SideXSide: Tablets Vs. Netbooks

With all the hoopla surrounding Apple's iPad and other tablet computing devices, it's understandable if you've completely written off netbooks as an option. But, there are certain functions for which these mini-computers might prove a better fit than a tablet. Check out our SideXSide comparison of common tablet and netbook features to see for yourself.

In the enterprise, mobile computing is a hot-button issue. Companies around the world are trying to determine which devices -- tablets, smartphones, notebooks, or netbooks -- are best to put in the hands of their employees. Tablets, particularly the Apple iPad, get all the attention today. In fact, worldwide sales of tablets are expected to bring in $59 billion in revenue by 2015. And, a large portion of those devices will be picked up by enterprise customers. but netbooks are still a worthwhile option for some companies.

So, what about netbooks? The small, lightweight computers caught on in a big way in 2009, but their value to customers started to decline last year as tablets turned the mobile market upside down. Nevertheless, some businesses see them as superior alternatives to tablets for employees who need to get work done while on the road. Check out our SideXSide comparison of common netbook and tablet features to help you decide which class of device will suit your employees' needs.

SideXSide: Tablets Vs. Netbooks




User Interaction

Tablets won't provide employees with traditional interactivity. Rather than offer a mouse or trackpad and keyboard like traditional computers, tablets require users to interact with Web pages, documents, and other apps via a touch screen. That means that, save for using a stand and add-on physical keyboard, users will likely be forced to hold the tablet in one hand and interact with it with the other hand.

Netbooks have the form of traditional laptops. Users can interact with the devices by either thumbing their way around the included touchpad or connecting a USB mouse. In addition, netbooks have physical keyboards, which makes the process of typing much easier than on a tablet's virtual keyboard.

Operating System(s)

Tablets operating systems on the market today include Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and Windows. RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, featuring its BlackBerry Tablet OS, hit the market in April.

For the most part, netbooks are running Windows, especially Windows 7. Enterprise customers can also find some netbooks running Linux.

Key Features

Not all tablets are created equal, but they have some features in common.  They all sport touchscreens and virtual keyboards. In addition, the devices typically come with display sizes that range between 5 inches and 10.1 inches. They all run on mobile operating systems (except for the small number of Windows tablets), and feature application stores for users to add programs. More than anything, tablets are meant to be mobile and cannot handle resource-intensive tasks.

Netbooks come in many different shapes and sizes, but for the most part, their screens are between 8 inches and 12 inches. They all feature physical keyboards and run Windows. Like tablets, they're made to be mobile and cannot handle resource-intensive tasks. Netbooks can sometimes weigh less than a pound, depending on device, and are generally incapable of being updated, which means customers must buy a new one if the computer is no longer functional.

Productivity Considerations

With tablets, employees will be able to do just about anything they can on a computer, which means streaming video, listening to music, accessing games from an applications marketplace, and more. And, since tablets don't come with physical keyboards and the basic input device is the user's hand, it might be difficult for some users to type out long e-mails and documents. Web browsing is also less appealing for some models; for example, iPad 2, the most popular tablet, does not support Flash.

When it comes to netbooks, employees will be tempted by streaming video content and the ability to listen to music from their devices. They can also play games from the platform, though netbooks don't support mobile applications. Beyond that, productivity shouldn't be hit too hard with a Windows-based netbook, since enterprise applications will be running on those computers. Plus, with the ability to have a physical keyboard and traditional input device, netbook users shouldn't have any trouble typing out documents or browsing the Web.

Size Considerations

As noted, there are several different screen sizes when it comes to tablets. However, the world's top tablet, the iPad 2, comes with a 9.7-inch display. It's also quite thin, making it a fine mobile companion. Enterprise-focused tablets, including the BlackBerry PlayBook and upcoming Cisco Cius offer 7-inch displays. Keep in mind that the bigger the screen, the more useful tablets are.

Netbooks are designed to be extremely mobile. Because of that, they offer small screen sizes and extremely small footprints. They aren't as easy to carry around as a tablet, since they are a bit thicker, but they're extremely light, which makes them easy to carry around. As with tablets, netbooks featuring larger displays are more likely to help employees do their work, but if mobility is what you're after, opt for the smaller models.

App Availability

App availability differs depending on tablet model. Apple's iPad, for example, offers 65,000 applications, while the BlackBerry PlayBook offers only 3,000 apps at this point. Android-based tablet apps also pale in comparison to those available on the iPad. However, there aren't a slew of business applications available on iPad, which might be a problem for companies.

Since the vast majority of available netbooks run Windows, CIOs shouldn't have any trouble finding programs that can run on the netbooks. Even better, many of the programs available in the enterprise will be capable of running on netbooks. That said, if users are looking for a selection of applications, on the scale of the offerings available for the iPad, they won't find them.


Tablets are being updated quite rapidly. That means you might need to buy a new tablet for customers every couple years.

Considering that netbook sales are plummeting around the globe, they might not be available and supported for all that much longer, which means companies might eventually need to move to tablets anyway.

Security Concerns

If companies opt for the iPad, security concerns are practically non-existent when it comes to malware. At this point, malicious hackers are not able to attack iOS through traditional means. However, companies will need to worry about malware on Android-based tablets. And across the entire market, network exploits are still possible. As with any other device, it's important that companies keep security in mind and lock down tablets as much as possible to ensure employees won't let information seep out in the wild.

Since the vast majority of netbooks are running Windows, you'll need to remember that the security concerns you're dealing with on your company's desktops and laptops will continue with the lightweight alternatives. Therefore, be sure to add security software to all the netbooks you deploy, and keep in mind that employees might engage in unsafe behaviors that could put your network in danger.

Models Available 

There are several tablets on store shelves, including the Apple iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and Dell Streak 7. The RIM BlackBerry PlayBook is designed for corporate customers. Several more tablets are on the way.

Practically all the major PC vendors, including HP and Dell, offer netbooks. 


Pricing varies, depending on the device. You can expect to pay $400 - $830 for a worthwhile tablet, plus carrier fees if you opt for a cellular-capable device rather than a WiFi-only model.

Pricing varies, depending on the device. However, CIOs can expect to pay between $250 and $600 for a worthwhile netbook, plus carrier fees if you opt for a cellular-capable device rather than a WiFi-only model.

This article was originally published on 04-22-2011
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