Netbooks were once the king of mobile computing with their small size and small price tag. The dawn of the iPad saw the mobile world change almost beyond recognition with apps and touchscreen shenanigans thrust into the limelight.
And now we have the first wave of ultrabooks, which aim to pack extremely powerful components into seriously slim bodies.
With so many adverts screaming at you from left, right and centre about what you should and shouldn't buy, it's often extremely difficult to work out just what's best for you, so we've compiled this handy guide to take you through the good and bad points of netbooks, ultrabooks and tablets to help you spend your money properly.
Throughout the article, we generally refer to the iPad, rather than tablets as a whole. This is because the iPad is still by far the most popular tablet on offer -- it outsells all the others put together -- and unless you have very specific needs (which we touch on below), it's generally the best value for money.
Ease of use
If you need to speedily Google something or answer a quick email, the iPad's instant startup will be a godsend. The plethora of apps available for email, RSS feeds and social networking means that many of the tasks you perform numerous times a day are made more efficient.
Swiping through pages of apps on the responsive touchscreen is quick and simple, allowing you to power through your tasks with speed. However, if you're planning on writing more than a couple of sentences at a time in an email you'll need a Bluetooth keyboard, as typing on the glass screen isn't easy.
Netbooks do come packing keyboards, which will help with writing long messages, but they're small, cramped affairs that don't offer a comfortable typing experience.
As Windows computers, netbooks have a proper file system which -- unlike the iPad -- allows you to download and store files locally in as many folders as your little heart desires.
Ultrabooks come packed with solid-state drives that are faster than traditional hard disk drives, which allows models such as the Asus Zenbook UX21 to achieve a resume from sleep time of around 2 seconds which is great if you need to jump right into your work.
Full-sized keyboards are also available on the ultrabooks, which will suit you much better if you're planning on typing for long periods of time.
The larger trackpads on the ultrabooks also helps make web browsing much more comfortable. They also support multi-touch gestures, which are particularly useful once you teach yourself the different swipes.
The simplicity of the iOS operating system on the iPad as well as the ease of grabbing apps from the app store make the iPad a great choice for those after a quick and simple device. If you'd rather stick with Windows, the quick resume and speedy operation offered from the ultrabooks makes them a good choice.
Design and portability
With a width of only 9mm, the iPad is the slimmest option of the three and most definitely qualifies as portable. As it's a tablet, there's no folding in half with a keyboard, which does keep it slim, but that 10.1-inch screen is pretty exposed unless you wrap it in a cool sleeve or use the iPad Smart cover.
There are 7-inch Android tablets available, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which are even more portable -- you could even squeeze one into your pocket if you try hard enough -- but you're losing some important screen real-estate.
Netbooks are also very small -- especially when you compare them to their bigger laptop brothers. They're nowhere near as slim as the iPad though, so you're going to struggle to cram it into your handbag.
Some ultrabooks like the beautiful Asus Zenbooks can be found in both 11- and 13.3-inch varieties, so you're given a little more control over portability. If screen size is less important, you can opt for the smaller 11-inch model and save some space.
At 17mm at the thickest point, both Zenbooks are extremely thin and their unibody construction gives them very sturdy and durable bodies.
If portability is the biggest factor on your list, the iPad or a smaller Android tablet would be the best bet. If you need to type a lot, snag a Bluetooth keyboard to go with it or save up the extra dough and plump for an 11-inch ultrabook.
The outstanding feature of the iPad is its access to the App Store -- the same goes for the Android Market on Android tablets. With hundreds of thousands of apps only a couple of prods at the screen away, the iPad can at once be a useful productivity tool, a games console, a camera and a library of books.
If you buy the 3G version of the iPad, you can access the Internet on the go, without having to plug in a USB dongle (handy, as the iPad doesn't have USB ports). It does mean you'll have to pay for a data contract, but if you can't rely on finding a free Wi-Fi hotspot, it's worth the money.
The screen on the iPad 2 may not have been bumped up to the iPhone's retina display standards, but its 1,024x768-pixel resolution is still sharp and we love how colourful it is.
Netbooks do generally come with at least two USB 2.0 ports, so you can pop a dongle in if you want some Internet on the go. It also means you can slot in a USB mouse if the trackpad is too awkward.
Screens on netbooks don't tend to be particularly wonderful -- this helps keep the price down -- but they're usually good enough for viewing documents and web pages. The standard resolution you'd expect is 1,024x600 pixels, but a higher resolution can be found on pricier models such as the MSI U270, which gives you more screen space to play with.
