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iPad’s Real Competition

February 1st, 2010 No comments

Everyone’s been screaming about Apple’s new iTouch Maxi, AKA the iPad.  Some people think it’s a netbook killer, others think it’s a neat trinket that doesn’t offer nearly the same features as a decent netbook and costs more to boot.  I think the tech pundits are totally off base.  The iPad isn’t a netbook competitor.  The iPad’s true competition are devices like the Lenovo Skylight.

screenshot.8The Skylight is, like the iPad, an Internet-centric device powered by a 3G connection (courtesy of AT&T as well).  The specs are fairly similar in terms of processor speed, screen size, etc.  Most importantly, the Skylight is a Linux-based lightweight OS designed around applets.  Lenovo provides a bunch off the bat (Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, YouTube, etc).  But they are planning to release development specs to the platform so that others can build additional widgets for the device.  Hmm…this model sounds familiar.

So the interesting comparison is whether or not you should get a Skylight or an iPad.  The Skylight, being Linux-based, is potentially much more easily cracked and made into a true mini-computer, but let’s assume that we stick to stock configurations of both devices – no jailbreaking and the like for these puppies.  How do they stack up?

Processor

Both the iPad and the Skylight are powered by 1GHz ARM-based processors.  Both utilize, at their hearts, the SnapDragon SOC.  Thus, they should run functionally at about the same rate.  The key issues will be around graphics processing and onboard RAM, both of which will have an impact on the ability of the processor to keep up with the user.  I wouldn’t expect Apple to be stingy with the RAM, but I could be on crack too.  Since Apple doesn’t really like multitasking, they aren’t necessarily as concerned with beefy RAM.  The Skylight’s custom widgets might be less memory intensive than their iPad counterparts, but I’ll also wager that the platform allows more than one to run at a time.

Display

The iPad has a 4:3 formatted screen at 1024 x 768.  The Skylight uses a more widescreen formatted screen at 1280 x 720, which is (if I’m not mistaken) HD-compatible 720p.  (I could be wrong about that – I’m horrible with remembering anything less than 1080p HD resolution).  So the Skylight probably offers a more traditional movie format display, whereas the iPad is geared towards TV.  Movies on the iPad will have tons of black around them.

Physical Size

The Skylight provides sizing as 253mm x 201mm x 17mm while the iPad is listed as 242.8mm x 189.7mm x 13.4mm.  So the iPad is a tad slimmer.  Weightwise, the iPad comes in at 1.5lbs while the Skylight is listed as being less than 2lbs.  However, keep in mind that the Skylight includes a full keyboard.  If you add the weight of even an Apple BT keyboard to the iPad, I’ll be that they will come in roughly the same (actually, the iPad might lose but it would be close).  And the iPad is probably a bit bulkier when you consider the addition of the keyboard.

Storage

The iPad comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB flavors.  The Skylight comes with 8GB integrated storage plus an 8GB microSD card, which can be expanded by the user.  The biggest external microSD card I’ve seen on Amazon is for 32GB, so you get an effective 40GB of storage on the Skylight, max.  However, the Skylight can be expanded easily once 64GB microSDs come out, while you’re stuck on Apple’s refresh cycle to bump up your iPad’s specs.  If you’re looking for long-term use, the Skylight’s expandability is the better way to go.

Wireless and Battery

The iPad’s top config includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and 3G.  The Skylight is similarly configured.  What I’m not sure about (cause Lenovo be mighty stingy on the specs) is whether or not the Skylight has GPS.  I would assume yes, but you never know.

Both devices boast 10 hours of battery life under “normal” conditions.

Summary

So there you have it – the iPad is basically a Skylight without the keyboard.  From a capabilities perspective, the two are very comparable.  However, the Skylight provides all the features discussed above at a top price of $499, whereas you’ll pay $829 for a similarly equipped iPad.  Then you add in the accessories necessary to make the iPad match the Skylight’s feature set and you could get almost two Skylights for the price of a top of the line tricked out iPad.  Heck you might even be able to get Lenovo’s removable-screen IdeaPad for that price.  That would give you a netbook AND a tablet.  From the press release, it seems that Lenovo has the same deal with AT&T that Apple does – that is, no contract data access plans.  I’m guessing they’ll be similarly priced too.

The key thing that will differentiate these two products then is the apps that run on them.  In that area, the iPad has a significant advantage over the Lenovo, but I’m sure Lenovo isn’t going to be an app gatekeeper like Apple is.  This is both good and bad, but it does put the Skylight at a very distant starting point.

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