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.

VERDICT: Tie.

The Flash internet

Your iPad comes with a browser and a connection to Apple’s AppStore. With both of these, you’ll easily find your way around the web, whether you’re browsing or sending messages to your friends.

Other web browsers are available for you to download, including Opera, Skyfire, Atomic, and Mercury. These all offer a slightly different experience, but in general they all lack one thing: support for the Adobe Flash platform.

The BlackBerry PlayBook (above) and Google Android tablets are - right now - the only slates to support the Flash platform.

One of the sour points in owning an iPad is that Apple doesn’t support Flash, which means you can’t properly view websites that use it. Now, Flash is an web format that’s widely used on a lot of sites, but Apple, too, is not without influence and the web is starting to sing to its tune, with many sites deploying videos and interactive elements in the new HTML 5 platform as a workaround.

On this count, a notebook proves is a slightly better option for browsing the web. Tablets running both Google’s Android and RIM’s BlackBerry operating systems can also view Flash, so these may prove to better web surfing solutions.

VERDICT: Both the netbook and notebook beat the iPad in this one, mostly because Apple won’t allow Flash to run on iOS.

Social networking

Social networking is also a popular activity, and one increasingly employed by businesses wanting to communicate with their customers. The AppStore has quite a lot of apps dedicated to the various social networking platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Twitter's official app on the iPad.

In some ways, these apps are better than using the browser-based options found on a regular computer, but many of these can also be downloaded to your computer and run separately from the browser, too.

VERDICT: Unless you like visiting the websites on a regular basis, we’re awarding this to the iPad. The AppStore has too many apps dedicated to social networking not to win this category.

Graphics and multimedia

The iPad is absent the separate graphics card and large store of memory that notebooks tend to employ to deal with graphics processing and multimedia, but there’s still a lot the tablet can do in this space.

If you’re looking at simple graphic changes, you’ll find accommodation on the iPad. There are plenty of photo and image alteration apps out there, but none offer the level of fine control one gets with a copy of Photoshop. Not even Adobe’s tiny Photoshop Express app can compete with its flagship desktop product here, offering just a hint of the image editing tools normally found in a full-fledged copy of Photoshop. We’ve heard rumblings that Adobe is working on a new and more powerful mobile Photoshop app, but as of the time this was published, there’s been nothing new.

Drawing directly on the iPad using the touchscreen is one thing a notebook can't do.

Creative types will find quite a few apps designed to let them draw using lines, bezier curves, layers, and even free-flowing ink. Finished artists will even find they can paint directly on the iPad by using applications such as SketchBook (above), Brushes, and ArtRage offering a feature most notebooks could only dream of.

Sound editing doesn’t have a lot to offer, but we’ve certainly seen some interesting apps making use of the iPad’s multitouch display, including the music recording GarageBand and the record mixing DJ tool Djay.

If you’re planning on editing videos, Apple’s iMovie looks to be the best bet, although it has its own limitations, namely the inability to bring in any video that hasn’t been shot directly on the iPad itself, a problem that we hope Apple will fix soon.

While the iPad lacks the power and control a notebook offers, it can also provide a different way of letting you manipulate multimedia.

As far as watching videos goes, that’s something we feel the iPad does a better job of than most notebook computers. Apps are available for playing back different file formats and the screen is better than most of those found on notebooks, even besting the screen quality on some Apple laptop computers.

Nothing in the iPad can really match the power of a notebook computer, however, especially one equipped with a fast processor and the ability to run professional editing solutions in either graphics, sound, or video.

But the iPad can definitely meet – and beat – a netbook on this field, offering more software designed to run on the low system specs and small screen resolution than the 10 inch sub-$500 notebooks ever get.

VERDICT: Tie. The two technologies are very different, with the traditional laptop winning for multimedia and image editing, and the iPad taking it for drawing and slightly unconventional sound editing.

Gaming

If you currently use a netbook but like to indulge in the odd game or two, then you already know that your computer is ill-equipped for the task at hand. A lot of notebooks sized between 13 and 17 inches suffer from speed and graphical issues too, creating an environment that makes for an unsatisfying gaming experience.

The iPad, however, can play some pretty impressive games, thanks to the combination of graphics, memory, and operating system it takes advantage of. We are, in fact, seeing some truly incredible games performance thanks to the power of the iPad with titles such as “Real Racing 2 HD” and “Dead Space”.

Firemint's "Real Racing 2 HD" is one of the best looking racing games we've ever played on a handheld.

The quality of games is very different to what’s currently available on Windows and Mac OS computers, but then the iPad isn’t a regular computer. Most of the titles available on the iPad have been designed specifically for the iPad or, at the very least, the iPhone and iPod Touch.

This doesn’t mean that the gaming experience is worse than what you might find on a console or computer; rather, it means that the title has been designed to function on the iPad, possibly offering a more interesting experience that takes advantage of the iPad’s unique features.

VERDICT: With more games on the AppStore running beautifully on the iPad than most laptops get, we’re giving it to the fruity gadget.

Battery life

Laptops don’t generally get a whole lot out of the battery. Even when you ditch the DVD drive, switch to solid state, and build the battery into the notebook, the maximum runtime is normally around seven hours, and that’s a hopeful number.

Netbooks can go past ten or eleven hours once WiFi has been turned off, effectively giving students and flyers a long lasting computer when they really need battery life.

High performance games, such as EA's "Mirror's Edge", can quickly chew up battery life.

The iPad is similar in this way as the battery can manage in excess of ten hours depending on what you’re using it for. We browse the web over WiFi, write articles (such as this one), play games, and listen to music sporadically over a Bluetooth stereo set of headphones, and we retain charge for two days.

Try getting that on a notebook.

VERDICT: iPad wins this round.

Storage

When you buy the iPad, you’re given a choice between three capacities: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. There are some external storage solutions that make use of the Apple docking connector, but being hard to come by you’re pretty much stuck with the capacity your iPad ships with.

On a laptop, you always have bigger hard drives and the option to add more storage with external drives. But on an iPad, once you run out of space, you’ll have to make more room by transferring data to a computer, or backup to the cloud using solutions such as Dropbox or Apple’s future iCloud.

So the iPad is nowhere near as versatile as a notebook or netbook computer when it comes to storage options. If you need to be able to store more than 60GB locally, the iPad shouldn’t be your only tool.

VERDICT: Notebooks and netbooks win this one.

Conclusion

We started this article with a view to finding a reason to stop lugging our notebook around, and we found it. This article was written entirely on an iPad using its onscreen keyboard, and then sent for editing via Dropbox.

So, yes, the iPad can replace a notebook, but whether it should will depend on what you demand from a portable computer.

Netbook users have the most compelling reason to switch – heck even a 10 inch model is heavier than an iPad. If you use a lot of power-intensive applications and require capacious local storage, a notebook remains the most capable.