My $200 Laptop Can Beat Your $500 Tablet

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Everywhere I go these days, my friends slam laptops. They tell me my PC of choice is a dying breed and sing the praises of their new, "post-PC" Apple iPad.

Lenovo ThinkPad X30
Lenovo ThinkPad X30
They carefully pull out their Apple device. I admire it and then say: "So where do you insert the DVD? How do you bang out a long e-mail on a touch keyboard? Oh, and guess how much less I paid for my little Lenovo ThinkPad X30 laptop than you did for your iPad."

I recognize that the iPad is thin, light, and easy to travel with, and I understand the advantages of portable entertainment. But if you don't need the prestige of having the latest-and-greatest tech, I believe you can get all that and much more for much less than the cost of a new tablet. All you have to do is tote around another measly pound or two.

If you're willing to take a chance on used equipment, you can find slightly older laptops on Craigslist starting at about $200. Also check out PCWorld's Daily Deals.

[PCWorld Business Center blogger Tony Bradley responds in the Net Work blog: Why My $185 Tablet Crushes Your $200 Laptop.]

My Reasons

Here are the top reasons that I think my used ThinkPad--which I paid about $200 for--crushes your iPad 2, which new, starts at $499 and can run more than $800, depending on the configuration. (Of course, a used iPad 1's price would be lower; on Craigslist, prices started at around $400 on the day I checked.)

My ThinkPad has a CD and DVD player/burner: If you're into permanently saving photos, music, or movies, or if you're serious about backing up your hard drive and programs, you probably need to burn discs occasionally. Your relatives in Indiana need a copy of the video of cousin Paul's drum recital, or they'd love to look at a CD containing pictures taken during your night trip to Alcatraz. You can't cram everything onto Facebook.

It has a physical keyboard: Most iPad users readily admit typing data-intensive text on their tablet's touch keyboard is difficult. I'll go further: I detest typing on a touch keyboard. As PCWorld reviewer Jon L. Jacobi sarcastically puts it: "Overpriced pads: Touchscreens without keyboards. How innovative." Flimsy, add-on keyboards don't cut it. Give me a solid, built-in board like the one on my ThinkPad. It's one of the best laptop keyboards ever, and I still like the old-school Trackpoint eraserhead cursor control.

It has lots more storage space: If you want to download and store tons of decent-quality movies, TV shows, videos, music, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, and the like, the iPad 2's maximum 64GB of storage falls short. Even the 250GB of storage on a decent laptop fills up faster than you might expect. (I do grant you that you can easily back up almost anything to external storage or to a cloud-based service.)

It has useful and versatile ports: No USB port on an iPad? Sure you can buy a pricey adapter, but what if you want to plug in a mouse, digital camera, and/or printer? So much for the iPad's smooth lines and ease of use. Being able to insert a USB device or a thumbdrive into my laptop is essential to me.

As for Apple's iPad, here are a few of my least favorite things about it.

Apple iPad 2
Apple iPad 2
The iPad doesn't support multitasking: As a result, I can't listen to sports talk radio online, check to see if little Charlie has bitten anyone else's finger, and type my blog, all at the same time. Such versatility is why I love mobile computers--and it alone will ensure my allegiance to laptops.

It is confined by the limits of iTunes: Jared Newman, a PCWorld blogger, summed it up: "Even if you never sync a single piece of media from a computer to an iPad, you still need iTunes on a PC or Mac to keep the tablet's software up to date. This needs to change," he wrote in the Today@PCWorld blog. (For a longer look at the iPad 2's limitations, check Jared Newman's list of 5 Disappointments With Apple iPad 2.)

Its battery isn't replacable: I know the iPad has respectable battery life, but if you ever have to work on a long plane ride and in a café with no available power outlets, you need excellent battery life and a back-up cell that is easy to install. This isn't possible on either model of iPad. As on all other Apple mobile devices, the battery is sealed and nonreplaceable.

Where do you stand on the laptop/netbook versus iPad issue? Let us know in the Comments section.

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