Should I Buy A Cheap Tablet Or A Netbook?

Tablet computers are hot this year, like netbooks were hot two years ago. On a low budget, which should you buy?
By , Last updated on: 12/3/2014

Netbooks were the next big thing in early 2009, ready to change the way we look at mobile computing. Fast-forward two years, and netbooks look like an anomaly in the progression of mobile computing. Cratering sales figures make them look like a half-baked stopgap in the post-smartphone world before tablets were ready for primetime.

In a foretelling move, Apple -- which by now is either, depending on your opinion a) actually able to envision the future or b) commanding a global squad of sycophantic sheeple who must conform, consume, obey everything proclaimed by emperor Jobs -- completely skipped the netbook fad. During the now-legendary iPad unveiling, the Turtlenecked One famously quipped that "netbooks aren't better at anything." We instinctively knew he was right -- the guy's been right for 25 years and running.

Tablets are big business now. Apple has already sold more than 15 million iPads, and Generation Two hit shelves last weekend. Dozens of unknown "white label" Android tablets are already out there, available for a song even at drugstores. Motorola and Samsung have launched worthy iPad competitors, and -- going by CES numbers -- at least 75 more are set to drop sometime this year.

But the takeover is not complete just yet. It's March 2011. You have your $400 Making Work Pay federal tax credit in hand. You need a cheap computer. Do you play it safe and go for a netbook, or live a little dangerously and spring for an unknown Android tablet?

Buy The Netbook...

A half-baked computer is a better option than a half-baked, oversized Android slab without an antenna. A tablet's physique is much more attractive in many ways; its thinner than most decent magazines, weighs less than a pound, and battery life is much longer. Netbooks might just be crippled laptops, but they're still laptops at heart. A netbook's 10-inch screen matches a tablet's, but the netbook also has a keyboard -- if you do any small amount of word processing, you will miss the keyboard. More importantly, you'll never wish you didn't have a keyboard.

In any case, you should be concerned about function than form at this price point. Netbooks are faster and, since they run Windows 7, are more "customizable" than Androids. Not that we encourage dubious computer antics, but on Android, you can only download and watch what Google says you're allowed to download and watch. On Windows, you can be as good or as bad as you want to be when it comes to "acquiring" music, movies, and more. Look at it this way: You won't be running Photoshop on either device, but at least go for the one that will let you try to run Photoshop if you have the gall or the ignorance to try.

...Or Ask Us Again in Six Months

The advice above applies right now. Tablets are the future. In a few short months, when cheap Androids might come with Honeycomb (aka Android 3.0, rather than the 2.x or even 1.x versions on current white-label models) and might be able to process 720p high-def video, our tune could change. It's clear that most folks use their computers primarily as consumption devices rather than production devices. When crap tablets catch up to the consumption side, they'll be the cheap devices to beat. For now, grab a netbook.

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