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Netbooks vs tablets: which is best?

Should you buy a netbook or a tablet? Find out here

Netbooks are low-powered laptops with low prices, small screens and small keyboards. They can appear to be a bargain if you're after a more portable replacement for your old laptop or PC but, for many people, a tablet is a better purchase these days.

A few years ago, netbooks were hot property. Instead of shelling out over a thousand pounds for an ultra-portable laptop, you could have something that was just as light (and maybe smaller) for a couple of hundred pounds.

That was before the iPad, though.

Some people laughed and scoffed when Steve Jobs first showed off the original iPad back in 2010, claiming that no-one needed a touchscreen slate as we already had laptops and netbooks. However, three years later, the tablet is certainly here to stay; netbooks have faded away.

There are several reasons why you're probably better off with a tablet.

iPad edit photos

First, they're considerably lighter and more portable than a netbook, even if you go for one with a 10in screen. The biggest tablets have 11.6in screens, and tend to be those running Windows 8.

Second, tablets are 'always-on'. The benefit of having a device that never really switches off can't be underestimated. Where a netbook could take a minute or two to boot up, a tablet is instantly ready to go when you tap the sleep/wake button.

Tablets can be turned off completely, but there's usually no need. Unlike a netbook which will typically last only a day or so in sleep mode, a tablet could last for weeks.

This brings us neatly to the fourth tablet advantage: battery life. Although there are some dire tablets out there, choose wisely and you'll be able to use one all day and not even think about finding a charger. Even the best netbook can't compete with a long-lasting tablet, and many last only a few hours before conking out.

Fourth, tablets have touchscreens. This means you don't often miss a keyboard or touchpad since every app is designed to be used with your fingers. As well as being well suited to browsing photos, choosing music and watching videos, tablets are also great for browsing the web. Modern touchscreens are surprisingly sensitive, so you can accurately 'click' on web links without zooming in on most websites - forget any notion of them being like your car satnav with its old-school screen that needed a good prod to register your input.

Fifth, instead of programs tablets run apps. They're essentially the same thing, but each tablet offers an app store where you can browse, choose and install apps right from your device - usually for just a pound or so. Choose the right tablet, and the app store will have everything you need, including office apps such as a word processor or spreadsheet if you need them.

Sixth, tablets have better screens than netbooks. One of the big problems with many netbooks was screen resolution. The standard fare was a 10-inch 1024x600-pixel display, but that was too small for Windows XP, which netbooks typically ran. It wasn't enough to show some dialogue boxes and everything felt very cramped. Almost all tablets have more pixels than this, but as their operating systems are designed with
bigger icons and finger-friendly menus, resolution isn't an issue.

Seventh, tablets can be just as good for typing documents as a netbook. If one of your priorities is word processing, an on-screen keyboard isn't all that comfortable to use compared with the best netbook keyboards. But unless you have stick-like fingers, most netbooks' keys were too small anyway. Plus, their tiny dimensions meant small touchpads, whereas you have the entire screen of a tablet.

If you must have a keyboard, there are several options. One is a Bluetooth keyboard. Most tablets can be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard to give you real keys and to free up room on screen so you can see what you're typing (instead of using half of it for the on-screen keyboard). Some are better than others, so read reviews before you buy.

Another option is to use your voice. Siri on the iPad is surprisingly accurate and can be used successfully for dictation. If you have an Android tablet, there are different apps which work a similar way.

Finally, there's performance. Netbooks are mostly hobbled with slow processors and a limited amount of memory. Some can't even handle playing HD videos on YouTube and even faster models are slow by today's standards.

Tablets have similar levels of power, but they use it more efficiently. Plus, they have dedicated graphics chips for games. Take a look at Real Racing 3 on a new iPad and you'll see quality that betters an Xbox 360. No netbook can hope to compete with that.

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