Netbooks vs iPads

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It has been a very busy couple of weeks for me with writing a paper for my comparative education course and reading 8 sets of classroom report cards. I'm happy to say they are both behind me and I'm ready to blog about something that has been on my mind for a long time, Netbooks vs iPads. 

My first experience with Netbooks came during my time as a learning technologies coordinator. I failed to be impressed with the device on a personal level but more importantly confused on how they would be used in schools. Those first impressions have stayed with me and became more evident during the past couple of months as we introduced iPads into our school. Students have been engaged creating book trailers, Haiku Decks, and paper slide videos with the iPads. These same students have a teacher who embraces BYOD, have access to a mini-lab of Netbooks, and a bank of 5 high-end video editing desktop computers. So what better way to find out what device is best for students than to give them a voice.  

On Thursday, as our grade 7 & 8 students worked on assignments using a number of different devices such as iPhones, iPads, Netbooks, personal laptops, iPod Touches and desktop computers I took out my iPhone, started my voice memos app and began asking students one simple question - "If you had to choose between using the iPad or the Netbook, which would you choose, and why?"

Below are the unedited responses from the students (well, minus the ums and ahs...smile). I leave my initial impressions of Netbooks to the end of post.


"I'd pick the iPad because the apps that are installed a way easier to use" 

"iPad because it is easier to take a picture or video and use it right away in your project"

"I like using the iPad because I feel they are easier to use. They have cool apps, everything is on it like the camera and keyboard. You can also go on the Internet."

"I think the iPads are cooler because they are faster and our Netbooks are quite small and hard to type with the small keys."

"The way the Netbooks work with the programs, they are so slow, so they are really only good for using the Internet." 

"I like the iPad better because it has a better quality screen and the Netbooks have too small of a screen."

"I like using both because I don't have either at home, but if I had to choose one I would pick the iPad because the apps that we have on them are really easy to use."

"When we first got the Netbooks they were awesome, but then we got the iPads and it like changed everything. You don't have to get a camera to use and then transfer stuff you shoot like you do with a Netbook. It just is easier to use."

"I don't like typing on the iPad, so I would choose the Netbook."

"The Netbooks are always too slow. The iPads have cool apps and they are way more fun to use."

"I'd take the iPad, but the only bad thing is you can't get Flash on them. We found that out with Mr.Mac the other day."


Unsurprisingly the vast majority of the students would prefer the iPad over the Netbook. Some their reasons were exactly the same reservations I had with Netbooks when they were first introduced in our school board. I felt the keyboards were too small for typing (well at least for my fingers), the screens were too small when working with most software programs and the processor itself wouldn't handle many programs well. I can't tell you how many times I heard people say "I think I need to get an external keyboard, and flat screen to use with my Netbook." They would have been better off buying a laptop, probably for around the same cost.

In my opinion Netbooks were really only good for those individuals who travelled frequently and needed access to their email and the Internet. I don't believe they were made to have lots of software applications installed and connection to a Local Area Network like the computers in our school. That's probably the reason they perform so poorly in our environment. That's just my opinion.

At the end of the day our job as leaders is to determine what tool is best for students to use, always keeping in mind they are simply that - a tool to support curriculum expectations. If we listen to our students, they will tell us what works best. But I wonder if we are really listening. I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with iPads and Netbooks.

Love, Writing and Chocolate Kisses
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  • Doug Peterson

    That's an interesting perspective and some nice observations. You just need to keep in mind that iPads weren't an option when you were a Learning Coordinator. It was a time when education was evaluating the price of technology, determining just how much power is needed in schools, and mobility was important - and the Netbook was the answer! I have mine here and, while I really enjoy my iPad, the one frustration that I have is that I find it difficult to type a lengthy text piece - like this reply on glass. Alternative? Buy an external keyboard which takes us back to your basic premise. Need a bigger screen? Buy an Apple TV and then something to connect it to! Need Flash or Java? Move on. It seems to me that both alternative have compromises to be made. At this point, I think that I would agree with both you and your students but I'm still not convinced it's the perfect answer. I know that many have become fans of the Chromebook as it addresses much of the compromise - provided you can live with the web. Can I make the assumption that you're running Windows on the Netbook? A Linux OS like Ubuntu or Chrome OS might solve the speed issues.

    I think there are exciting developments in the future. Smart minds like your students are wrestling with these issues. The first one to come up with the ultimate solution will be a wealthy person!

  • David Fife

    Thanks for visiting and commenting Doug. You're right that it was a time when boards were evaluating the price of technology, mainly due to shrinking budgets and mobility was becoming more of an option. I too don't type anything of length on my iPad and fortunately the kids at school don't either, they are using them more of a multi-media creation tool. From their responses it seems like they appreciate having tools like the camera available to them on one device, for ease of project completion. Also a key point might be the integration of audio, still camera images and video within apps like Movie Maker.

    I also think you're right about the Chromebook being a compromise if you are willing to work in a web 2.0 environment. Interesting that it looks like the cost of a Chromebook is about the same as what we are paying for a Netbook now in our board. If I had to choose between those two options I would take the Chromebook. I know you understand how IT departments operate at the board level. They are concerned with security and support. So yes, our Netbooks are running on XP with a mostly full software load and connection to our local network. That is probably the reason for such poor performance.

    It really is an exciting time to watch the developments in educational technology. If we continue to give our students a voice one day they might just come up with that ultimate solution and hopefully remember you and I when they start getting their cheques. :D