/ Technology

Forget tablets, netbooks are here to stay

Man using a netbook outside

I’ve recently enjoyed using Apple’s wonderful tablet – surfing the web on an iPad 2 has been fun! But if I wanted a portable, internet-enabled computer, I’d take a £250 netbook over a £400 iPad every time.

Yes, price is a major factor for picking a netbook, but they have a lot more to them than just being cheap.

My netbook, purchased refurbished for £170, is not only lightweight it also has a 250 gigabyte (GB) hard drive. You’ll have to pay at least £559 to get just 64GB in your iPad 2. This means that I’m basically free to put as much music and videos on it as I want.

Plus, thanks to its three USB slots (the iPad has none) I can transfer my files to and from it easily. I’m able to quickly transfer photos from my digital SLR camera while on holiday, in order to empty my memory card, for example.

You can’t beat a physical keyboard

For some tasks a netbook just makes life easier. In a previous Conversation my colleague Andy Vandervell argued that netbooks belong in the technology junkyard. He wrote this on his iPad 2 as he sat on a train outside Waterloo.

But I’ve used said iPad’s virtual keyboard, and while I think it’s the best of its type, you never feel you’re typing as quickly as you could on a real keyboard. You usually find yourself hitting the delete key most frequently, as you’ve once again mistyped. I also wonder how Andy would have got on if the train wasn’t sitting still but was actually moving.

With typing being a key function of any computer, whether it’s working, emailing, posting a comment on Which? Conversation or whatever, the convenience of a real keyboard can’t be underestimated.

I also like my netbook’s natural screen protector – the lid with which you open and close it. This novel idea means there’s no need to buy a £35 (or £59 for the expensive one) smart cover.

You can upgrade your netbook

And though my netbook is no supercomputer, it’s definitely fast enough. If I put it to sleep, rather than fully powering it off, it’ll come back on almost immediately when I want to use it again (with only a marginal battery life penalty).

I’ve also been able to increase its RAM from 1 to 2GB easily and for less than £20 – try doing that on your new iPad. As I write this Convo in a cafe, I’ve got eight internet windows open (I’m easily distracted) and the latest version of Photoshop Elements (see what I mean?) to touch up a few holiday photos using precise touchpad and cursor control.

While the iPad 2 might be the sparkliest and hottest new gadget, spare a thought for the humble netbook and what it can do for you.


The same can be said about Android Tablets, having purchased an inexpensive 7″ one recently, they make for good media consumption devices, ebooks, and browsing the internet, reading email, they are not content creation devices, like answering email, writing notes, spreadsheets documents etc.

Oliver says:
3 May 2011

I use a Samsung N120, bought a year and a half ago for around £300. I only bought it as a backup to my hitherto top of the range laptops but have to say that it is probably the best technology investment I’ve ever made and now goes everywhere with me. As a result I’ve stopped investing in high-end laptops and switched to a desktop (lovely iMac) when I’m at my desk and the netbook whenever I’m anywhere else. It runs pretty much everything I ask it to and has the huge advantage of being incredibly light with a battery life that lasts a whole working day if I’m careful. I manage my email all my frequently accessed data through the cloud so it’s all backed up and available to me wherever I am, and the netbook is cheap enough that I don’t stress about breaking or loosing it. Life just seems so much simpler since I made the change!

It strikes me that a tablet is a completely new kind of device and not actually directly comparable with a notebook/netbook. It’s more of a digital lifestyle companion than a work device and I’m sure will become ubiquitous without in any way replacing the need for computers with keyboards. The main advantages I can see of a tablet over a netbook are screen resolution, fun factor in terms of interface, and form factor for elegant use in meetings/presentations. These are all significant enough to make me want to buy an iPad if I had the spare cash, but not to make it an essential like my netbook.

Raf Slotwinski says:
4 May 2011

On the whole I agree with what has been written so far in this thread. I have desktops, laptops, access to a netbook and – for a couple of weeks now – a tablet. This is a close copy of the original iPad, same size, shape, controls, CAPACITIVE 9.7in screen, BUT also with a USB2 port, memory expansion from the built-in 8GB (via microSD !) and Android 2.2 OS with access to hundreds of cheap or free apps. And all that for £170 (from a UK vendor). I do not believe that a tablet is a replacement for a Netbook – rather an alternative. If you need a “real” keyboard – you can use a USB one, either a custom keyboard “wallet / stand” or one of many full-size ones on the market. My family uses the tablet as a games console. I use it for quickly looking things up on the web and checking my emails (at home or on the move) – because it boots up quickly and the screen is good enough (better than netbook!). If I need to do heavy-duty word processing or PP presentations or spreadsheets “on the move”, I use my laptop anyway, as the netbook has not got enough processing power for what I want to do.
The bottom line is: sub £200 tablet makes sense, >£400 tablets (as most of the recognised manufacturer’s products are) is an expensive toy used to impress one’s peers.

pooh says:
6 May 2011

please advise name of the tablet you got. too good to believe there is a tablet under 200 pounds. many thanks

Woodinblack says:
16 May 2011

Having had an iPad for over a year now and used it every day for both work and home life, I have encountered the ‘just a fashion statement’ ‘only bought it to impress other people’, ‘can’t do real work’ attitude many times.
I assume it is some kind of imagination failure or narrow mindedness to assume that if you don’t have a use for something, noone else can either!

