Help me pick a portable laptop/netbook/tablet that boots fast.
September 23, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I recently played with an iPad, and I definitely see the appeal. I tend to hate touchscreens in favor of clickable keyboards, but I do see the use of touchscreens in web browsing, e-book reading, etc. I like the form factor and portability of the iPad, and I especially like the no-contract a la carte wireless options. Now that I've started to think about what I might use such a device for, what are my options?

I'd like to have a device that I can leave on my coffee table and boot fast. I want to be able to pick it up and access my Google Docs in a matter of seconds. I keep a lot of lists and spreadsheets in Google Docs that I'd like ubiquitous access to throughout the day in a convenient form factor. I'd also like to be able to pull up a recipe and carry the device with me into the kitchen. Web browsing, e-book reading, and other similar activities are also desirable. 90% of the time I'll be on Wifi, so I definitely don't want a dedicated contract, but some sort of wireless option when on travel would be awesome. The iPad seems to meet these criteria, but I loathe the closedness of it and the Apple Tax. I can imagine wanting to experiment with other uses for such a device, maybe write my own programs or toy around in python for use as a remote control for home automation. I also play a lot of online poker, and a device like this would be killer for that activity, but that requires a more traditional operating system.

What are my options? For those of you that either decided to or decided definitely not to but an iPad, did any of the above factor in? Should I wait for an android tablet or get a netbook tablet with a solid state drive? Let's assume price isn't critical right now, but I'd like to keep it to the $500-ish range unless there are killer features that are worth it. What can you recommend?
posted by RobotNinja to Technology (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The iPad does everything you want at the price you want to pay, and it is available now. Join the Apple Developer Program and you can write as many of your own programs as you want. The myth of the "Apple Tax" is antiquated and false -- let it go.
posted by spilon at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm just thinking about this chart when I think about the apple tax. Having never used an iOS device before, how much am I giving up by not having a more "traditional" OS? Obviously online poker will be out, as will python or any sort of scripting language. Anything else?
posted by RobotNinja at 8:57 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Galaxy Tablet is attracting a lot of attention, supposed to be released later this year. Here's a video of it in action.
posted by nomadicink at 9:00 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something to bear in mind, is that the apple bluetooth keyboard is compatible with the ipad.

This gives you a keyboard to use for typing and data entry etc, but the touch screen for web browsing.
posted by Simon_ at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2010

Also, if you want to take a Tablet in the kitchen, but are worried about getting stuff on it, people have been putting iPads in Ziploc bags for protection and using the touch interface just fine.
posted by nomadicink at 9:03 AM on September 23, 2010

I see them comparing computers sure, but for portability, apple still gets it right. They are lighter, and have longer battery life.

I have an iPad. I love it. If I had the chance, I MIGHT exchange my wifi-only iPad for one with 3G, but who knows.

I bought an HP laptop a few years ago. I wish I could throw it out the window. Their service was TERRIBLE. I had a problem with it for the entirety of the three year contract, and none of their "fixes" actually fixed my real problem (faulty battery connection), they only bought them time until I was off warranty. Would absolutely never buy again.

Just bought one of the new Mac minis. It's great. No problems at all. I'm Apple all the way now.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:03 AM on September 23, 2010

FYI, most rumors point to the 2nd generation iPad coming sometime in Q1 2011. If you've got the patience, you'd be better off waiting a few months for the newer model.
posted by litnerd at 9:08 AM on September 23, 2010

I forgot to mention that I'm also excited about using Skype on such a device, which is not an option with the current iPads. I can definitely wait a few months if something worth waiting for is out there.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:11 AM on September 23, 2010

Also, regarding my last comment:

When Apple makes a mistake (the dropped calls on the i4s, for examples) people get PISSED and it's a Big Deal, and Apple usually comes through and fixes it immediately or shortly after.

When companies who make Windows based products make mistakes, there are usually rumblings of it on the internet, but it really isn't seen as a Big Deal (other than people who actually, you know, expect their computer to work the way it should) and the companies don't really see a need to address it other than making their next product better. It's just, well, you get what you pay for.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider with the iPad is that if you're in a Clear service area, you can buy a wi-fi only iPad and use Clear for your mobile internet service; the iSpot is a hundred bucks and unlimited data is $25/mo. No contracts, month-to-month.

Self-links: the iPad killed my desire to upgrade my laptop and I now use my iPad far, far more than my laptop.
posted by hijinx at 9:21 AM on September 23, 2010

I'm just thinking about this chart...

i understand. But realize that the chart you linked was created by Dell for the purpose of making Dell products look more attractive. If you do a more realistic, objective comparison of laptops, Apple's prices are competitive for the level of hardware that you get. But Apple doesn't make super cheap hardware -- I'll grant you that.

