Should I buy a netbook, ultrabook, notebook, or tablet?
If you’re in the market for a new computer (specifically, a portable one), you’ve got a lot more options than just Mac vs. PC these days. The portable computing market has at least four segments these days: Traditional notebooks, tiny netbooks, super-streamlined ultrabooks, and, of course, tablets like the iPad. Which do you choose? The answer will really depend on what you do with your computer:
- First things first: I’ve never been a fan of netbooks’ sluggish performance and cramped screen and keyboard real estate. It looks like the computer buying public agrees, with netbook sales dropping precipitously in the last year, particularly in the United States. Sure, you might be able to get a great deal on a netbook right now, but in the long run you’d probably be hoping to replace it in a year or two anyway. Consider a netbook only if (1) you’re broke, (2) your computer’s broke(n) too, and (3) your computer use is limited to web browsing, email, and social networking–but not a lot of content creation. Then reconsider–in reality you may be better-served with a refurbished notebook computer.
- If your computing needs are light (again, email and the web–and maybe some games) you’ll probably get more enjoyment out of a tablet like the iPad or one of its Android-based competitors. You’ll definitely get more portability out of it. I still do not recommend tablets for folks who are Office power users–the current desktop productivity apps available for tablets are stripped down compared to their Windows or Mac-based counterparts, and Microsoft Office proper is not yet available for tablets. And then there’s the issue with having to lug around a keyboard. Tablets aren’t a good solution for heavy content creators–at least, not yet. Ask me again in a year.
- Do you want something lightweight (in terms of actual weight), with good computing power, and a normal-sized screen and keyboard? Check out the growing ultrabook segment. If you’ve seen someone toting the sleek, lightweight MacBook Air, you’ll know what I mean. Ultrabooks are fast, lightweight, and typically start at under $1000. Of course, weight reduction comes at a cost: Ultrabooks may lack some of the ports you use regularly on your current computer, and they don’t include built-in DVD drives. If the latter is an issue, you can pick up an external USB drive inexpensively–but you may find yourself using it less and less these days, anyway.
- Finally, a case for the now-traditional notebook computer–its not as glamorous as its younger brothers the ultrabook or the tablet, but it still gets the job done. And, at least on the PC side, you can purchase a notebook for well under $1000 that will be serviceable for several years. If you haven’t figured out how to rid your life of physical media yet, and you create a lot of content, or you just want a real portable computer without breaking the bank, shop around for a well-specced notebook.
Photo: Thank you to Grant Hutchinson on Flickr. In case you’re curious, it’s a close-up of the Macintosh Portable, an early entry into portable computing from Apple. If you saw one today you’d laugh at what passed as “portable” in the late 1980s!
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- Google Chrome notebook pilot program