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Netbook vs smartphone. You decide!

In a workplace that is becoming evermore mobile and a society that craves to be connected 24/7, there’s a need for business devices to match these requirements. People working in small-to-medium size businesses (SMEs) looking to invest in devices that meet these needs face the ongoing debate about what to spend their money on: functional netbooks or ultra-portable smartphones?

Netbook vs smartphone
Netbook vs smartphone pocket photo courtesy renaissancechambara/Flickr

For people who travel a great deal, carrying around the confidential information required to run a business can be a big challenge unless you resort to the use of a companion device, such as a netbook or smartphone. Although these two communication devices have very different physical appearances their actual use is quite similar, and opinions are varied as to which device has the advantage over the other.

QWERTY convenience

Netbooks appear to have hit a sweet spot for both the consumer and the business user. Their low price, almost full-size QWERTY keyboards that approach (if not quite match) standard notebook arrangements, and built-in applications mean that many people can leave their heavier notebook behind. Their batteries can last longer than bigger and more powerful notebooks, they are easier to carry around and they can run the same operating system already in use on most desktop computers.

Smartphones are also hugely appealing. Smaller in size, they can easily fit in your pocket and carry out the basic functions of a normal PC, using necessary applications. In fact, smartphones, have offered much of the same promise of netbooks for years now, including tasks such as mobile document editing, email and web browsing. But in many ways, smartphones haven’t fully reached their potential—and many users will never get past the small screens, slower processing speed and small keyboards.

[Next: What to consider when deciding between a netbook and a smartphone]

What to consider when choosing a netbook or smartphone

It’s important to explore all the options before making decisions about what devices to invest in and there are some considerations to make when you are deciding whether you should go for a netbook, or simply stick with your smartphone:

Boot-up time: The average smartphone boots up in about 10-to-15 seconds, whereas netbooks can sometimes take up to several minutes.

Battery life: The average netbook battery can now last up to 10 hours, meaning it can definitely meet your needs for a day of meetings outside of the office. Typically a smartphone is on and ready to roll all the time, and its battery can last for days at a time in standby mode. For being ready to go at all times, not much beats a smartphone but the netbooks offer the advantage of better web browsing functionalities and multitasking capabilities.

Price: These devices are fairly comparable with netbooks now being bracketed in the same price range as smartphones.

Keyboard/screen comfort: The winner is clear here: netbooks are considerably more comfortable to use than smartphones. The biggest appeal for netbooks is their small size and weight—often a perfect compromise between a PDA and a standard size notebook.

Document editing: If you’re doing any more than texting, small emails or reviewing spreadsheets, you’ll want a netbook to work on. And if you require the option to carry out research on the internet while you are working, the netbook can offer the flexibility of multitasking and the option of having several programs running at once. You will find many of today’s smartphones can already view Microsoft Office documents, with some models you can edit right out of the box, while others require third party software for this purpose. Either way, it’s only good in moderation.

Email: A smartphone with a QWERTY keyboard is sufficient for sending and receiving short emails, if you need the option of reading large attachments or to send more heavyweight documents, the netbook may suit your needs better.

Instant messaging: A couple of quick chats are probably fine on a smartphone. Anything longer and you’ll wish you had a netbook keyboard.

Connecting to the web: Netbooks run full-blown web browsers (in both Windows and Linux varieties), so they’re perfect for this purpose. And realistically even the larger 3.5-inch screens of some smartphones can feel tiny after 30 minutes of pinch zooming, flicking and scrolling. Smartphones have failed to deliver on their promise of providing rich internet experiences, and netbooks are well suited to fill that void. For example, Optus recently announced a significant partnership with Hewlett-Packard (HP) Australia which will see Optus offering the HP Mini 5102 Netbook on a series of specially developed business class mobile broadband plans for SME customers.

[Next: Operating Systems and ‘Companion Devices’?]

Multitasking: Although many smartphones are excellent at multitasking they still don’t have the processing power of netbooks. Smartphones are not designed for running multiple applications, while swapping between Wi-Fi and a data network for long periods of time. This is when the netbook works well as a ‘companion device’ allowing you to share information with clients during meetings and to work through things together, which can be more awkward on the smaller screen of a smartphone.

Operating systems

The operating systems in the two machines would perhaps be the final distinguisher between the capabilities of the two gadgets. Based on the fact that most netbooks have better processing capabilities, it is evident that the netbook may outdo the smartphone for business needs.

For SMEs in particular, smartphones may seem ideal because they are light, easy to carry around, they don’t need to be booted up and have flexible uses. However, generally the small screen lets it down for business use other than checking emails, and it doesn’t have the storage space that netbooks do.

Secondary, companion devices

In the business scenario, netbooks should be considered as secondary devices to regular sized notebooks or desktops. In this context they are ‘companion devices’. This means these are the devices you take with you when you are going to meetings, travelling and generally not sitting at your desk. They are ideal for remote email, social networking, web browsing and the basic office tasks such as Microsoft Word and basic Excel and PowerPoint as well as viewing and storing photos.

We see the small business owner having a main device (desktop or notebook) that syncs back to the netbook once the user leaves the office. This level of synchronisation is a little more complex with the smartphone making the netbook the more obvious choice for a business user. At the end of the day, it will come down to the individual’s needs as to which product is going to suit best.

–Kerry Pynor is market development manager, commercial notebooks, Personal Systems Group, HP Australia.

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Kerry Pynor

Kerry Pynor

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