Should You Buy a Tablet, E-Reader,
Netbook, or Ultrabook?

by Cathy Zimmermann

The options available in portable computing have exploded in recent years. Find out which mobile device - netbook, tablet, e-reader or ultrabook - will serve your computing needs best.

Tablet computerTired of lugging your heavy notebook computer around? Wondering whether you should buy an e-reader, tablet, netbook or ultrabook to replace your laptop as a mobile business tool? It depends on what you plan to use it for.

While the Kindle Fire and the Nook are essentially e-readers with direct access to the Amazon and Barnes and Noble libraries respectively, they are also small Android tablets. In fact, as of this writing, Kindle Fire is the #1 Android tablet.

Netbooks have physical keyboards, but since the screen size is 7-12 inches, the keys may be uncomfortably small. Tablets have virtual keyboards - you touch "keys" on the screen, though you can purchase an external keyboard. Netbooks have more storage space than tablets and can run the same software your PC runs. You'll need an Apple camera connection kit to add USB and an SD card reader to Apple's iPad tablet but most netbooks and some other tablets have them built in. 3G and 4G tablets require a cellular data service which may be available month-to-month without a contract. Tablets have better displays than netbooks, and run apps - software applications usually designed specifically for mobile devices.

Apps are most plentiful for Apple iPad, followed closely by Android devices. Kindle Fire's list is even shorter due to its custom version of the Android operating system, but includes many of the most popular apps. For documents on the go, Quickoffice allows you to create and edit Microsoft® Office files and is available for Apple and Android tablets, including Kindle Fire.

Even if your tablet has USB, it can't be used to connect to a printer. Printing from tablets requires a printer with built-in wi-fi, an app or a cloud-based solution like Google Cloud Print. Macworld explains how to print from an iPad with Apple AirPrint or a third party app in this article. Android apps for printing can be found in the Android Market.

If you want to display video to clients, tablets will be your best choice with their crisp displays and larger screens, but you'll need to be sure that your video format is compatible with your device. iPad's chip handles video better than most, but still does not support Flash. Kindle Fire does. The new iPad's screen resolution is 2048 x 1536, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet has a resolution of 1280 x 800, and iPad2's resolution is 1024 by 768.

Priced under $200, a 7" e-reader with wi-fi may be all you need if you have access to a wireless network or hotspot, don't need a camera, and you're just web browsing, checking email, and social networking. Netbooks serve the same functions but generally include a camera, and start at $249. If you need something with a larger screen and a camera, the 9.5" iPad 2 tablet wi-fi model starts at $399 and the 9.5" iPad 3 and the 10" Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 start at $499 for wi-fi only. Ultraportable laptops, or ultrabooks, are pricey compared to tablets but they are full-fledged laptops with normal size keyboards, thin cases, fast processors and high resolution displays.

E-readers weigh less than a pound, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is 1.24 lbs,  iPad 2 weighs 1.33 lbs., and iPad 3 is 1.44 lbs. Netbooks are typically 2-3 lbs. Ultrabooks weigh in at around 2.5 - 3.5 pounds. 

Evaluate your needs and your budget and browse the Android Market, Kindle Fire Apps and the iPad App store. You may find it's time to leave your old laptop at home.

Cathy is a staff writer and digital media producer at Business Know-How and a graduate student in the Stony Brook Southampton MFA program for writing and digital media.
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