I don’t care who likes my tablet, it is one of the most useful things I have bought.

Ideally, in a house, one would expect a tablet to control:-

Heating, Lights, TV’s, Internet, Media Streaming etc

Considering these functions would require massive setup time, cost and knowledge, a tablet is pointless.

Raf Slotwinski says:
4 May 2011

As long as any controlling device (desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet) is connected to the wireless network, the potential for control of household devices is a possibility. However, that is not why I bought my tablet, nor – I expect – most of other owners / users got theirs. You could argue that all smart phones are pointless just as well…
My main complaint is that if one wants to buy a branded tablet, it will cost as much as a mid-spec laptop: >£400. That is why I bought a sub-£200 Chinese manufactured clone, and why I think that is a reasonable value-for-money price point.

Netbooks here to stay? I wonder why when someone mentions netbooks we think on windows systems that are small, cheap and (I’m told) slow, I’ve never used one.
I recently looked at an iPad for business use, I’d been using an eight year old Apple iBook G4. Yes still working very well, just a tad too slow for what I needed. I wanted ultra portability computing power. The iPad has its limitations! So netbook? Hmm Apple don’t make one? Mind you takeaway the cost issue (stay with me on this) and yes Apple do in all tense and purpose make a netbook style machine, known as MacBook Air. It’s a computer, ultraportable (11″ model), it’s not cheap (you can pay for it over 24 months if you be through Apple internet store), it’s not slow (the SSD drive makes it WOW fast, instant on from sleep!), it’s light, it’s robust, it’s…… Yes I bought one.
So back to the statement ‘netbooks are here to stay’ well mine is! And if it performs as my iBook G4 (remember 8 years and still going), they will be here for some years to come.
As for value for money.
Windows netbook cost divided by years of use equals ?
Macbook Air (11″) £867 divided by 8 years equals £108.38/year not bad for a netbook.

Woodinblack says:
16 May 2011

I have an iPad, and a netbook. my wife has a macbook air.

I had the netbook first. Useful things for taking on holiday with you where you are worried about it getting broken, and I found it useful for carrying to work. Got an iPad, haven’t used the netbook since. For what I use it for, showing products / taking orders at trade shows, internet away from the house, manual when taking things apart, light gaming and communication, viewing / showing photographs, it is hands down winner. There are things it isn’t as good as, like everything it is a compromise and you need to work out what is the best device for you, a lot of people seem to have a problem with people using other things than them, presumably a fear that they may have the wrong thing.
The netbook is certainly a more personal device, the iPad is best for showing things to people.
If i had to travel all the time for work, I would get the macbook air, it is the clear winner as a light device, but I am happy with my laptop at the moment

Chris Nation says:
6 July 2011

The iPad has one ginormous failing, one that is a deal-breaker for me and many other people – it will nor run Adobe Flash stuff. here’s why, from an Adobe flash developer.

“Current Flash sites could never be made work well on any touchscreen device, and this cannot be solved by Apple, Adobe, or magical new hardware”

So, I’ll stick with my nice Tosh netbook, thanks.

Damn Young says:
17 July 2011

I bought a basic Linux only flash based wifi netbook, with a miserable 800 by 420 screen. It is small, portable, and has a proper keyboard. The problems were: The low resolution gave a poor internet experience, with much awkward scrolling, plus the touchpad was rubbish. It required a USB rollerball mouse to be useful. And all that gubbins required a flat surface to put it on. Not so dinky and portable now eh?
Enter the tablet. I played with an ipad in PC World, and it was very slick, and big. The Samsung Galaxy Pad was also very slick (1024 by 600), but pocketable. I went for a WiFi only Galaxy Tab, at £299, and use with MiFi. This is the perfect combination for mobility. To do serious work I need a 1280 by 1024 desktop PC.

Angie Fitzgibbon says:
27 December 2011


Bit confused. I am a trainer which travels around a lot (usually around London) and I have been told that I can run training courses from a netbook. This would make life so much easier as its lighter. then I am told it will not run as it is slow so I am very confused.

Does anybody know the best cost effective system for a travelling trainer. All courses are on PP and will be projected onto a screen.

Please help

Confused Angie

Would have thought running PP shows would be no problem.
Dont know whether ypu have a lot of video in your PP presentations but
I used to use my Dell Mini 9 to watch BBC iPlayer through my main TV either by streaming or from WMP download without problem .

Angie Fitzgibbon says:
27 December 2011

Dear Rarrar

Running PP is not a prblem its just that my laptop (together with powerpack) gets heavy together with all the other stiff I have to carry. i was looking for a cost effective answer that wont break the bank but is also kinder to my shoulders thats why I was looking at Netbooks



Richard says:
9 March 2012

The best use I have seen for a Tablet (it was an iPad but could have worked with any tablet) was as a Wine list in a restaurant. For general use give me a laptop any day – you just cannot type reliably on an iPAD and I do not want to have to carry both a tablet and a laptop with me. The number of people that I see with a separate keyboard for the tablet is growing – and guess what you get when you add a keyboard to a tablet? A laptop! Clever marketing has created a so-called need for something that is not actually needed!