Netbooks vs. Smartphones: Making business mobile

What we traditionally think of as a smartphone is changing, as data is overtaking voice in terms of use. However, netbooks are beginning to become more and more pocketable – but which is better for someone who wants an office on the move?

Netbooks were never designed to do anything but check email, surf the internet or write basic word documents on the move. They don't star any higher end features, such as a fast processor to rival a desktop, a cheap but expansive internal memory or gaming features.

You'll seldom find a decent music player or video player, and unless you're willing to pay a little extra, Linux-based operating systems are the norm.

This means extra applications are hard to come by and will often be pricier than they would be for a more open sourced platform such as Symbian or Windows Mobile.

The smartphone option

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However, take a smartphone such as the Windows-based HTC Touch Pro, and you'll find Windows onboard, with Windows Media Player, the ability to play java-based games and a processor that'll do these things all at once without much strain.

Smartphones are built and optimised for working on the move netbooks use the same software as laptops and notebooks so aren't as optimised to go mobile.

Another huge advantage to using a smartphone is the fact that they're connected to a data connection wherever you are. Mobile internet solutions may now be universally available, but who wants to add extra bulk to something that's already chunky when compared to a smartphone?

Manufacturers have started developing netbooks with integrated HSUPA 3G connectivity. Take the LG X110 for example; the integrated SIM card is a useful addition in reducing the bulk, but another luxury that bumps up the price. It's also a little hit and miss whether networks will fully support putting their data inside a netbook.

Overcoming hurdles

To overcome this, netbook manufacturers and operators, including HP, Dell and even Asus have begun offering package deals including a free netbook when you sign up to a mobile broadband package, but this generally means you end up paying more over the lifetime of the deal.

But manufacturers are also taking steps to make the hardware cheaper.

Traditionally, netbooks use lighter, more rugged solid-state drives. Unfortunately, these are more expensive and don't offer the same capacity flexibility as hard drives. Although it's pretty straightforward and cheap to buy a USB flash drive to bump up the space, that's yet another thing you'll have to purchase. Now, as the demand increases for more features from a netbook, hard drives are beginning to pop up, taking away some of the portability, but cutting the price.

Many smartphones - take the Nokia N96 or Samsung i8510 for example - not only feature a 16GB hard drive as standard, but also a microSD card slot too, allowing you to bump that capacity up to 24GB if need be.

However, there are signs that the price of netbooks will drop considerably. Recently, Asus president Jerry Shen announced that a netbook below $200 (130) will appear on the market next year. In a move to produce a lower-priced Eee PC, Asus will phase out the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models, instead favouring a larger 10-inch mini notebook. Is this taking a step back in portability, or a step forward in operability?

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Vosseteig concludes that the future of portable business devices is down to how that equipment works on a hardware, rather than software basis.

"[In the future] I think we'll see better user interaction with web better integrated into the platform, touch and high-resolution screens, with better performance overall," he added.

"Complexity of the device needs to be accounted for as well, especially with mainstream users. Business people on the move want a richer, more powerful experience with their mobile devices."

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