Will the new iPad Mini be a good replacement for a netbook?
October 30, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

After 4 years (!!!), my trusty Acer Aspire netbook has finally stopped working. I need to replace it with something, but a comparable netbook nowadays costs about the same as the upcoming retina display iPad Mini (16 GB). I'm attracted to the idea of the Mini, but I don't know if it would fit my needs: 1) accessing and quickly searching through multiple 50-100 page pdfs during meetings and 2) taking meeting notes. (I have a spare bluetooth Apple keyboard I can bring with me for the notetaking, so I would not be stuck using the virtual keyboard.) So, would the new iPad Mini be a good netbook replacement, given what I'll be using it for?

I used my netbook primarily for three things:

1) Accessing large pdfs during meetings--I have to read multiple 50-100 page documents per month, then refer to them during regular meetings (one to two per month). I need a portable device to keep them on temporarily (I delete them after the meeting is finished; they're stored on my institution's network and/or on my work desktop PC).

2) Taking notes during meetings--I used a basic text editor (Notepad or Wordpad) and just saved it as a text file. These are kept for my records; if I ever needed to send them to someone else I converted them to a Word doc and/or pdf on my work desktop.

3) Surfing the internet, doing e-mail at home or during travel.

I have a PC desktop at work, an iMac at home that my partner and I both use, and an iPhone 4--these things all meet my other computing/phone/etc. needs perfectly well, but none of them is good for portable pdf use, or taking notes during meetings.

As I mentioned above, I also have a spare Apple Bluetooth keyboard I can use instead of the virtual keyboard.

I would rather not spend the money for a full sized laptop or a full sized iPad with retina display (but I do want retina display). So...will the 16 GB, new iPad mini be a good netbook replacement? Is that enough storage space for what I want to do? Will I go crazy reading pdfs on it? (I always had to scroll with my netbook when reading pdfs too, but I didn't care.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
PDFs are going to be really tiny on a Mini screen. 16GB is plenty, but I'd be really surprised if you found PDFs readable on a less-than-10" tablet screen.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:41 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Google Nexus 10 tablet starts at the same price point as the iPad Mini is (obviously) larger, tackles all of our most common tasks with aplomb, and case/keyboard combos are easy to find. In fact, you might even be able to just get a case and use your Apple Bluetooth keyboard.

In our house, I have the Nexus 7, my partner has the iPad 2, and my kid has the Kindle Fire HD. They all have their finer points, but mine is by far the best-loved, highest rated tablet among the three.

So... cheaper, bigger screen.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:58 PM on October 30, 2013

Tablets are best for consumption of content (reading pdfs? tablets are fine).

If you need to input content (taking notes?), keyboard + tablet can sort of work - but you're really better off with something like a chromebook that's designed with a keyboard from the very beginning.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:03 PM on October 30, 2013

Best answer: I read PDFs on my iPad mini in meetings just fine. I surf the web on it and I have a bluetooth keyboard case I use for typing/taking notes. I love it.
posted by michellenoel at 2:09 PM on October 30, 2013

I would go for Android or Windows 8 based tablet that has a keyboard dock, like the Asus Transformer series or the new Asus T100.

File management is a pain on iOS. With you reading so many PDFs, I would stick to a non-iOS device.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:12 PM on October 30, 2013

It depends on the apps you use. File management in iOS is only as good as your apps. I highly recommend Notability and Pages be your first two app purchases. A tablet (iPad mini) will suit your needs just fine.
posted by squirbel at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2013

For something a bit closer to your netbook with a full keyboard and larger display you might consider a Chromebook...
posted by jim in austin at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2013

I do this with a full-size iPad and the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard case. they make a mini version as well. if you have an Apple store nearby, they should carry that keyboard case, so you can get the combo and test it for two weeks. (there may be a restocking fee; I can't remember off the top of my head.) the keyboard on the case is a decent enough size that it doesn't bother me much switching between a full-sized keyboard and it. I've not used my laptop really since getting the iPad; it's a bit nicer for doing actual work (though not by much - it's an older 13" system) but I've pretty much replaced it with the iPad.

note that as far as keyboard cases/docks go, they all pretty much work with the tablet in landscape mode. I can't really imagine doing this on my Nexus 7 since the screen is rather narrow in that orientation. (that keyboard case will let you work the iPad in portrait but, since it uses the smart case magnets for stability, it's not as sturdy in that orientation.) I don't know about the Android keyboard cases but I believe the Microsoft-made Surface keyboard cases only work in landscape as there's a physical connection involved there.

as far as software, everything I have goes in Evernote. it's pretty good for taking notes, and it supports PDFs and Word docs and stuff as well. I also have Dropbox on there, which works for basic viewing kinda stuff. both of these things sync with your desktop and phone too. (and there are Android versions of all this, too, so if you go with an Android tablet, these are still good choices, IMHO.) there are a number of other Evernote-like things and text editors and stuff that also sync with Dropbox or other services; these two worked well enough for me immediately that I hadn't really tried other options.

don't forget that you can always zoom in and out when reading, though you won't see the full page if you've zoomed in, obviously.
posted by mrg at 3:37 PM on October 30, 2013

I do basically this with a full-sized iPad with a ClamCase keyboard, generally using AudioNote to take notes (so I can go back later and listen to anything I missed at the time) and GoodReader for the PDFs. It works reasonably well, but I don't think I'd want to try it on something as small as the iPad mini's screen.
posted by Lexica at 3:58 PM on October 30, 2013

I use this iPad2 for exactly the kind of jobs you describe. The resolution of the iPad mini is identical to that of my iPad 2. It's just barely an exaggeration to say that every apple-geek blogger on the planet championed the iPad mini over the full size retina iPad. They only changed their minds last week with the intro of the iPad Air. I feel confident that the mini will work well for you.

