When Netbook is greater than iPad

When Netbook is greater than iPad

Summary: It's all about suitability to task.


Late last year I had the misfortune of having my desktop replacement laptop stolen when my car was burgled. A generation old, the laptop was still doing yeoman duty and had recently been upgraded with 500 GB hard drive. The system was more than adequate to run Windows and the 1900 x 1200 17" display was the most compelling reason I hadn't replaced the unit. But I no longer had the option of not moving on to something else.

But in the years since I originally purchased that laptop, my usage patterns had changed significantly. I now rarely do week-long business travel, requiring a full-blown desktop equivalent laptop to allow me to get my work done. Most of my business trips are now one or two days, at most, and all I would need from a laptop would be something suitable for web browsing, reading my email (meaning something that could run Outlook; I prefer not to use OWA), and light document editing or creation.  So given the smaller workload I expected the device to handle, my plan was to pick up a good middle-of-the-road laptop when I found a good sale price.

But before that could happen I found myself wandering through my local warehouse club store and stumbling upon a sale on the Acer Aspire one netbook. For $240 I would get a lightweight Windows 7 computer with a 1366 x 768 display, a 320 GB hard drive, and decent battery life. It seemed like a perfect choice for an interim device; if it turned out to not be suitable for the limited range of tasks I expected to do, I wasn't risking a huge amount of money, and I could always just return it.

Taking the netbook home, it only really needed two things; Microsoft Office and Google Chrome installed, and after getting it configured with those applications and using it for a few days I decided that the system simply lagged too much to be really usable. But willing to experiment I spent $25 to upgrade the memory from 2 GB to 4 GB and that made a world of difference. I had a reasonable replacement for my stolen laptop, which would do the tasks for which I needed it, for a very small investment.

So what makes this netbook better for me than using an iPad?

I do have a 3rd generation iPad, and it sees a lot of use; it is without question, when combined with the Major League Baseball At Bat iPad app, the best baseball geek companion possible. MLB.com's At Bat app is the epitome of what an iPad application should be. It's a great standalone application and enhances the viewing experience of a baseball game, in-person, listening to the radio coverage,  or while watching on TV (either MLB-TV or simply your TV set). I have both basic covers and the ZaggFolio keyboard case for the iPad, and it has a great deal of utility.  But the MLB app is currently what it gets used the most for. I don't find it to be particularly handy as an e-reader, compared to the Kindle Fire, Nook Color, or a 7" Android tablets, and for writing and editing, the ease of use that comes from having Microsoft Office available makes the netbook a better choice for me.

But a recent blog by fellow ZDnet writer Jason O'Grady on trying to use the iPad as a companion for his high-end DSLR while on vacation made me realize that what Jason needed was a netbook, because I had inadvertently solved what were all of his issues with mine.

I'm not going to reiterate Jason's column with his issues; you can read it, along with all of the responses attempting to addresses his problems, here. But I found myself in a very similar situation to him. I make no claims to being the world's greatest photographer; I do consider myself a serious amateur and have sold enough of my work to cover the costs of what can be a very expensive hobby. Camera bodies come and go, so I have invested in quality lenses (primarily Canon L series) and currently shoot with two bodies, a Canon 5D Mark II and 7D. RAW images from the 5D are in the 25 MB range, so even the 16 GB CF cards I use in the body can fill up rather quickly. Should the vacation location merit it, I prefer to bring at least one medium large camera bag with me and spend time taking pictures. I can't imagine, for example, using a P&S camera during the two weeks we spent in Alaska last summer.

Mt. McKinley

Mt. McKinley

It was primarily that storage issue that Jason was trying to address with his iPad. And the commenters on his post were quick to point out that he would be better served by a dedicated photo storage device, which would allow him to copy the images from the camera to that storage without the need for a computer of any sort. But those dedicated storage devices, especially those that are capable of viewing images, can be somewhat expensive. A quick perusal of photo equipment sites such as B&H and Adorama quickly showed me that these devices, at the same storage level as my netbook, ran about twice the price the netbook would cost.

The netbook also had the advantage of running all of the bundled Canon image editing and management software and worked well for use with the remote shooting functionality of the camera; a capability I have used when shooting on assignment to place the camera in locations that would have been impossible for a photographer to stand.

I realize that the netbook has fallen far out of favor as a computing tool, but I have always maintained that the measure of a device's value is it's suitability to task. And in the role of a photographer's companion an honest look at the netbook finds it an excellent fit and value, filling more roles in that space than an iPad.

