Laptop vs Tablet: 2009 edition
December 5, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Computer Selection Filter: I've been thinking about getting a laptop (or a netbook) for a while, but I've been holding out in hopes of tablets getting cheaper. If I'm not including the costlier tablets, I'm wondering why I shouldn't get a netbook. Lots of pondering inside.

I have a desktop Windows PC that is suitable for my needs (casual Photoshop use, general word processing/ internet browsing/ video watching, not into video games), plus an external HD for back-up and additional storage. My wife has a laptop that we use for browsing the 'net and watching movies while waiting in airports, but it's her computer and she gets annoyed when I download music or videos, so I keep that to a minimum.

I'd love a tablet for pen/touch-based input with Photoshop, so tablet PCs seemed fantastic, but new models seem to be set firmly in the $1,000+ range. I love the idea of sketching directly into the computer, but I don't know if this pricepoint is worth it if hobby-level use. The Always Innovating Touch Book seemed like a fantastic little tablet netbook, but the forum discussions aren't positive. Are there some reasonable tablets I'm missing, or are tablets expensive because of the materials? Are used tablets reliable at all? And if I don't get a tablet, what would be the bonus of getting a larger laptop over a netbook?

Also, I like the idea of ebooks, but having a single use device of that sort seems limited, when compared to netbooks or laptops. I know digital ink displays are more paper-like and use no energy to display a set image, but I don't think I'd make enough use of a dedicated ebook.

Features I'd like:
- tablet screen (ideal, but not necessary if too costly)
- 6+ hours per charge
- decent screen for viewing websites and text docs as formatted

- line in recording port
- microphone for Skype
- video camera for Skype
posted by filthy light thief to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The next set of reference platforms for netbooks is due soon (February, I think), and that's when all the sweet-spot new models will be faster and have more features. Touchscreens are still expensive parts, though, so other than the mythical-maybe-soon Mac tablet, I doubt they'll be in the entry-level models even then.

But this also means that right now is a great time to buy the "current" generation of netbook. Mine was $180, so if it turns out to feel underpowered by next summer, not much loss there.
posted by rokusan at 10:23 AM on December 5, 2009

The Asus T91 is a tablet/netbook that might work for you, with pricing just under $500.
posted by exogenous at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2009

Apple's rumored tablet may fall well under the $1000 mark and would have most of the features you are requesting, whether it is based on the OS X desktop or iPhone operating system. It might be worth waiting for, depending on your budget.

Just an side note that any netbook-factor device with 6+ hours of battery life (and between the $350-600 window of Acer, Dell and similar brand netbooks) will use an Atom or ARM processor with equivalently weaker graphics processors, which will be underpowered for any significant graphics work. You might have to adjust your expectations, depending on your budget.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 AM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: Tag-along question: are there any systems that would allow the tablets to connect with another computer as an input-only device?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on December 5, 2009

Some of the netbooks available next year should have screens that toggle between regular back-lit mode and a higher-resolution ebook reader mode. (Video, Pixel Qi's website).

I've been putting off buying one because of this.
posted by nangar at 2:25 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my girlfriend has an HP netbook and I would never, ever want to use it for Photoshop. The screen is 1000something by 500something and I find it barely big enough for text editing, let alone image editing. I'm not sure if other models have higher resolution, but if you get a small computer make sure the screen is adequate.
posted by scose at 4:47 PM on December 5, 2009

Input only tablets are pretty common - check out Wacom tablets.
posted by jacalata at 6:17 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: scose - I was thinking of a tablet PC for Photoshop, or a netbook for things other than Photoshop. It would just be an "everything else" computer.

jacalata - I was hoping that some tablet PC-type thing would double as an input device for a more powerful computer. Otherwise, option 2 would be to get a Wacom + a netbook, each serving their own purposes.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:27 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: More forthcoming tech from CES 2010, which could change netbooks/ notebooks/ tablets. Lots of speculation, but some projected release timeframes.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:44 PM on January 11, 2010

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