Genealogy- iPad or Netbook?

Lately, I have gotten a lot of questions about the little computers I carry around to help with my genealogy tasks. Questions like:

  • What do you think of the iPad?
  • Do you like your Netbook?

In general, people want to know how I like the devices and whether they should consider buying one or more for themselves. This post is an attempt to respond to those questions.

Let me begin by saying I have been working with computers since 1974.  Yep, I am an old guy, old PC habits, old PC biases.  I have them all.  But in fairness, you need to be aware of this as I am certain my background colors my opinions.

Data entry:

Let me start this out by saying I am writing this post on my regular PC; I am not using either of the little guys. To my mind this speaks to the biggest problems with these little devices- data entry. Both machines offer facilities to perform data entry but one is much more severely constrained than the other.

The iPad’s on screen keyboard is nothing short of horrible, to be honest it is my greatest disappointment with the iPad itself. iPads offer an peculiar two stage alphabetic/ numeric keyboard which is missing any directional positioning keys (arrows). It is, for me, an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult typing experience. Not being a perfect typist to begin with, the iPad brings my error rates to new heights. And as for speed, it takes me at least three times longer to enter text on the iPad than it does on the Netbook (which is slower than my regular laptop). Oh how I long for the days of Palm/ Handspring Graffiti.  In fairness, it’s not as if the netbook is without it’s faults here, too. Tiny keys, too big fingers make for difficult and slow typing; but, functional it is.

Compatibilty with other PC applications:

Here I have to say the Netbook is again the winner. The iPad has a large application base but they are different from those available on PC platforms, be they Windows, Mac or Linux (like I use). All this is to say, your favorite genealogy programs will not run on an iPad but they will (with just a little planning) run very nicely on a Netbook.

Screen image quality:

WOW! what else can I say about the iPad screen.  My Netbook is okay, but not WOW!

Adverts/ Advertisements:

iPads are an advertisers’ dream. Adverts are simply everywhere. To eliminate them requires that a user “Jailbreak” the iPad in order to get access to ‘apps’ that block adware. Netbooks, like regular PCs, are perfectly capable of blocking ads; all you need are the correct browser(s) and correct browser plugin(s). This function may not seem that important on a 17″ monitor but it is hugely significant when you have only ~60% of the screen real estate – as is offered on these little guys.

USB, webcam, SD card availability:

Netbooks offer these on even the cheapest models. Not so the iPad.

OS (Operating System) interoperability:

One of the most frustrating aspects of the iPad, for me, is the fact that the iPad does not recognize, interface well with, or support Linux. It requires a Windows or Mac to initially boot and from that point to backup. It assumes all systems functions will be managed through an iTunes (Apple) proprietary interface. The Libertarian in me does not like that at all. Netbooks do not have that same proprietary bend.

Modification or removal of included applications:

All PC vendors seem to want to pollute their devices with preferred apps. Netbooks and iPads are no exception. However although it is time consuming to clean up a Netbook of undesirable applications, it can be done. But the iPad, nope. You get to keep the silly map, video, photo, iPod apps whether you want them or not. So I have moved mine onto an unused subordinate-screen.

Window to window (screen to screen) navigation:

Because of the tiny screen sizes, navigation is not easy on either machine. But it is easier on the Netbook because of a users ability to use short-cut keys and traditional navigation to move from A to B. However, the iPad touch screen navigation is much more Fun & Cool. iPad navigation is also built around some very nice eye candy, like turning pages. Truly cool and not bad, just different. I am certain that the iPad screen navigation is the wave of the future.  The zoom and movement functions are intuitive and fun to learn, but learn them you must because the iPad smart phone navigation screens will surely take over.  They are simply to good not to.

Size & weight:

Both devices are in the same weight and size class. Screens are about 10 inches, and the weight is in the 2-3 (US) pound range- about 1 kg.


The iPad is the clear winner here! An iPad costs, on average, twice what a Netbook does. Hmmm, maybe that’s not being a winner? Well, Apple thinks it is.

Coolness & fun factor:

Although the Netbook does have a certain Lilliputian coolness to it, it is nothing like the coolness the iPad has. People really seem to like the iPad form factor and ‘finger’/ touch screen navigation. As always, Apple has a real design winner in the iPad space. The Netbooks really simply look like laptops that were washed in too hot water and were left for an extra cycle or two in the dryer.

The bottom line:

The bottom line, is I will gladly keep them both. I like them both, a lot. But if I am forced to carry only one device with me to do my research, I choose the Netbook.  But I have my weights out and am building my strength because I don’t want to leave my iPad behind.