Topic: iPad

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  • Ever thought that the

    netbook could be left in on your trunk and serve as a cheap dedicated file server for your iPad? Park close enough to your room at night, and you can process your photos wireless as you watch TV.
    Tony Burzio
  • I liked my netbook

    Though mine was a first generation Acer Aspire One, 9" screen running Windows XP and limited to 1 Gig RAM (non-upgradable). I upgraded to hard drive from 80 gigs to 320 gigs and dual booted it with Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook remix and had plenty of fun with it.

    Now I upgraded to the category just above netbooks, 11.6" HP Pavilion dm1 with AMD E-450 APU, 4 gig RAM, 640 gig harddrive and 10h on battery with Windows 7 Home Premium... love it, very portable.

    The actual netbook category is virtually a shadow of what it was, but the "just above netbook" category is growing (should we call it Post-Netbook as everybody seems to like to call everything new a "Post" something), slightly bigger than netbooks (which didn't go over 10" screen) with better specs (full Windows 7, lots or RAM and HDD) is what is selling now and the smaller ultrabooks are right there (though quite expensive compared to thicker ones like my dm1).
  • How Do You Get Photos from the Camera to the iPad Anyway?

    I'm genuinely curious as to how you can get photos from a DSLR to an iPad without the use of an intermediary computer anyway. By what I've heard, the iPad has no USB host capability and no flash memory slots. Most DSLRs have a USB connection and store pictures either on Compact Flash or SD cards. There may be some recent experimentation with WiFi on new cameras, but it's not common at this point. This makes me wonder what purpose an iPad could even serve in this capacity.
    • Well...

      Apple does sell a camera connection kit that features both a USB port and an SD card slot. There are also SD/WiFi cards that send photos directly to the iPad to be viewed and no longer even require a the intermediary of a hot spot.
      • Great Idea Crippled by Paranoia: Camera Connection Kit

        I just looked up information about the camera connection kit for the iPad. What I discovered was that the kit used to work quite well and allow not only cameras but several other USB devices to work with the iPad.

        More recently (starting with iOS 4.2 according to what I read) the power to the USB port was reduced to only 20mA in order to stop the USB port from working with general purpose devices. This is of course because of Apple's paranoia about the iPad being used in a way they might not approve of or control. The problem is that when they did this it not only stopped the USB port from working with general purpose devices (which might actually make me think of the iPad as something a bit useful); it also stopped it from working with a number of cameras, and it made it useless for Compact Flash card readers.
      • It's ok for SD...

        But none of my cameras can use the USB port dongle. They all show as drawing too much current.
      • Of course that begs the question....

        if you need to hang things off your tablet you are far less mobile than you were before. I don't recommend dongles. I prefer the wireless options like the WiFi SD card, the Airplay or DLNA mirroring or spanning of video and audio, Bluetooth controllers, microphones, and keyboards. There are even 500GB battery-powered WiFi portable harddrives.
  • I don't know why...

    People are always trying replace one form factor with another when each form factor has advantages in certain use cases. I prefer to have one of each form factor (although I have stopped using desktops except at work) and share apps and files between them.

    This may be why so many are interested in clever things like the Asus Transformer or Padphone but don't actually buy them. In principle, the Transformer and its accessories address all these needs in one Swiss-army type of solution. In practice, most folks get the best device in each form factor or forgo additional form factors altogether.
    • Actually.... the reason they don't buy the Transformer...

      Is because you can't actually find them in stores...

      But that aside, I have a Transformer Prime and I'm not sure how your argument works here. The Transformer doesn't come with both parts - you buy what you need. I bought the tablet first and still use it mainly as a standalone tablet most of the time.

      But there are times when I want to do serious typing and the onscreen keyboard isn't up to that (same for iPad, BTW). Then I snap it into the dock and voila - instant netbook. In netbook mode, it's a fully functional device. The USB port supports almost anything I throw at it short of TV tuners. It even handles NTFS hard drives. The trackpad works fine. And I can type at a normal speed.

      When I travel, I leave the tablet docked because in netbook mode, it's a great screen protector. But when I need a pure tablet, I push a switch and pull the tablet free and back to tablet mode.

      It's the best of both worlds with no compromises that I've experienced.
      • Consider the MS Surface

        If we look at the Intel-powered Windows 8 Surface tablet with the hardware keyboard cover, I think we can see that device is far closer to creating a device with the fewest compromises. And yet, there are still a few usability compromises inherent in the screen size when used for more desktop like tasks and some mobility compromises associated with the shorter battery life and increased weight.

        It really all comes down to what applications you use most and the features you are willing to live without. For example, with the lovely looking Asus Transformer Prime you give up the ability to run Windows, Mac, or iOS software natively and locally.

        If you need any of those abilities then you have to get an additional device. If you don't than your needs aren't particularly daunting and they can be met by any tablet, ultrabook, or netbook currently available.