I bought a Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad 2. I almost never do.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:45 PM on October 30, 2013

Interestingly, there seems to be a strong gender bias in the selection of iPad models. Hearst or Condé Nast reported that where 80% of their iPad subscriptions for men's titles were on the larger iPad, a similar proportion of the women's titles came from iPad minis. Presumably the mini owners renew at a similar rate to the fulls. This suggests a comparable quality of experience.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:49 PM on October 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses! I appreciate the suggestions for alternatives to the mini (e.g. the Nexus 10) and for suggestions of apps to help with document management.

I should have clarified I won't necessarily be reading the full documents on whatever device I end up getting--I will probably read the bulk of them on my work desktop computer. It's just that during the meetings I need to be able to find info in the documents and refer to small sections of them. So for example the chair will say, "OK now on p. 36 of this document, let's take a look at this table/chart/paragraph/item" and then we all turn to that page.*

I think what I will do is try out an iPad mini in person when they actually come out at the end of November, and also try out a Nexus 10 for comparison. The Nexus 10 seems to be getting some good reviews, though they seem a bit difficult to get hold of in Canada other than ordering one online.

*Prior to my start in this particular role, the group would receive a large package of paper documents every month; my start coincided with the shift to digital-only documents. But some of our more old-school people still print out their entire package. Every. Month.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:47 PM on October 30, 2013

Best answer: One thing you'll probably need to test out is whether you can effectively read/search PDF files while taking notes simultaneously, since iOS only show a single window at all time, unlike a traditional desktop OS. On the other hand, iOS on iPads does provide a convenient gesture (four-finger swipe) that allows you to quite easily switch between apps, so you might be okay.
posted by applesurf at 5:57 PM on October 30, 2013

Best answer: iPads are ideal for reading large PDF files - get PDF expert for iPad and you will be extremely happy

iPads are OK for taking text notes, the fact you are interested in basic notes rather than word-processing style notes is a big advantage - there are several good plaintext text editors out there driven by enthusiasm in the apple community for markdown as a document format. Editorial for iPad is perhaps the most advanced

In order to be efficient while typing - it is much less convenient to touch the screen for navigation than use the keyboard - so if you are comfortable using the keyboard for navigation this will work much better than if you regularly use a mouse/trackpad. You clearly need to invest in a good case/stand that allows you to see the iPad at a comfortable height hands free though.

iPads are ideal for web browsing and email - particularly when travelling.

As you want too look at PDF documents which benefit from flexibility, and as you want to use the iPad for text editingI would recommend you seriously consider the new iPad air though - the larger screen is never going to be a disadvantage in those situations and only an advantage. For the $100 I think you will get a lot of extra utility out of it. The best way to decide is to compare them side by side in a shop and simulate the kind of tasks you will be performing on them.

I would not buy a nexus 10 - the hardware is almost on a par with the iPad and for your uses the first party software will be as well. But in my experience the third party software for android tablets is noticeably worse. For example, ASFAIK there are no PDF apps designed for android tablets that approach the good design and speed of PDF expert - which sounds like it will be important for you rapidly moving through pdf documents.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:24 AM on October 31, 2013

I had an Acer Aspire, too! It started showing its age back in March :(

I couldn't find a single device that did everything I wanted for a reasonable price so I got a Nexus 10 AND a Samsung Chromebook. I switch back and forth which sounds like a hassle but using dropbox and/or google drive has been super and it feels like a luxury and not a hassle. I use whichever device is right for the task and/or day.

One caveat- I have small hands so small keyboards are great for me. They may not be for you!
posted by pointystick at 7:24 AM on October 31, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and suggestions, everyone.

So I picked up a 16 GB iPad Mini to test-drive for two weeks. I appreciated having the fourteen days to return it if I didn't like it, but now that I've tested it out, I will definitely be keeping it. I've taken it to three meetings so far, and it has been a great substitute for my netbook.

I found it worked best to access the pdfs online through our institutional intranet during the meetings and take notes using the Notes app that comes with the iPad (I haven't bothered so far with my extra keyboard). Thanks to applesurf's tip about the four-finger swipe, it's easy to go back and forth between Safari and Notes. When horizontal, the screen is only slightly smaller than my netbook screen. As Another Fine Product mentioned, having a good case/stand has been important. I haven't downloaded PDF Expert yet, but I probably will.

For non-work purposes, it's convenient for the other things I used to do with my netbook--e-mail, websurfing. As a bonus, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like it as an e-reader (I've never had one before). It's a nice light weight, and when I hold it vertically, it's similar to holding a paperback.

Pointystick's caveat is a good one--I think part of the reason the mini works well for me is that I'm not a big person and my hands are small. Otherwise I would probably find it a little too fiddly to type on with the virtual keyboard, and it might seem too tiny and awkward.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:14 PM on November 30, 2013

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