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Where netbooks still beat the Apple iPad

Despite the introduction of the iPad and the harsh words of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, netbooks will continue to thrive, say analysts and commentators, who cite the tablet's missing features and relatively high price.

During the launch, Jobs called netbooks “cheap laptops” that tried but failed to create a third category between smartphones and notebook PCs.

“The problem is that netbooks aren't better than anything,” Jobs said.

Au contraire, said commentators, who called the iPad nothing more than an overgrown iPod Touch. Others suggested that Apple should have launched an iNetbook instead.

HP's touch-enabled Mini 5102, which starts at $399, is one netbook that will deliver more bang for the buck than the iPad. Also, see our image gallery: Apple's iPad has landed.ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr said the iPad is no sure thing.

“Several functions — front-facing and still/video cameras, external storage interfaces, support for Flash in the browser — are absent,” he wrote in a research note. “The iPad prices and gaps in functionality are likely to leave the door open for other media tablet vendors.”

ABI predicts that 4 million tablets such as the iPad and the lesser-known Archos 5 will ship this year. That's a fraction of the 35 million netbooks ABI said shipped last year — a number it expects will grow this year.

“Most netbook purchases are based on a 'value' decision for portable and mobile usage, while media tablets will initially be a premium, luxury device focused on the home,” Orr said. “ABI Research expects little impact on netbook shipments in 2010 from the introduction of media tablets.”

Here's a rundown comparing netbooks against the iPad in several key areas, with the winner highlighted in each:

Design: The iPad. One-half-inch thin, 1.5 lb. That is less than half the size and weight of most netbooks, which are weighed down by their keyboards. The iPad also boasts Apple's trademark style.

Camera: Netbooks. The lack of a video webcam or a still-photo camera — cameras being standard on even low-end smartphones today — has been criticized. “The lack of a camera on the iPad is a serious problem, we think,” wrote ReadWriteWeb. “Images and video are a big part of the interactivity on the Web that people have become used to, and we're not sure how they'll react to a device that, on the surface, seems like it should have these capabilities but is instead sorely lacking.”

Input: Tossup. IPhone and iTouch owners will no doubt love the touch experience on the iPad. But independent analyst Jack Gold questions whether users will be able to “do any serious work” without a keyboard. The iPad does come with a dock to attach an optional keyboard, but that negates some of its form factor advantage over netbooks.

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