But even still, we're talking about tablets here, not laptops. There really isn't a viable competitor to the iPad at the moment, and likely won't be one for awhile. It does what you want and the price is right, so why wait?
posted by spilon at 9:22 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

There really isn't a viable competitor to the iPad at the moment, and likely won't be one for awhile.

Not true, as per above.
posted by ericb at 9:28 AM on September 23, 2010

Skype is absolutely usable on the iPad. There is an iPhone app that works great, and the iPad has both mic and speaker.
posted by griffey at 9:29 AM on September 23, 2010

Not true, as per above.

There is no competition right now. There are a lot of products coming up that may or may not qualify as real competition, but barely any of them have even had a real demo, much less pricing announcements and reviews of production machines. Realistically, there ought to be competition, and I'd be surprised if none of them were viable alternatives, but it did take a shockingly long time for really solid iPhone competition to hit, never mind the fact that there's arguably still nothing that directly competes with the iPod Touch.

Right now, you buy an iPad or you go without a tablet. In six months, you might have a great Android-based alternative, or you might have a shitty option that costs too much and is way too heavy. Personally I don't consider future upcoming untested products to be competition.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:32 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Skype is absolutely usable on the iPad

I guess I meant video chat.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:38 AM on September 23, 2010

Skype is available now for iOS. Really, it sounds like the iPad will float your boat just fine here. The thing with buying laptops and tablets and such is that you can make yourself kind of batty about waiting for the stars to align perfectly for price, features, cosmetics, etc while in the meantime you're foregoing use of any such device waiting for perfection.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 AM on September 23, 2010

nthing what people are saying here. I think the iPad is currently the only way to go. There's really nothing like it on the market.
posted by seanyboy at 9:42 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

(although if they release a new Facetime enabled iPad early 2011 I'd say that's worth waiting for)
posted by Burhanistan at 9:47 AM on September 23, 2010

If you want to write your own programs for the iPad then you're going to have to use Objective-C. Python for home automation is completely out.

Having seen the disaster that is the HP Slate, I'd say the only potential competition in the future is either the HP WebOS Slate or the Samsung Galaxy Tab. As others have pointed out, neither of which are available right now, pricing and delivery dates are not fully confirmed nor have they been properly reviewed. In other words, they may double in price, get delayed by 6 months and suck - we simply don't know.

Regarding the Apple Tax, I tend to find that when Apple products are compared spec-for-spec then they are generally reasonably well priced. The problem is that Apple have only a small number of products, so your choices are limited. Two years ago my parents wanted a cheap laptop for email and word-processing and the cheapest Apple one was over £800. It didn't matter that it came with a whole bunch of additional technology - the simple fact was they they were paying for it when they didn't need or want it.

One final thing to note about the iPad is that it is single user only. This annoying oversight means that you cannot have seperate email accounts for members of the family, or even a "Guest" account that you can allow other people to use. It can contain only one persons email, one persons pictures, one persons bookmarks and everyone else has to suck it up.

Therefore, leaving it in on your coffee table for the family to use doesn't work unless you remember to avoid using the built-in email client, not to add any pictures, not to remember any passwords and to delete your history and cookies every time you finish using it. Not the worlds best experience.
posted by mr_silver at 9:57 AM on September 23, 2010

The iPad is the only real tablet computer there is right now. You can get an iPad now, or wait until other people make clones of them and then you can press ctrl-alt-del to log in.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The poker thing is what's keeping me from buying an iPad. Apple likely won't approve site clients until UIGEA is sorted out (and who knows what the fall elections will bring). While I'd love the touchscreen capability, I'm doing fine with a netbook. The netbook can also run PokerTracker simultaneously, saving hand histories to a flash drive so I can transfer them to the PT database on my desktop.
posted by catlet at 10:00 AM on September 23, 2010

Really, and I say this as someone who runs Windows 7 on a Thinkpad as his primary computing setup, you want an iPad. The Android tablets in the pipeline will not offer as polished a user experience as the iPad does for at least another year or two. They will also not be any cheaper than the iPad (in fact, since most Android tabs will be sold with cell data contracts so as to take advantage of cellular carriers' retail store distribution systems, they will probably end up costing you somewhat more than an iPad would, in terms of ownership cost over time).

In terms of "openness," well, Android is an open-source operating system, but most Android-equipped devices sold so far have been locked down by the cell carriers that sell them (e.g. crapware applications you can't delete, no easy upgrade path to newer releases of Android, etc), and I can't imagine that Android tablets will be much different, since as previously mentioned, most of them will probably be sold with cell data contracts. So the upshot is that Android devices are just as "closed" as iOS devices, from an end-user point of view.

