Opinion: Is this apocalypse now for netbooks?

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Opinion: Is this apocalypse now for netbooks?

Predictions the netbook is dead are a touch exaggerated.

If you're buying a relatively small, cheap laptop in 2011, there's a good chance someone is going to tell you to get a tablet, or ask why you didn't. 

Now, the tablet hype has stepped up another notch.

An Acer sales manager has been quoted saying the company's three new upcoming tablets will be "aimed at phasing out netbooks."

Some people could go without a laptop altogether - but this is the first time I can remember hearing a vendor publicly declaring tablets a successor to their keyboard-equipped cousins.

I'd happily pick up an iPad or a Xoom or Toshiba Tablet PC to browse the web, run apps, or check email, but I personally think of them as excellent secondary devices to a netbook or laptop. Whether it be screen size, or the need for a decent keyboard, or the need to run Windows, there are still plenty of reasons to pick a netbook or laptop over a tablet.

That said, netbooks might not be the best purchase in 2011. Tablets are now a serious alternative, but there's also now good value to be gained from laptops with more powerful CULV class processors. And from what we've seen so far, AMD's Fusion is looking like it will seriously bump up the capabilities of portables under $1,000.

The laptop is looking better than ever

Intel's new "Sandy Bridge" CPU lineup promises better gaming performance on cheaper laptops without dedicated graphics. And even if you're a Mac-hater, the MacBook Air is as undeniably jaw-dropping as many tablets.

I looked at dozens of really good and some spectacularly crappy tablets at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) recently - and the thing that struck me was how many of them looked seriously fun, but how few of them I'd ditch my netbook for.

At CES, tablet designs seemed to fall into two camps. On the one side, tablets that are comparable in look and approach to the iPad - relatively large screen size, a touchscreen-centric OS, no physical keyboard. In the other camp, the look and specifications start getting wildly varied ,with everything from slideout and detachable keyboards, to Windows, MeeGo, and tiny screen sizes.

Not all of these laptop-like tablets are particularly cheap. One of the standout laptop-like replacements at CES - the 12.1in Windows 7 Eee Slate from ASUS - will start at $US999. Many of the others we've seen will be more than the price of a netbook.

As these designs evolve, it will be interesting to see whether the tablet can cement a place as a laptop or netbook replacement.

Are you buying a tablet in 2011? Share with us your thinking behind your decision by adding your comment below.

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