Although Microsoft doesn't have a proper app store like Apple's, you can still download all kinds of software over the Internet or install some via USB (there's no DVD drive). Don't bother putting too much on it though, as the low power offered by the processor won't drive much more than word processing and lower-quality video.
If gaming is your thing, ultrabooks are worth a thought as the high-end specs found inside them are burly enough to run all but the most demanding of games. There's no DVD drive here to install games, but if you use an online service like Steam, you can download games from a huge library.
Not only do you get USB 2.0 ports, but you'll also get USB 3.0 for super-fast transfer between compatible devices (such as hard drives). On the Asus Zenbooks, it also allows you to charge your devices faster than normal as well as charge when the machine is in sleep mode.
The Apple app store is an incredibly handy hub for all kinds of software and games. If apps are your thing, then the iPad is a clear choice. The larger screen and USB 3.0 ports on the ultrabooks will particularly suit those looking for a machine for work use.
With its hot new A5 chip, the iPad 2 is able to tackle some seriously demanding tasks. Photo and video editing applications such as Apple's iMovie are tackled with aplomb and 3D games such as the graphically intense Infinity Blade are dealt with easily, showing just what can be achieved on such a slim slate.
The iPad also packs an excellent battery, providing around 10 hours of constant use. Of course, if that use involves particularly intense apps, don't expect to get that sort of time. On the other hand, if you only use it a few times a day for a spot of web browsing, then you may only need to charge it every few days.
Netbooks, designed for work on the move, also come with long-lasting batteries. We've been able to coax 4 hours out of some of the models we've had in for review, so you really needn't worry about being away from a plug for too long.
Netbooks don't pack much in the way of beef for demanding tasks, however. A standard configuration on a netbook is 1GB of RAM and a 1.66GHz single-core processor -- although dual-core models are also available. That's enough guff to take on the web browsing world in order to manage your hectic online social life, but if you try and run games, or edit high-resolution photos and videos then don't be surprised if it starts crying little electronic tears.
Ultrabooks, on the other hand come, with very powerful junk stashed in their slim trunks. The Asus Zenbook UX31 sports an Intel Core i7 processor and 4GB of RAM which provided some excellent results in our benchmark tests. It'll happily handle heavy multi-tasking, high-definition video streaming and even some gaming so long as you dial the settings down a little.
The ultrabooks are certainly powerful enough to operate as most peoples' main computer -- only hardcore gamers or more enthusiastic video editors will really find it lacking.
The low power needed for both the processor and the SSD drive means battery life is excellent too -- you can even leave it on standby for a couple of weeks if you so desired.
For some people, price takes a back seat to performance, ensuring that the device they use is up to the task. For others, finding the cheapest price and the best deal is essential.
The iPad 2 is available in different configurations of capacity, connectivity and colour. The 16GB Wi-Fi only model will set you back £399 -- if you want 3G connectivity, you'll have to slap on an extra hundred quid. At the top end, the 64GB 3G model will set you back the princely sum of £659.
If that's a bit too rich for your blood, the average netbook price is around £250. The Toshiba NB550D for example, costs £280.
Ultrabooks are not only ultra in name, but also in price. The Asus Zenbook UX21 comes in at £850, whereas the 13.3-inch UX31 will cost you £999.
Although there is some degree of crossover in their functions, tablets, netbooks and Ultrabooks represent very different uses, so it's important to think about exactly what you're going to need a device for.
If you plan on writing a lot and need the processing power to tackle demanding tasks, it's worth spending the extra wonga and plumping for an ultrabook such as the Asus Zenbook. You're not only getting serious performance, but also an extremely slim and sturdy machine.
Netbooks really don't offer much in the way of power, but if all you really need is a keyboard for typing, a Windows file system, and enough grunt to send a few emails and check Twitter, then there's no point in spending a fortune when a £250 netbook will do the job fine.
The iPad is an excellent bit of kit for web browsing, gaming and the occasional spot of office work. With a Bluetooth keyboard attached, it's much handier for long typing. Its lack of a proper file system limits its capabilities as a business tool, but browsing the web on it is a dream -- even without Flash support -- so it's ideal for checking up on your favourite sites when you're sat on the sofa, making it a great all-round compromise of power, ease of use and price.
Unless you've got a limitless bank account -- like us -- then make sure you think carefully about what you need, read our reviews and make sure you spend your money in a way that suits you.