Apple's New iPad: Should You Buy It?

Cheap laptop, or expensive iPod?

It's not a netbook. It's not a smartphone.

Sandwiched in the middle, Apple's new $499 iPad could be a tough sell.

The 10-inch, 1.5-pound tablet computer, with a touch-sensitive screen and a virtual keyboard, plays games and video, runs apps, and surfs the Web.

Of course, so does Apple's iPod Touch. The difference: a hundred dollars, since Apple's iPod Touch tops out at $399 and the iPad starts at $499. At that price, you're basically buying some more screen real estate. (Forget comparisons to the iPhone, since the iPod Touch lacks a camera and a phone.)

For $499, you can buy a solid netbook -- a cheap, Web-browsing-focused PC -- from the likes of Dell, Acer, or HP. Of course, then you're stuck with the dreariness of the Windows operating system, or the geeky experience of Linux.

The iPad's biggest selling point is the promise that media companies will customize their offerings for its larger screen. But few have done so yet. And if they charge a premium for e-books and e-newspapers, it seems unlikely strapped consumers will shell out even more money, when free media abounds on the Web.

The natural home for the iPad seems to be the comfy sofa in the living room -- a toy one brings out when relaxing at home, not a workhorse, go-anywhere device like the iPhone or a productivity machine like the MacBook.

If you're going to end up leaving it on the coffee table, is it really worth half a grand? Tell us in the comments if you think you'll shell out for an iPad when it come out in March.

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