Your Canadian Information Technology SuperSource

Your Canadian Information Technology SuperSource


Tablets,Netbooks and Laptops

I have had a lot of people ask me about the entire tablet buzz, with a lot of people confused about the whole tablet, netbook, laptop area. I have made a little list to help clear some of the confusion and what to look for in each device.

 

 

Tablets

 

A tablet is essentially a slate without a physical keyboard present  (although some tablets have keyboard docking stations) and are made primarily for data consumption which makes them great for watching video, listening to audio, surfing the net, exchanging emails etcetera.  In other words they are great for data that has already been created. This is not to say that a tablet cannot be used to create data (such as video or audio), just that is not its intended purpose. Tablets are also known for their extended battery life as it is not uncommon for a tablet to last 7-10 hours on a single charge , with some capable of  up to 16 hours. Combine this with being ultra-portable and it is no wonder why these devices have been very popular. Tablets also come in basically four different ‘flavours’.

The iPad is a 10 inch tablet and is by far away the most popular tablet. The iPad also has the major market share of 73 percent and being forecast to stay in the 70-80 percent range in the future. Currently in its second incarnation the iPad boasts a dual core Apple A5, front and rear cameras but no USB port. The Ipad2 comes in Wi-Fi and 3G versions and in 16GB/32GB/64GB editions. The iPad also boasts a very strict and orderly App Store, which is Apple’s application distribution center.

Next comes the Android versions, which is developed openly by Google and available free to anyone under the open source license. Any manufacturer who wants to use the Google Android trademark though must have their devices certified by Google. Being open source, the manufacturers can (and do) modify the OS for their own products. There are many different manufactures of different devices with different features and sizes; with each has their own strength and weaknesses. One thing to note as well, currently almost all Honeycomb tablets (Android 3.0+) all use the same NVidia Tegra 2. The Android Market, which is the Google equivalent to Apples App Store, is by far less restrictive than the App Store. This not always a good thing though as malware has been found on the Market Place more than once.

The next tablet is from Research In Motion (RIM) with its Playbook and is one of the most puzzling entries in the tablet arena. Coming in at 7 inches it is also one of the smaller tablets on the market. Combine this with the facts that the Playbook requires a blackberry to access native email, calendar and BBM functions with  a $500 price tag (which is the same for numerous 10 inch Android tablets) you can clearly see this is a niche tablet aimed primarily for blackberry users. The Playbook comes with front and rear cameras, USB and micro HDMI in 16GB/32GB/64GB editions.

The tablets coming with Microsoft Windows are an unusual bunch, and basically share the form factor of the tablets and not much else. The current tablets running Microsoft Windows 7 use either an i5 processor or atom processor .With the i5 processor you have full blown version of Windows but only get up to two hours battery life. With a hefty $1 000+ price tag these tablets are again for a niche audience. As for the Atom processor (as I will describe in the netbook section), you will get lacklustre performance and mediocre battery life.

A quick note about Windows 8 tablets, there will be two different types, an ARM version and an Intel version. It is good to note that the ARM versions will not natively run the same programs made for the Intel architecture (i.e. x86 or x64). I would expect the ARM version to have much better battery life, but as compared to other tablets, time will tell

 

Netbooks

Netbooks look like a small laptop with a screen which is usually ten inches but they can go up to 12 inches as well. For the Windows version, they are usually powered by a version of Intel’s Atom Processor, but there are some i3 and i5 varieties as well. The one thing notable about netbooks is the absence of an optical drive.

The main draws to netbooks are the small size and that they are relatively inexpensive, while the drawbacks are lacklustre to bad performance with the atom processor. As soon as you go to a more powerful processor, the price increase is usually more than that of a laptop. Also when the Atom processor is compared to the i3 it comes out around 3-5 times slower, but the Atom processor does have lower power consumption .

One of the major problems with netbooks is they are usually shipped with 1 GB of ram, but Windows 7 x86 (32 bit) also requires a minimum of 1 GB of ram, making them almost pointless out of the box!

Most netbooks have some sort of integrated front facing camera with microphone as well as the usual wireless networking (802.11b,g,n) a and a fast (100m) Ethernet port

With everything being said, I tend to discourage people from netbooks unless they absolutely need the small size as I find the performance so far below par to make up for any potential savings ( I say potential savings because  if you have to purchase to an external DVD rom drive, the savings will be slim to none) .

 

Laptops

As for laptops, they can go from 14 inches to 21 inches, from the 300 dollar econo level models to a stratospheric 11K full blown high end desktop replacement. The possible configurations are endless, so I will just go through a list of the most important features to look for.

  1. Keyboard-Yes a good keyboard is very important. Considering you will be using it quite extensively, the proper ergonomic fit is very important. Make sure you try out the keyboard to make sure it is right for YOU
  2. Ram- With Windows 7 x64 minimum ram requirements being 2 GB does it really make any sense to skimp out here?  The bare minimum of ram these days should be 4GB, with 8GB preferable.
  3. CPU- There are so many different CPUs that it would be impossible to list all of them here, but there are a few things to look for. An i3 is Intel’s entry level chip while the i5 is their midrange and the i7 is their high end flagship CPU.  For AMD look for a A6 or A8. AMD does not run as fast as its Intel counterparts, but is more affordable.
  4. Hard Drive-As for hard drive space, the bigger the better. That being said for most users 500-640 GB should be enough. Another option that may be available on high end laptops are SSDs. Though still very expensive and very small, they are very fast.

Most laptops have front facing camera with a microphone, the usual wireless networking (802.11b,g,n) and gigabit (1G) Ethernet .Bluetooth is also becoming very popular as well

 

In The End

As you can see, tablets have a limited one sided functionality, namely being data consumption and netbooks are underpowered that really requires a lot of patience. That is why I would never have been able to write this article on a tablet or a netbook.

Also neither tablets nor netbooks have anywhere near the configurability of a laptop. With a tablet you are pretty much set on which CPU and the amounts of ram you can have. With a netbook you have very limited upgrade options. This is why a tablet will never replace a laptop.

 

As always leave your comments below

 

**Update**

Since writing this article, Amazon has come out with their own 7 inch tablet. Although called the Kindle Fire, it bears little resemblance with the rest of their Kindle lineup as it does not use the E ink display and as such is not as good for reading books and magazines as the other Kindles.  Although some will compare the Kindle Fire to the Blackberry Playbook because of its size and similar CPU, they have little in common. The Kindle Fire is powered by a custom version of the Android OS but does not have access to the Android Market; instead the Kindle Fire has access to the Amazon App Store (which other android devices also can access by downloading the Amazon App Store app). Since the Kindle Fire has only 512 Megs of ram and only 8 gigs of storage (with no SD card support), it is a fairly closed system that seems to made to consume Amazon Cloud content. This Kindle does have a very good price at $200 (US only for now)

**Update-2**

Trouble again for RIM? It might seem so, with the coming of the new tablets based on NVidia’s new Kal-El (a penta-core CPU to be known as Tegra 3) and now RIM has suggested that the Playbook 2.0 update might not be ready until February of 2012 (with still no native BBM app). RIM might find themselves trying to compete with a dual core CPU against a 5 core CPU. No wonder the rumours of RIM killing off the Playbook (as did HP with their TouchPad) are so prevalent.  The X factor in all this is again that the Playbook is aimed at blackberry users.

 

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