First the netbook, then iPad, and now Chroomebook. With Google’s launch of Chromebooks, the market for mini laptops, or netbooks, has only heated up. Netbook, iPad or Chromebook – the choice is very confusing.
The landscape for portable gadgets has changed so much in the last 12 months, that it is difficult to compare mini laptops.
With netbooks, iPads and now Samsung Series 5 Chromebook all available for less than US$500, these gadgets are competing with cheap laptops.
When it comes to choosing the perfect portable computer, the choice gets even more confusing with not just two, but four operating systems to choose from: Apple iOS, Windows 7, Google Android and now Google Chrome.
Leaving the high-end desktops and laptops markets alone, the competition is growing in a relatively virgin territory between cheap laptops and high-end smartphones.
So what’s the best value for US$500? Let’s see.
iPad 2, 16GB with Wi-Fi
9.7 inches screen
1GHz dual-core A5 processor
16GB flash storage
Weight: 1.32 pounds
What’s hot: With a wide range of iPad Apps, multi-touch screen, only 0.34 inch thick, 11.6 inches bright IPS display, iPad 2 has seen many improvments over the first generation iPad. It runs on Apple’s fast A5 processor, and offers fantastic battery life. Comes with front and rear cameras.
What’s not: As with any Apple products, iPad requires expensive iPad accessories like SD, USB and HDMI. It also limits your use to Apple-supported programmes because iOS can run only those apps in the iPad App Store. No physical keyboard.
Verdict: It is one of the lightest portable devices available in the market, which makes it the device of choice while travelling. But it puts many limitations of programmes and handling.
Chromebook Samsung Series 5 with 3G
12.1 inches screen
1.66GHz dual core Intel Atom N570
What’s hot: Weighs 3.3 pounds, is only 0.79 inch thick and boots in 8 seconds. Has an SD card slot.
What’s not: Needs broadband connection most of the times because onboard storage is low and Google wants users to use online storage: Chrome is a browser-based OS which is too new to be reliable; Intel Atom processor is slow.
Verdict: Faster boot and lighter weight makes it a very handy portable device. However you can get a faster Windows Atom-powered netbook for cheaper price and more features.
HP Pavilion dm1z
11.6 inches screen
1.66GHz AMD E-350 dual-core
Windows 7 Home Premium OS
What’s hot: Works on a smooth Atom AMD E-350 processor and 7200rpm fast hard drive; runs features-rich Windows 7 Home Premium; also packs in a SD card slot.
What’s not: Does not boot as fast as iPad or Chromebook; no 3G yet; OS is a big cumbersome and slow; weighs 3.4 pounds
Verdit: For its price, HP Pavilion dm1z offers all the features of a full laptop, though it is a bit slow to start, and is a bit bulky to carry around.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
10.1 inches screen
Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor
16GB flash storage
Android Honeycomb OS
Weight: 1.24 pounds
Price: Not announced yet
What’s hot: Lighter than iPad (only marginally) and as thin. Like iPad, has multitouch screen and bright IPS display; high-quality camera, wide range of Android Apps, Honeycomb OS can be adapted to suit; can run Flash.
What’s not: Android’s Tablet Market offers fewer apps than Android Phone Market and iOS App Store; same lack of ports as the iPad 2; the tablet experience, by nature, has its limits.
Verdict: Android’s App store is wider than Chrome’s at this stage. But 3G Glaxy tab is likely to be more expensive.
So which netbook should I buy?
It will really depend on your need, however, if you compare all the features and the prices, then HP DM1Z is a clear winner. It is fully-loaded laptop for the price of a netbook, and much lighter than a laptop. It’s operating system has been in use for a while now and it is more stable. The runner up place goes to iPad, for its light weight, bright display and faster processor.
Android tablets have a long way to go before they reach level of advancement as Android smart phones. And it is too early to comment on Chromebooks.
So there you have it.
Steve Cabbit is a technology writer with a regular column in leading technology publications.