And you definitely don't want a netbook. The netbook user experience is disappointing, and the category as a whole has been pretty much rendered obsolescent by the advent of tablets, at least for the sort of casual uses you're contemplating.

There is the tendency when thinking about a computing purchase to wait for the "next generation" of devices to be released. The iPad is here now, it's awesome, and it does most of the things you want (and the things it doesn't do now, like online poker, will I am sure be coming very soon). I'd say go for it, and if you don't like it, you can return it to the Apple Store within 30 days for a refund.
posted by killdevil at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

BTW, the iPad can support email accounts for multiple people, but they will all basically be publicly open / available. It's easy to switch back and forth between accounts, but it is all done via the mail app.
posted by reddot at 10:43 AM on September 23, 2010

Note that Google docs does NOT currently work with the iPad, although Google says it's coming "soon". Right now you can read Google docs but not edit them.
posted by misskaz at 10:45 AM on September 23, 2010

The assertion that iOS development is ObjectiveC only needs to be heavily qualified. From a practical standpoint, it really only applied to apps being submitted for distribution through the App Store. A hobbiest had other options, though none as complete or well supported or widely understood as ObjC in XCode. Second, the ObjC/C/C++ restriction was only in place for a limited time, the release of iOS4, if I remember right, until a few weeks ago. At that point, they loosened things up dramatically to the point where an app wouldn't be rejected from the App Store just because it was written in Python. I don't know if that one has been tested, but Apple is clearly approving lots of apps now that wouldn't have been approved under the old regime.

As to the general suitability of the iPad. I love my 3G and use it way more than I thought I would. I carry it almost everywhere. My iPhone data use has dropped dramatically. In many ways, it is better for browsing than my Macbook and vastly better than the short screen on any netbook. I can touch type as effectively as I could on the HP Mini netbook I tried out for a while. I've been playing games on it a lot.

I'm skeptical of the Android hype in general. I think Google bought a lot of it by giving away phones by the truckfull. FroYo has some nice features, but still seems awkward compared to iOS. So, upcoming android tablets may be viable competitors to iPad, depending on your definition of viable, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Finally, there see rumors of an iPad upgrade early next year. I'm not sure I'd make a buying decision based on that. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if, when Apple starts shipping iOS 4.2 on the iPad in November, they quietly give it a needed bump in RAM
posted by Good Brain at 10:51 AM on September 23, 2010

Is there any reason why a normal netbook tablet wouldn't do what I want? It seems like that would give me more options in terms of RAM, OS, etc. My understanding is that with an SSD, they boot extremely fast these days. Thoughts/recommendations?
posted by RobotNinja at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2010

I'm hoping that when it comes out, the Notion-Ink Adam will be the new tablet all others aspire to. One of the bigger features is the Pixel Qi screen - daylight viewing capability by just turning off the backlight. However, all of their recent talk about extra integrated shops scares me a little. It should be available around November of this year. They're finally able to be up front about their timelines.

However, if it turns out that there's tons of bad reviews for the Adam or hardware flakiness, I'll probably get a SmartQ V7 (or possibly the R7). Touch screen, video, ereading, music, ubuntu or android, more portable, and about half the cost. If I had to buy a tablet today, I'd get a Smartq.

A lot of the other newer tablets coming out don't in any way seem distinctive - the galaxy tab (not picking on others who pointed it out, but rather because it's getting a lot of press), looks like s V7 except for the higher price tag (I don't want 3G or more fixed storage when SSD cards are more cost effective).
posted by nobeagle at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2010

If it was me, and I had your wish list, I'd hold off for a while and see what happens in the Android tablet space. The Samsung Galaxy Tab already looks like a serious contender, and there are many more on the way.

You could write apps for the iPad, but you might well need a Mac for that and/or have to write in Objective C rather than Python. The story on that has changed recently, but basically Apple has never liked people writing for the iPhone/iPad in other languages and cross-platform. (I presume you don't already have a Mac from what you said about the Apple Tax.)

I'm a little bit like you, I'd consider it a plus to be able to cross-develop little Ruby apps from a Windows PC for any mobile device I use. I'm not intending to be a pro-app developer so it's not worth my while getting a Mac or learning Obj-C just for writing stuff like that.

As for things like playing poker... well you can't use sites built with Flash... but like they say, there's (probably) an app for that.
posted by philipy at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2010

Robotninja, regarding a netbook; I don't have one with a touch screen, but when I see the ones that convert to a tablet, I just get scared looking at that small hinge. I haven't researched the long term durability of the devices yet, and now I guess I'm going to have to soonish.

