Tablet PCs vs Netbooks, a comparison that really shouldn’t even be made

It is not Plants vs. Zombies, but it is a fierce battle, Tablet PCs vs Netbooks. Not a cute and addicting cross-platform game, but serious business, which may mean the ruin, or at least serious loss of business, to established IT industry behemoths, such as Intel, AMD, Acer, ASUS and many more.


After the iPad got released by Apple in 2010 and the Tablet PC frenzy took off with a vengeance, particularly after Google’s Android operating system boomed onto the stage, many people from the IT sector started predicting that the time of personal computers as we knew it was over.

Headlines like “PC is dead” by major players starting with Mark Dean from the original IBM development team to the Forbes Magazine, but also current developments like Windows 8 going Metro seem all to point to the almost obvious outcome of the Tablet PCs vs Netbooks battle.

Will Tablet PCs oust the need for desktop computers of yesteryear and what will happen with laptop and netbook computers in years to come? 

A little help with the definition

tablet pcs vs netbooks, asus neetbook nexus

While the battle Tablet PCs vs Netbooks is far from over, an apparent winner may be perceived if you know a little bit about what Netbooks actually are. Many do confuse Netbooks with Laptop computers, but despite the similarities in design, there is a remarkable difference.

Namely, a Netbook is supposed to be a portable computer that is geared towards casual Internet use, network connectivity included, with little or no intention of replacing your main computer, or rather desktop and big laptop, whichever applies.

The idea was to provide a small, lightweight, cheap, even stripped down version of a laptop, which can be outfitted with a less power consuming CPU and less RAM in order for the battery to last longer. Additionally, such mini-laptops were supposed to have smaller display screens, preferably no optical drives, but connectivity galore.

Several instances of such devices were popping up ever since 1996, but it was not until 2007, when Asus came out with the Asus Eee PC concept that the netbook idea took off. 

Why is there a fight at all?

Tablet PCs vs Netbooks is an inevitable clash of similar ideas that resulted in completely different solutions, with some technology developments and consumer requirements thrown in for good measure. In plain English, this means that originally, both, Tablet PCs and Netbooks were supposed to be “the toy on the go”; or simply following the consumer preference developments, people wanted a computer that was usable everywhere, without the device having to weigh a ton.

This also had to do with the popularity of broadband internet, Wi-Fi, development of 3G, internet availability in almost every restaurant, coffee shop, gym, hotel and wherever, the end of paper based business requirements, development of electronic communications, video conferencing and so on.

The list could really go on, but ultimately encompasses everything that is only about ten years old, but is nevertheless being taken for granted by the modern culture. 

What changed?

This device on the go used to be a fully-fledged laptop computer (also called notebook), but because of the size, weight and power consumption it was deemed impractical.

Perhaps unbeknownst to most, the Tablet PC idea is not a new one, in Star Trek, the original series from the sixties, there is a tablet device handed around which was used as a log device, but also for handling electronic documents, signing orders and much more. It was named PADD, short for Personal Access Data Display.

If you think that the name familiarity with Apple’s iPad is sheer coincidence, think again. Steve Jobs himself verified the homage at the introduction if the original iPad, alleviating any and all speculations.

tablet pcs vs netbooks, toshiba thrive = nook simple touch + dell insiron duo netbook

A Tablet PC is a curious mix of an eBook Reader and a netbook computer, with advanced media player abilities and smartphone attributes added. In a direct comparison Tablet PCs vs Netbooks, tablet devices will always have the upper hand because of a few simple facts:

Tablet PCs have entertainment value, are sleek, lighter, thin, have a cool factor and fun is the main objective, while Netbooks thrive towards simple functionality.

More plainly put, Tablet PCs are grown-up toys, while Netbooks are a portable internet access device and not much more. 

Netbooks not dead yet, or are they?

tablet pcs vs netbooks, toshiba portege z830 ultrabook

Interestingly enough, Asus, for instance, added their line of tablet devices to the Asus Eee line of products, where also netbooks are located. Asus, being a true IT industry behemoth, can afford to produce netbooks, even if sales are dwindling. Other competitors are starting to lose faith, but Intel came up with an idea that just may give the netbook the much needed prolonged life expectancy – the project Ultrabook. Intel started the Ultrabook idea once the outcome of the Tablet PCs vs Netbooks battle seemed clear, i.e. that Tablet PCs will prevail. Their Atom series of processors, mainly used in lower class laptops and netbooks, did not sell as expected, and while AMD will always have a competing product, in this case the Fusion processor, AMD has never really pushed the netbook solution.

Unfortunately for Intel, the Ultrabook movement which was supposed to provide high end ultra-light but extremely powerful netbooks that should be actually classified as laptop devices did not end up with a price tag that was hoped for. There is no Ultrabook available that is even close to the selling price of a netbook or tablet PC, for that matter, which makes the whole idea completely useless.

It does compete with the MacBook family of products by Apple, particularly the MacBook Air range, but new Air models have not even been announced by Apple. 


To put it mildly, in the Tablet PCs vs Netbooks race Netbooks are at least once-lapped second. Since that several tablets are now being delivered with at least a Bluetooth keyboard, Netbook sales are seriously dwindling. In comparison to the Asus Eee PC boom of 2008, the sales are almost disappointing.

Nevertheless, not a single netbook manufacturer has yet given up on the concept. It may be the time to rethink the pricing of such netbook computers in comparison to the bigger laptop cousins, a price drop significantly below the pricing range of a comparable Tablet PC with a Bluetooth keyboard might make the race more interesting in future.

This seems to be of particular importance after the newly presented availability of Android powered netbooks and furthermore after the introduction of less resource-hungry new Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, which just may extend the power-struggle Tablet PCs vs Netbooks for a while longer.