Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dell Inspiron Duo

How many of us in the past year or so, have headed over to an Electronics store, and seen something called Netbooks? How many of us have heard of this wonderful, magical device from Apple, called the iPad? Samsung Galaxy Tab, perhaps?

Indians on a large scale, are very value-minded. We seem to live by an unspoken personal belief that if every ounce of juicy goodness can't be squeezed out of a tomato, then it's not worth spending money on.

Into such a world, two totally new product categories have entered. Netbooks (and nettops) and Tablets.

What are Netbooks (Nettops) and Tablets?

Dell Inspiron 1018 HP Mini 210-1100 Series

Netbooks, are cheaper and smaller versions of full-fledged Notebook PCs (or Laptops). A Nettop, similarly, is a cheaper and less powerful version of a full-fledged Desktop PC. About five years ago, Asus debuted the Eee PC, which it targeted at students as a cheap way to gain access to a computer (below Rs. 10,000). Several converging factors, such as the introduction of the Intel Atom series of processors and the global economic crisis have lead to a huge rise in the popularity of these so-called Netbooks. Once netbooks took off, it was only a matter of time before computer manufacturers started manufacturing Nettops.

iPad Samsung Galaxy Tab

Tablet-based computing, on the other hand isn't entirely new to the world; Microsoft announced it's plans to release the Windows XP Tablet PC edition in 2001, and envisioned a future where we'd all be carrying digital pens, writing on digital slates. Fast-forward to 2010, and Tablet PC adoption has been very slow, if at all people have bought any. In January 2010, after months of rumours and speculation, Apple Inc. announced the iPad - dubbing it as a magical and revolutionary device. This created a new form factor for computing, contrasting starkly with the Tablet PC ideal that Microsoft had been striving to establish for nearly a decade - the iPad ran a finger-friendly mobile Operating System, which in turn required lesser computing power and resources, and the capacitive screen did away with the stylus, or pen, that was key to Microsoft's Tablet PC concept. As Apple usually tends to, they shook up the market, and every manufacturer worth his or her salt rushed to release a tablet to the market, so that they could get a piece of this new-fangled pie. We've come a long way now, with major manufacturers releasing their own concepts of Tablets, and the latest Samsung Galaxy Tab being spoken of everywhere, due to its wide launch and marketing campaign.

Why might you need a Netbook/Nettop

If you already own a Notebook PC (Laptop) and you have felt at times, that a smaller, lighter, less-capable device might have fit the task, then you may need an additional Netbook. If you're in the market for a cheap Home/Office PC, which needs to only edit Word documents, playback music and films, and browse the casual web, then you may need to buy a Nettop.

The internals of a Netbook (or a Nettop) are less capable than what you may find in an average Notebook or Desktop computer. This is true especially in India, where none of the major computer manufacturers sell their top-end Netbooks and Nettops here – the ones that have HD graphics capabilities, more RAM, bigger hard drives. In India, we’re stuck with pretty standard configurations across the board from all the major PC manufacturers. That’s another reason why buying Netbooks and Nettops for the average user needing a full-fledged computer doesn’t make sense.

If you’re in the market for buying a new computer, and very basic (we mean, really basic) computing is enough, then you could consider buying one. The fact of the matter is, even an ageing PC that has an Intel Pentium (dual core) processor can beat an Intel Atom processor that is found in most Netbooks, in every single performance test that’s possible. So do keep that in mind when considering the purchase of a Netbook or a Nettop.

Isn't a Tablet just a large phone?

The age-old argument. Isn't the iPad just a bigger version of the iPhone? Isn't the Samsung Galaxy Tab just a bigger version of the Samsung Galaxy S? To be truthful, we're going to have to say - Yes, and No.

