Can the iPad replace a notebook?

At the announcement of the second iPad in early 2011, Steve Jobs declared it was more than a toy. But what exactly are its productivity credentials?

Can it fulfil the mobile office duties we’ve come to expect from our portable computers and give us into the bargain more of a reason to extend our credit limit and buy one? Because, like, we could use it for work, and that?

Can the iPad replace a notebook?

Office use

A computer lives and dies by its ability (or inability) to be used in the office, the place where most documents, spreadsheets, and presentations are handled.

Not surprisingly, the iPad has an abundance of apps designed to take on the aspects of office work that most of us are familiar with: writing documents, working with spreadsheets, and creating PowerPoint presentations.

Apple of course has its own solutions for $12 a pop, with each piece of software – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – making up the “iWork” solution.

A few of the apps we use here at GadgetGuy.

Other solutions, such as Documents To Go HD, QuickOffice HD, and Office2 HD, act as a true Microsoft Office replacement tool, and for the most part, prove quite effective. A few formatting changes may exist, but these Office replacement tools help to connect your existing Office requirements with the iPad, something Microsoft hasn’t properly acknowledged yet.

If writing is all you’re after, there are quite a lot of options available at the Apple AppStore, with most at reasonable prices. We’ve been playing with a few of these writing solutions for our own reviews, and find the experience offered by a separate writing app is much, much better than Apple’s own bundled note taking application.

VERDICT: The notebook wins on this one, but followed closely by the iPad.

Do you need a keyboard?

One of the better selling accessories for the iPad is the keyboard. There’s a lot of choice on offer, with the link to the iPad achieved via either a wired connection over USB from the iPad Camera Kit or via Bluetooth. Apple has its own dock-based keyboard, but with Bluetooth capability, you can also use the wireless iMac keyboard.

There are two reasons why the keyboard sells so well, and that’s because the iPad’s virtual touchscreen keyboard scores so low for comfort and speed.

Much like other tablets, the onscreen keyboard limits how much of the screen you can see while typing.

When entering text, the iPad tends to be laid flat on a surface or rested on something so that the screen angles up to the eyeline.  Neither position is comfortable for the wrists or neck for extended periods of use. In addition, the touchscreen’s virtual keyboard doesn’t provide the feedback of a physical keyboard – there is no travel in each keystroke and without the expected ‘response’ it’s easy to make errors.

The iPad can also be ‘outrun’ by the speedy fingers of confident typists. Apple’s inbuilt spellcheck does a pretty good job of weeding out the mistakes caused by the keyboard’s interpretation of your typing, but be sure to give your documents a thorough proof read anyway.

Apple's wireless keyboard is just one of many options available for Bluetooth keyboards.


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  1. For the office apps, it’s not just an iPad issue. Every app for tablets – iPad, Android, and BlackBerry – is going to have problems with spreadsheets and data analysis because often, the original apps don’t exist on the platform. So if completely accurate Excel files is what you’re after, you’ll want to go check out a Windows tablet. 

    If you use specialised software, it’s once again a platform issue. You can’t really throw blame at an iPad for that as it becomes an issue with the software and requiring a developer to make it for a platform. 

    Games: not sure how many modern games with high-end graphics you’ve tried to play on notebooks, but I’d chuck it to the iPad just on battery life alone. Sure, there isn’t a copy of Portal 2 or StarCraft II on the iPad (yet), but there are some excellent games available that use 3D engines and have solid gameplay. Furthermore, most of the laptops that sell for between 500 and 1000 – the iPad pricing area – will not have sufficient graphics power to play games decently.

    Files: you’re right, transferring over email is a pain and DropBox or other cloud-based solutions are the best way, but the iPad was designed as a consumption device. 

    Netbook users have the most compelling reason to switch, and that’s not something I disagree with. If you need a full-fledged notebook, you need to have one and right now, based on what I’m seeing that’s coming out, that won’t be changing. 

    But that’s what the point of this article was: to see if an iPad could replace a laptop, and for some it can. I don’t really use my notebook all that much anymore, and for me, that’s a win. If I had to edit video, work on my graphics, and work in a development environment on the road, I’d switch back to it in a heartbeat.

    1. Office apps have the most problems, especially since Microsoft hasn’t actually given any tablet platform outside of Windows an official Office app. 

      There are a few options, but they all have formatting issues. 

  2. I will browse on the ipad but multitasking is too painful, half the apps don’t push when they should.
    Great for kids games though, shhh go play ipad, mummy is sleeping.

    1. I haven’t tried this on an Android tablet yet. I’ve only found a couple of things my iPad can’t do that my netbook could, such as editing code and uploading files to websites. And that Flash thing… that’s a little annoying. 🙂

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