iPad vs. Netbook: It's a Close Call

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Playing Games

If you're going to carry your computer adjunct along with you everywhere, you'd better be able to get your portable game on.

iPad: Considering the way that the iPhone and iPod Touch took off as game devices, the strong support for the iPad from game developers is hardly surprising. Sure, you can play your iPhone/Touch games in an enlarged mode, but that's not a great experience. Games optimized for the iPad are, so far, a huge leap over their iPhone/Touch brethren. The bigger screen and superior performance make possible a whole new class of games. Though the games often carry higher prices than do games for the iPhone or Touch, they're still quite inexpensive in comparison to most standard PC games.

Netbook: When it comes to games, netbooks leave a lot to be desired. Netbooks can run any PC game that is playable without an optical drive, but their performance is so poor that all the best high-end games are out of reach. Premium netbooks equipped with nVidia's Ion graphics or those built on AMD's platform fare better, but they still force users to accept too many compromises. Here, the fact that the iPad is a separate platform requiring specific support works to its advantage. Even Flash-based Web games can be difficult for a netbook to handle: Many won't fit in the limited-size browser window, and others often bog down when the game's action gets hectic.

Advantage: iPad. Despite the huge potential library of PC games that a netbook gives you access to, we think that the iPad has the gaming edge. By developing games specifically for that platform, developers are creating an excellent experience that you just can't get from most PC games on a netbook.

And the Winner Is...

The choice of a winner isn't as clearcut as you might suppose. The better choice for a PC companion really depends on what you want to do with the device. If your primary need is a system for work, the netbook's superiority is indisputable. For entertainment, however, the iPad has the edge, thanks to its superior overall gaming experience and better-quality audio and video--despite its lack of flexibility. Netbooks have the advantage in browsing the Web, but the iPad is a surprisingly capable and enjoyable Web browsing device even though it doesn't support Adobe Flash. At this point, with iPad prices starting at $500, we think most users will get more for their money from a $350 netbook. But if Apple chops a couple hundred bucks off the price of its iPad, the decision would be much harder to make.

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At a Glance
  • Apple looks set to shake up casual computing with a tablet that offers clever design and ease of use. But that streamlined approach may also be the iPad's weakness.

    Pros

    • Best-in-class touch interface
    • Large display shows pics and videos beautifully
    • All-day battery life

    Cons

    • No way to manage files, no camera, no multitasking
    • Lack of Flash support cripples many Web sites
    • Poor scaling of iPhone apps
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