A larger version of the same device can be utilised for several other purposes, as Apple has demonstrated with fullscreen Apps on the iPad and the New York Times has released a Tablet-specific Android App, which works pretty well. For watching videos, creating and editing documents, photos, music, e-mail – a tablet is definitely superior to a phone. But in this day and age (in India) where we’re trying to cut down on the number of things we carry, and are trying to travel light (everywhere we go, basically) a Tablet may not really be a necessity. It may be a seriously nice device/gadget to have, hold and use. But what could you achieve on the Tablet that you can’t achieve elsewhere? If you’ve got a decent smartphone, you’re covered on the “connectivity” front – you’re always connected-on-the-go. If you’ve got a decent Notebook/Netbook, then full-fledged portable computing is available to you at all times. Just for the ease of using a Tablet in comparison to a full-fledged Notebook computer, is it worth spending upwards of Rs. 25,000/- ? That’s a question you’re going to have to sit and ponder over deeply; it all depends on your life and work-style, and your needs and activities. A Tablet such as the Apple iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab just doesn’t make the cut for us, since you can’t use them for full-fledged computing; they run iOS and Android. A Tablet running Windows (such as the Archos 9 or the HP Slate 500, with Windows 7 – both of which are not currently available in India officially) could be really useful, since you could do almost everything that an actual Windows-based PC can do. That kind of a Windows-based tablet could (that’s a half-hearted could) take the place of a portable computer (Notebook/Netbook) for you, enabling to accomplish loads of things on the go. Then again, the lack of a physical keyboard may be a putoff for some, but hey – the thing runs Windows. So you can use a USB keyboard, even if a Bluetooth keyboard is too costly for you.

The value-for-money factor

If you already own a capable smartphone, and a fully-capable PC (Notebook PC or Desktop PC), then you really needn't bother yourself with the question of whether you need to purchase an additional Tablet, or a Netbook/Nettop. Trust us, it just ain't worth the extra cash.

However, if after reading about what Netbooks are and what Tablets are, you feel that either category of devices is perfect for you, and you have the cash, by all means, please go ahead and purchase one. We just don’t want people to purchase a Netbook without having a clue as to why it’s cheaper, and how it’s different from a Notebook computer. The same goes for Tablets; just because the whole world is talking about the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, doesn’t necessarily mean that you or I would need one, or would even use it to the fullest, if we bought it.

There are certain devices in each class that actually stand out, such as the Dell Inspiron Duo, pictured at the top. This is a yet-another sub-class of computers, popularly known as netvertibles. They have Netbook-class, low-cost internals, and can also be twisted, or rotated to be used as a Touchscreen-based slate. So keep your needs (your actual needs) in focus, and decide on whether you should buy that shiny new Netbook that’s looking so cute and lonely in that Electronics store.

Final thoughts

What can we say? We've met countless people within the IT industry who are completely befuddled by why they should pay upwards of Rs. 30,000/- for a portable computer (Notebook PC/Laptop) when they can get a Netbook for around Rs. 15,000/- to Rs. 20,000/- which does the same thing, apparently. And it doesn't help their confusion when sales people tend to say things like "This Netbook has more battery power, and can play full HD video as well, Sir." or "This Netbook is value-for-money, Sir. It has an Intel HD processor for only Rs. 15,000/-" Slice the apple anyway you want, at the end of it all, a Netbook is a less-capable Laptop, which can still perform admirably, so long as you don't throw the whole production requirements of an entire multimedia design house at it. A Tablet on the other hand, might be the gadget that you should buy, if you've got Wi-Fi at home (or a 3G SIM), and you don't have a decent smartphone or a Laptop or a Netbook. It just might be. Then again, if you’ve got thousands of rupees in the bank and don’t know what to do with them, and already own everything else that you need, you could buy a Tablet or a Netbook – just because you can.

Now, don’t get us wrong – there are some users out there, for whom purchasing a Tablet, or a Netbook, makes a lot of since. The ageing business professional who is always on the go, and can’t spend too much time on computers cos they’re difficult to understand, and who only needs basic e-mail/web access and documents-editing, might want to spring for a Netbook. The young college-going student who wants some entertainment, plus a bit of computing on the side, and has constant access to Wi-Fi (or 3G) could consider purchasing a tablet. But for us, we'll stick to our Android phones, our iPhones, our Nokias and our Blackberrys, and most importantly, our full-fledged Desktop and Notebook computers, thank you.


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