In Defence of the Netbook

El Reg is just the latest in a line of technology journalists to declare The Death Of The Netbook recently. Toshiba were out as early as May, Acer and Asus made their announcements in August and September 2012. The netbook manufacturers have seen consistent sales decline ever since the iPad came along and revolutionised tablets.

I'm here to defend netbooks. I think they're great, and I think they fill specific niches in the market which a tablet does not address.

First off, let's be clear about the fundamental problem with a tablet. A tablet computer is primarily for passive media consumption. Watching video, reading books, browsing images, playing casual games. Occasionally you might enter a 140-character comment on a social network or crop/rotate a photo, but that's about it.

A tablet is not a creative tool. A netbook is. A tablet is not suitable for note-taking, schoolwork or development. A netbook is.

As anyone who's attempted to use a tablet for note-taking will tell you, that's about it. You can't type much on a tablet. You can't create much. Heck, even jotting down some lecture notes on it is nigh on impossible. A student will get almost zero practical utility from a tablet; it might as well be a games console. I've seen various members of staff bring tablets along to business meetings for note-taking; but 2-3 weeks later, those staff members return to those meetings without their tablets - or, at least, they no longer use them for note-taking. Their only practical business use is for passively browsing wordprocessor/spreadsheet email attachments - but of couse they can't really edit those documents to any great extent on the tablet, they wait until they're back in front of a proper PC to do that. Whereas the ones using proper laptops or netbooks, actually do some work on those devices.

"Ah, but," I hear you cry, "you can get one of those cool add-on flimsy keyboards if you want to type on a tablet; the ones that come built-in to a faux-leather cover." Well, yes you can, but what you've done there is, you've put together a very expensive netbook with a very rubbish keyboard. If you have a need for a keyboard, then you're already foreseeing a situation where you're typing more than would be comfortable on a touch-screen, and therefore also more than would be comfortable on a rubber keyboard. Why not just buy a proper netbook? "Okay, but what about the Asus Transformer? That's got a proper keyboard!" Well, barely, but bear in mind the Transformer is about 400 quid and you could get a really good netbook for under £200. Essentially you'd be paying two hundred quid just to have a capacitive touch-screen. You could get a netbook and a good low-end tablet like the AndyPad and still have a hundred pounds left over!

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2012-09-05

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