My "desktop" at home is primarily my Asus EEE 701. It's mostly used for media, web surfing, or ssh'ing into my actual desktop, or into work. Regarding web surfing, it's awkward to hold, so 95% of the time it's on the coffee table and I'm hunched over it. Whenever I lean back on the couch reading google reader, I long for a tablet. But that said, my eee's hasn't given me any trouble and I'm 3 months shy of 3 years. I rarely suspend. When I used to, my memory is it was ~5 seconds from turning on until I was prompted to unlock my screen. With xandros it was about 30 seconds from power on to login. With eeebuntu it's about 40 seconds and another 20 to login to finish. Keep in mind this is the ancient celeron based netbook.

Assuming that the rotating hinge on convertable netbooks is solid, then they might be what you want; touch screen, real keyboard, reasonable specs, not carrier locked (and there are 3g usb modems if you want it).
posted by nobeagle at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2010

I'm looking at the Asus EEE Pc T91MT as a possible convertible netbook option, although reviewers seem to indicate that it's slow to book even though it has an SSD. Any comments on that model?
posted by RobotNinja at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2010

I don't plan to get an ipad (anytime soon) but I have a HP tablet touchscreen pc that I despise. Apart from the fact that the screen is dim and grainy, the OS isn't really streamlined to work as a touch interface.

I would just get the ipad (or wait for the next version) because it'll be part of a "family" of related devices that are still growing in popularity. I imagine anything offered by the other companies over the short term will become orphaned if they don't attract a sizable following very quickly.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2010

I used to think 'Meh' about the iPad. I now have one and I think it is just ridiculously awesome. This is coming from a guy who, in his household, has a desktop with dual monitors, a Dell laptop with the biggest screen possible, and a HP netbook. I love my iPad for surfing the internet with tabbed browsing on Atomic, reading stuff on Instapaper / Kindle, and watching videos over AirVideo. It really is a magical device.

I know nothing about the Galaxy or an Android tablet, but I am sold on the iPad. I am not sure how any other competitor can reach the critical mass / network effects that the AppStore has. The fact that I can sit on my couch, download a book from Amazon, email my family, play Zombies vs. Plants and watch a documentary I rented on iTunes is f*cking technology bliss. Any long thread on Ask.Mefi gets downloaded on Instapaper which I can then read at anytime. Dude, seriously, for reals for reals.....get an iPad.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2010

I recently bought a Smartq R7. I love it in many ways, especially because it runs Linux, and I can do whatever the hell I want with it. I can install anything, hack it, write my own software, etc. BUT it has hardly any memory, so although it can multitask, it is noticeably slower than a normal netbook when you do try to run more than one program at once. And having played with an iPad, I LOVE the iPad touchscreen and do not love my Smartq resistive touchscreen nearly as much. I still wouldn't buy an iPad if I had to do it again (the lack of multitasking would kill it for me), but I would probably wait for a higher quality android tablet.

Still, it's cheap and hackable, and lets me feel superior :)
posted by lollusc at 4:13 PM on September 23, 2010

@RobotNinja: I have a Samsung NC-10 running Windows 7 and it's great. Does everything I want it to, runs everything I want and I can synchronise content between my desktop and it with free software. Plus since it folds in half, the screen is protected when I take it places.

Not as slick as the iPad, but cheaper, sturdier and does more.

Only slight annoyance is that the keys are quite small. However I've got used to it.
posted by mr_silver at 3:05 AM on September 24, 2010

If you do decide on an Ipad... everyone I know (in the Uk) who bought one bought the cheaper wifi version, and then when roaming away from home (or reliable wifi connection) use a mifi to create a temporary 3G connection - at the minimum cost (although this does depend on your data usage on the pay-as-you-go schema).

Details here: and I know that is UK specific but I am pretty sure you can get that device in the US as well.

I know this won't necessarily help you choose between an ipad and a netbook for you needs but it does let you know there are cheaper options for roaming connection on an ipad.

Good luck.
posted by Faintdreams at 6:41 AM on September 24, 2010

Like killdevil, I'm a card-carrying ThinkPad addict, and I love, love, love my iPad! In fact, I went away for a few days last weekend, and my TP X301 stayed home and rested while my iPad was tucked in my bag for the trip. Never Missed the X301.

What's the problem about poker? I just looked at the App Store, and there's over 150 apps for that. Maybe one of them will serve your needs.
posted by JaneL at 9:52 AM on September 24, 2010

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