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Buyers guide: laptop, netbook or tablet?

We help you work out what's right for you

If your PC is about to die, then you'll probably start thinking about a new machine. However, with the appearance of laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs, you're not restricted to another desktop machine. But before you dig out your wallet, here's seven questions you need to ask to determine what's right for you.

3. Do I need to run Windows applications?

No contest here. The standard laptop will let you run any Windows application you need without a lot of fuss. Netbooks will too, but since they have less powerful processors and less memory, they won't do a good job on resource-intensive applications like Photoshop or CAD programs. The iPad isn't even playing in this game.

4. Do I need to run Office Applications?

You need a laptop or a netbook to run Microsoft Office. But that's not the end of the story. Although the iPad does not run either the Windows or Mac version of Office, Apple does offer a number of nifty applications that will give you many of the same features. For £5.99 each, you can buy Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets and Keynote for presentations. Those apps are compatible with Office documents, but not surprisingly they don't offer all of the features and formatting options. Still, they do a decent job.

5. My back hurts, what's the lightest load?

If all else is equal, the iPad is a total no-brainer. It weighs in at a mere 680 to 730g, while a typical netbook tips the scale at around 1.3Kg. Unless you spring for something really expensive (say the Macbook Air), a laptop can feel like the proverbial ton of bricks.

6. What's best for writing work?

Well, there's writing and there's writing. If you're talking about sending short emails or short posts, any one of these will do. There's no doubt, though, that for heavy duty writing, you want a full-sized physical keyboard - and that means a laptop.

One of the nasty little secrets of the netbook is that most (there are exceptions) have scaled down keyboards. That means some function and navigation keys are in odd places or even missing, and the key tops are smaller and closer together than on a standard laptop. If writing is something you'll do a lot of, be sure to tryout the keyboard.

What about the iPad's keyboard? I think it's a matter of taste. I find onscreen keyboards hard to use; others don't. You will notice that both the onscreen keyboard and the physical one you can buy as an accessory are short on shortcuts, an annoying feature of the operating system. Again, try it out before you buy it.

7. Do I want to play a lot of games?

Games have gotten so complex and resource hungry that sometimes even a laptop is hard-pressed to deliver a good experience. A netbook? Forget about it. There are games for the iPad, but if you want lots of action, look elsewhere.

See also: PC Advisor's ultimate guide to buying a laptop

  1. Work out what's right for you
  2. Do I need to run Windows applications?
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