Wed, 21 Apr 2010

iPad vs. Netbook

This is second in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12.

One mistake the Slashdot/Engadget/Digg crowds always make is assuming that their harware use cases are universal: “It won’t play my 2 terabytes of Ogg Vorbis files stored on an NFS server. I can’t self-host the entire GNU toolchain, therefore it’s useless…” I will try to avoid that here.

I’ve written in this space before about our Acer Aspire netbook. It’s basically the third computer in the house — where I use my desktop (a G5 tower) and my office laptop (a 13-inch MacBook) as machines to “get things done”, the Ubuntu-based netbook has pretty much functioned for a small set of tasks:

  1. Lightweight web browsing (e.g. acessing Wikipedia, the IMDB, etc.) when sitting on the couch watching TV.
  2. A smart terminal for logging into the other machines to compile code, move files around the network, mess around with the home router, etc.)
  3. A really portable machine for times when hauling around even my 7-pound Macbook and accessories feels like overkill. (I took it on our December cruise, for example, and I take it to neighborhood coffee shops sometimes)
  4. A small (but still bigger than a smartphone) media player

I will now say, that for the way that I have used a netbook, the iPad is in most respects a (much) superior platform.

  1. As it stands, the iPad is one of the most pleasing web-browsing experiences available right now. The installed build of Mobile Safari is almost unreasonably fast, on a device that, as I read specs, sports a single 1GHz RISC core. I haven’t benchmarked it, but what’s important is that it feels fast. Pages pop, the rendering and reflow feels close to instant, subjectively faster than my desktop G5 and on par with my MacBook. It is far faster than a current Chrome build on the Atom-powered Acer netbook. It’s not just the speed, though. There is something very natural about browsing the web on a magazine-sized device propped against your leg in an easy chair. Mobile Safari very wisely stays out of the way, with minimal browser chrome and widgets in your face. All the pinch and zoom and double-tap to resize DIV stuff you’re probably familiar with from the iPhone platform is still there, but with a 4x larger browsing surface it really feels like no-compromise web browsing. You’ve still got the “gravitational” fingertip scrolling that’s so pleasant on the iPhone, too. Speaking for myself, the absence of Flash is a feature, not a bug.
  2. As a terminal for interacting with other devices, the netbook wins because of its full (cramped) keyboard. That said, for the types of device access I tend to do on weekends (e.g. changing router settings, etc.) the win isn’t a huge one.
  3. Video PlayerThe iPad is far more usably portable than a netbook. It gets far better battery life (10+ hours vs. 3), is absolutely cool to the touch (the netbook gets very warm in the lap), occupies less space (no pop up screen) in use, and has no fans.
  4. The netbook plays (theoretically) more media formats, but with Handbrake and Air Video, getting any format to the iPad has become pretty trivial. The netbook struggles mightily with fullscreen h.264, as well. As a fairly frequent business traveler, I’m looking forward to taking the iPad on long flights. Everything I’ve heard suggests that getting 4 full-length films on a single battery charge is not unreasonable.

It’s true that the iPad is currently more expensive than most netbook-class machines, but not unreasonably so.

:: 06:45
:: /tech/gadgets/iPad | [+]
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