January 22, 2009, 12:34 PM — It's fascinating to watch laptops getting smaller and turning into “netbooks” while phones are getting bigger to accommodate full keyboards and better Web browsing and application support. So which should you buy when you upgrade your mobile equipment this year? It all depends on whether you create or peruse.
I hate to say “it depends” because that always sounds like a weasly waffle rather than an answer. So let me tell you what requirements suggest which mobile device option.
If you create documents while out of the office, such as letters and spreadsheets, then you need a laptop or netbook. They're down to about $350 bucks or less now, if you don't need more than basic applications and Web access, and they're still large enough to type on and actually get something done. If you type fast, make sure you can live with the netbook keyboard. Those with fat fingers will have trouble finding a keyboard large enough to type comfortably. You may have to search for a small laptop rather than a netbook.
Many of the netbooks also have a camera, copying the Apple model. But the smallest models are so underpowered I don't think you'll be getting high resolution streaming video from your little netbook. So the question becomes whether or not you type and create during your mobile workday. If so, grab your netbook and stick your basic cell phone in your pocket.
If, on the other hand, you primarily peruse, go with a smartphone. Checking your calendar, e-mail, and quick bits of Web sites work great on the modern smartphone. I have no desire to push you toward Blackberry or Palm or Windows Mobile or iPhone or any of that in this post. Choosing your smartphone is a much longer, more involved subject than we have time to cover now.
Here's the rule of thumb: if you create documents during the day, go with a netbook. If you read documents while out and about, go with a smartphone. Just be prepared to spend more on your high-end smartphone than your netbook.