Can the iPad replace a notebook?

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.


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.

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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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