November 22, 2010, 5:14 PM — Your old PC is ready for the recyclers and it's time to buy a new one. Or is it? These days, we're fortunate to have a plethora of computing devices that can handle everything from sending an e-mail to watching a movie or writing a thesis. A PC (or Mac, for that matter) is no longer the only choice.
Smartphones aside, you have three categories of products to consider this year: Full-fledged laptops, netbooks and tablets.
Because Apple's iPad has been out long enough to have a track record, I see it as a proxy for the entire tablet category. That will change next year as manufacturers bring out competing devices.
[Netbooks maye be a losing niche. See CIO.com's Will the IPad Kill the Netbook Star?. ]
Netbooks are generally defined as Windows- or Linux-based computers with screens of about 10 inches and smaller, equipped with a low-power processor. The category has been battered by the introduction of the tablet, but the netbook's low price and low weight make it a good choice for some of us. (You'll notice I haven't included desktop PCs in my list. That's deliberate. There are specific circumstances that call for a desktop, but by and large, there's no longer a reason to be anchored to a box. )
As always, your buying decision should be based on the optimal combination of price and the features you really want and need. Here are seven key questions to ask yourself before you start shopping.
1. How much do I want to spend?
There's no short answer to what you'll pay for each class of device; the brand you choose, and more importantly, the features you want, will determine the price. Consider the iPad: Prices range from $499 for the 16-GB, Wi-Fi only model to $829 for the 64-GB, Wi-Fi plus 3G version. And remember, to connect via 3G you'll have to buy a wireless plan from AT&T.
You can certainly find a more-than-serviceable Netbook for much less than the price of the cheapest iPad; in fact $300 is a reasonable price point. Even if you load it up with features, you'd be hard pressed to spend more than $600 on a netbook.
Laptop prices are all over the map. You can find a decent Windows laptop for less than $500, but it will probably be rather heavy and may not have as much memory, storage or processor power as you'd like. Get up to about $700 and you can take home a very good machine, although the thinnest and lightest cost significantly more.
2. Do I want to watch movies when I fly?