The Smartphone - Netbook Connundrum

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 10 Jan 2009

Something interesting is happening in the computer industry. People are growing tired of paying a thousand dollars for a computer which these days doesn’t do a whole lot more than a smartphone. It is for this very reason that the netbook has taken off. For about $400 you can purchase a machine which can do just about anything that your $2000 laptop can?

We can go into technicalities about what it cant do – yes, you cant play games, yes you cant do much creative work on the meager atom processor. But taken into account what the average user does use their computer for, I am not really surprised that it has already taken a quarter of the US notebook sales market for Q4 2008.

Ask yourself the question – what does my wife / mother / cousin / brother use their computer for? Internet browsing, watching movies, listening to music and downloading pictures from their cameras and maybe do some actual work in a word processor... That’s it.
And no, people don’t play games on their PC’s anymore. For the cost of a graphics card that you need to probably upgrade every year, you can buy a Xbox 360 with a bundle of games.
I recently purchased a Lenovo netbook and I have been very, very impressed by it. It’s light, reasonably fast, and is a absolute joy to carry around. Its great for getting some work done in a public place. But now I am asking myself – will I choose this above my iPhone? (or whatever smartphone of the month), and use a standard “dumb”phone?

I use my iPhone a lot. Its battery is pretty great especially if you compare it to using a laptop machine for the same functionality. Think you can work for 6 hours on a laptop with power to spare? Think again.

Sure, the iPhone costs about $800 without a contract, but it is not exorbant once you take it with a contract. Checking email is not a multi step process of taking out your laptop and connecting a 3G card. It just pings in your pocket.

Walt Mossberg recently tried to raise the same issue of a netbook vs smartphone battle, but in his typical fashion he did not really address the issues that people ask, and merely chose a netbook in a over simplified manner. Most people are quite adapt at learning to use a new phone – especially using something as intuitive as a iPhone or modern Symbian device is much easier than learning to use some obscure Linux of the month in a netbook. You might gasp at the high price of a smartphone, but what it affords you is convenience far beyond a netboook.

One has to take into account that most netbooks are marketed as secondary computers, a “mini” computer for on the road use. But why cant you just use your smartphone?
Even though I love the netbook, but as a secondary computer, I would choose a decent smartphone every time.
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.