The iPad vs. 17 Inch Dell XPS

By Rob Enderle April 05, 2011

Sounds like a crazy experiment—but on a trip to Panama last week, my wife left her laptop at home and took her iPad and Kindle and I left my 11” notebook at home and took a 17” XPS Dell and my kindle on the trip.   Our experiences were kind of interesting.


Boy there is something about light; and for my wife, the iPad got lighter all the time because in the massive backpack I needed for the Dell it was easier for me to carry her iPad than for her to carry it.   Hard to beat no weight at all—which is what happens when the husband had room in his bag. She tried to read several things on the iPad but went back to the Kindle as the preferred reading source largely because it is what she is used to and it doesn’t glare out outside. 

One problem became quickly evident however, and that was while I could bet a wireless connection most everyplace the iPad’s range was far more limited and she often had to get much closer to the access point than I did to work.  

Email was the iPad’s forte but she seemed to run into website problems a lot which likely had to do with Flash support. She had to use my laptop a couple of times but none critical.  The 10 hours of battery life was a huge benefit but it turned out to be not as much as I’d thought.  I’ll get to that in a minute. In short, she could live without her laptop and on the iPad fine but I quickly discovered I couldn’t.

17” Dell XPS

I write a lot and the problem with a small screen is if you are doing links bringing up two things on a 10” to 12” screen is just painful. Yet that is what I typically travel with.   A 17” panoramic screen, however, is heaven and once seated I could work almost as well as I could on my desk which was a huge advantage.  

I got the extended battery on this laptop which gives me between 4 and 5 hours of battery life which turned out to be OK on the plane for watching Tivo ToGo shows and the laptop proved to be better for this than the iPad did.  

The laptop allows for two sets of headphones so we could both enjoy the program. The iPad has only one jack and while you could split it, volume likely would have become a problem.  

Back to the size of the screen, for movies and shows, 17 inches at 2’ is like having a big screen TV and the screen angles on a base that you don’t have to hold. We had a keyboard for the iPad but angling the screen wasn’t an option and no one wanted to hold the thing for a two hour movie.  

On battery life one thing I’ve noticed is that folks forget to charge their iPads so they tend to run out of power at inopportune times.  I haven’t yet seen a good external battery solution for one yet, and this dramatically reduces the value of that 10 hour battery. With a laptop, you get used to filling up whenever you get a chance and while I clearly didn’t have the full charge advantage my wife did (and would kill for a 10 hour battery) it wasn’t as big a problem as I thought it would be.

Now on weight, this monster comes in with charger way too close to 10 pounds while the iPad feels trivial in comparison. However, I’ve noticed that when my backpack is packed it comes in around 25 pounds and the difference between the 11 inch notebook I typically carry and this monster wasn’t as much as I thought. It was more that I had to carry a bigger backpack but that also gave me more room for other stuff.    

Wrapping Up: 

I’m now traveling with a 17 inch notebook and not with an iPad.   But that is because I write a lot and tend to not write much on airplanes anyway. If I did less long writing and just short notes I’d go smaller and likely try to live on an iPad as well. For me, bigger turned out to be better, for my wife the iPad (particularly if she could use my laptop in emergencies) was the better choice particularly when she discovered it would fit in my backpack. Much like choosing between a sports car and a pickup truck, with technology, thinking through how you are going to use it can result in a more informed choice.  

I have a lot of folks I know that live on iPads and love them, and a lot where they have ended up on a shelf and rarely touched. You could likely save a lot of money figuring out which you are before you buy one. For me a big notebook turned out to be a better buy. 

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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