If you go back only a couple of years, you would see that the mobile computer industry was dominated by the laptop. There were a few alternatives to the traditional laptop, like the tablet PC, advanced PDAs and even a few Smartphones. These could all perform many basic computing tasks, but the laptop computer seemed to set the standard.
An example of a laptop would be the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU/Q with an 18.4" screen, and weighing 8.8 pounds.
The time-honoured laptop now faces some competition in the mobile computing market. It can sometimes be bewildering for consumers as there is new terminology and categories to bear in mind when shopping for a mobile computer. There are laptops, notebooks, netbooks and tablet computers. But what's the difference? The answer to this question really depends upon whom you ask. One person may call a specific PC a netbook while another may insist it's a notebook!
There are, however, some general guidelines you can use. Laptop computers, notebooks and netbooks are all basically the same shape, the main difference is size. All three can be categorised as a mobile computer with two key parts - a screen and a keyboard attached by hinges. In most cases, netbooks are smaller and lighter than notebooks, which in turn are smaller and lighter than laptops.
It's easy to get confused as there are no specific size or weight classes for computers. So, for instance, if the computer has a 12-inch screen, is it a notebook or a netbook? This is where people could disagree.
Some people use the terms laptops and notebooks interchangeably because many of the laptops you can buy today are smaller and lighter than their predecessors. Advances in laptop technology mean manufacturers are now able to provide smaller packages with more power, resulting in the notebook format becoming the norm.
An example of a notebook would be the Apple MacBook Pro, with a 15" screen and weighing 5.4 pounds.
Notebook computers are commonly lighter than laptops but slightly larger than netbooks. They usually have screens ranging from 12 to 17 inches and weigh around 5 to 6 pounds. Ideally, notebook computers will have the same processing power and features as larger laptop computers, but are just smaller in size.
On the other hand, netbooks are still somewhat new to the mobile computer industry. The general characterisation for a netbook is that they are slighter, less powerful and more affordable than notebook computers.
When netbooks first arrived on the scene not so long ago, they instantly seemed to disagree with the accepted opinion of the computer industry. It was thought for many years that the approach consumers took, was to acquire the quickest, most powerful computer that they could afford. But in reality, consumers are realising that they don't necessarily need a state of the art computer for most of the tasks they need to perform. As the Web takes a more dominant role in computing, the processing needs for consumer computers become less demanding.
Though people disagree on precise weights and sizes for netbooks, it is the general rule of thumb that netbook screens are smaller than 12 inches and weigh only 1-3 pounds. Typically they cost between £200 and £400.
An example of a netbook is the Asus Eee PC 1005HA, with a 10.1" LED wide screen display, and weighing 2.8 pounds.
In general terms, a tablet PC can be described as a slate-shaped mobile computer gadget, equipped with a touch screen or stylus. Picture a computer screen without a keyboard. This form factor offers a more mobile computer. Tablet PCs may be used where laptops, notebooks and even some netbooks are unmanageable or cumbersome, or do not provide the needed functionality.
Some tablets have a full QWERTY keyboard that you can pull out from under the small 4 to 7 inch screen whereas other models rely solely on the touch screen interface. While tablets are more portable than notebooks, they are more expensive than netbooks.
An example of a computer tablet is the just released Apple iPad.
Take a look at some other examples by visiting our Tablet Computer category, and read the reviews written by Review Centre members.
Smartphones have also added to the confusion surrounding the mobile computing landscape. As smartphones have become more powerful, particularly over the last year, they have begun to fill the same role as netbooks. In general, smartphones range in price from around £150 to more than £600. They're very portable, multifunctional and convenient!
One thing is for certain: mobility is essential. People want to be able to manage applications and access and share data, anytime, anywhere. They may want a device that has its own spacious hard drive to store those large presentation files or a netbook they can use to simply surf the net and log into Facebook whilst enjoying a quick coffee.
While netbooks accounted for a large percentage of computer sales during 2009, the recorded return rate for netbooks was somewhat high. That may be due to consumers misunderstanding the purpose of netbooks. The devices simply aren't as powerful as notebooks, laptops and desktop computers. They're also likely to have smaller keyboards and some people may have trouble typing during a long period of time.
Regardless of the return rates, the popularity, attractiveness and reputation of netbooks and tablet computers continues to grow. So the question is, with the convenience of these devices combined with hard-hitting economic times, does it mean the days of the dominant and costly desktop PC are numbered? Only you, the consumer can decide.