When Netbook is greater than iPad

It's all about suitability to task.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

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.

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