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Buyers guide: Laptop, netbook or smartphone?

We look at which device is right for you

When it comes to computing on the go, should you plump for a laptop, netbook or smartphone? We've looked at the pros and cons of the various devices for several common portable-computing tasks in a bid to help you choose.

Browsing the web

It happens a dozen times a day: you're away from your desk and you have to look up something online, or you have a few minutes to kill reading online news. Do you really need a full-size laptop to have a good web browsing experience?

Laptop

Larger screens make it easier to see more of a website, and they all but eliminate formatting problems. You'll need to find a Wi-Fi connection or have a 3G modem and data plan to get online, though.

You may also have to wait a while for your laptop to boot up, and who wants to carry around a 2Kg computer just to check a few websites?

At least you get to use any browser you wish, with whatever add-ons you want.

Of course, you have access to Flash, Silverlight and any other web technologies you choose, too.

Netbook
For the web, netbooks have some advantages over full laptops.

Primarily, they're smaller, lighter, and less expensive; also important for the heavy web user on the go is netbooks' superior battery life.

The limited screen resolution can sometimes make it hard to see most of the web pages you visit, so get used to a lot of scrolling.

As with laptops, you can use any browser and any add-ons you desire.

Smartphone
In some ways, a good modern smartphone can be the best way to browse the web on the road, despite the obvious limitations of the small screen.

Smartphones are virtually always connected, and their 'instant-on' nature gets you to the site you want to read without making you wait through a long boot-up process.

The latest phones have very good web browsers and screens, but browser selection is limited and add-on support is almost non-existent - and you can forget about Flash unless you run an Android phone with the 2.2 software update.

What to buy
Netbooks and laptops offer great browsing and full user control, but purchasing a PC just to browse a few websites is almost overkill.

If you're going to spend half an hour or more browsing the web, an inexpensive netbook may be your best choice.

If you just want to pop in on a couple of sites, the instant-on, always-connected nature of a smartphone makes it the winner despite the somewhat limited control it gives you over which browsers and add-ons to use.

NEXT PAGE: Watching video

  1. We look at what device is right for you
  2. Home and student life
  3. Browsing the web
  4. Watching video
  5. Playing games
  6. Keeping in touch

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