your blog? I'm going to buy one but can't decide between tosh nb305 vs. asus 1005pe.

  4. I checked out the Asus and liked it, but the Toshiba's keyboard seemed more suitable for me. Also, the Asus has a slick glassy finish that picks up fingerprints (and maybe scratches). I'd prefer mine not to, so opted to pay $30 more for the Toshiba and its slightly better (for me) keyboard. Otherwise, the two machines are just about identical in what they offer.

  5. I came to the same conclusion you did, Henry, and bought an Acer netbook.