A $300 Choice: Netbook or CrunchPad?



TechCrunch has more information available about their web tablet prototype, which is now known as the CrunchPad. They’ve built a working prototype and offer up two videos that show what state the project is at. Built on a VIA Nano chipset, the slate currently uses a full build of Ubuntu Linux, but eventually, the plan is to strip the OS to nothing more than a browser. What they’ve built is no doubt impressive, but it also raises a few questions.

Size and weight – The screen is a 1024×768 display which is a solid resolution for surfing the web. But it’s a 12-inch display. That makes this bigger and heavier than I’d like to see for a portable web browser. Obviously, any device is a series of compromises and the TC team wants a positive viewing experience. A display that size will certainly offer that, but the prototype weighs three-pounds now. I’m sure they can get that to two-pounds in a final version, but that’s still a bit much to tote around in addition to another computer. An eight-inch slate is more appealing to me.

Touch – Keeping costs down is key on a device like this and to help do that, the CrunchPad is using a resistive touchscreen. While the videos show a prototype, you can see why I think that’s a mistake. Resistive technology is inferior to capacitive and not solely from a multi-touch perspective. They  provide a much more enjoyable experience and are far more accurate.

Battery life – I haven’t seen any battery life figures yet, but the prototype uses a four-cell battery. There’s mention of each cell offering 2200 mAh capacity, but that sounds high to me. The CrunchPad uses a VIA Nano chipset, although there’s no specifics as to which is used. I’m wondering why a C7-M or Atom isn’t under the hood: either would use less power. The Nano might be a better performer but for surfing the web, you don’t need a powerhouse. Perhaps this choice was made with the expectation that high-quality video consumption would be a top use case?

Webcam – Why is it there? Believe me, I like more features over less, but if the device is meant to consume content on the web, why add the component at all? There are Flash-clients that support web conferencing, so there’s a software option for the webcam, but that’s also going to hit the battery hard. My recommendation? Drop the webcam and focus on the primary purpose of the device: content consumption.

Input – Like the many UMPCs and MIDs before it, the CrunchPad is using a virtual keyboard for input. While that method works, it’s clunky and inelegant. Folks will likely clamor for Bluetooth so they can pair a wireless keyboard. That’s more “feature creep” and some additional, albeit minor, cost.

It might sound like I’m not appreciating what the CrunchPad project has done. That’s not the case at all. I’m very impressed with the project and I commend the effort. But I see more questions than answers here and the biggest one of all is this: If I’m going to spend $300 for a CrunchPad, why wouldn’t I just spend the same $300 for a netbook? One could argue that the two devices are intended for different scenarios and purposes; I see that point.

My take is this: what value-add am I getting from such a slate? A bigger display and slightly higher resolution for sure. And what am I giving up over a netbook for that minimal value add? Functionality, limited locations where it works and ease of input immediately come to mind. Would the CrunchPad be fun to use at a kitchen table, in bed, on the couch and such? Sure it would! My netbook is too, so I again get stuck at the “what is the value add?” question. $300 for a content consumption device vs. $300 for a content consumption and creation device is the crossroads for me at this price point. Essentially, I’m wondering if such a slate fills a need in the market or if other devices at this price point already fill the need… and then some. A year or two ago, I wouldn’t be asking that question. Thoughts?


remote desktop software

The virtual keyboard means you can be less careful with your crunchpad than with a netbook. The crunchpad can be brought on camping trips and outdoor-type events that could be dangerous to a netbook due to external elements (such as rain, sand, dirt, etc.). I would be uncomfortable eating and drinking near my laptop or netbook in case I spilled my beverage or dropped crumbs between the keys of my keyboard. There are many scenarios in a typical week that would require me to use a crunchpad rather than a less protected device.


http://www.alwaysinnovating.com just announced something similar for $299 (with removable keyboard/base.) So it’s both a touch tablet and a Netbook.

* 9.4″ x 7″ x 1.4″ for 2 lbs (with keyboard)
* ARM Texas Instruments OMAP3 chip
* 1024×600 8.9” screen
* Storage: 8GB micro SD card
* WIFI 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth
* 3-dimensional accelerometer
* Speakers, micro and headphone
* 6 USB 2.0 (3 internal, 2 external, 1 mini)
* 10h to 15 hours of battery life

Also hardware is OpenSource schematics are published on website.


Why not join all our knowledge and create the ultimate MID ?


There is the iFrame from Olivier Seres, the CrunchPad and the OS from Tarik Krim, Jolicloud.

The MID should be the look of the PRS-700 e-reader but with all the fancy features, is that possible ?

How much money do you need for that ?

Is it possible to have the SSD on the mainboard ?


so-called netbooks are fine but you have to realize that a keyboard is not needed for casual browsing and brief input. if you need to type alot, grab your laptop/netbook or go to you desktop or plug in a usb keyboard. a built in keyboard gets in the way. sit on the couch with just the touchscreen and its a much nicer experience.
also, it works for in the kitchen or in bed for reading and it looks nicer than having to see a keyboard. it can double as a digital photo frame or passive information display (clock, weather, headlines etc). you could also attach to a wall. a netbook is different and really not worth comparing simply because of price and whats under the hood. its a different form factor that many people would enjoy around the house.

however, i do think that a hybrid netbook/webpad would be nice too. as long as the keyboard could double as a stand, be hidden behind the unit and/or be removed all together… like a mini HP tc1100 and other slate tablet hybrids with detachable keyboards.

funny how people always seem to need to take sides instead of seeing the value in all hardware designs.

as for techcrunch. they can do this project as a novelty but they are too late to be an early entrant into the market because i am certain the competition will be fierce. apple will have a larger iTouch and that alone would be too much to compete against. nevermind ALL the big computer brands will have their own webpads within 2 years. so why should techcrunch bother? i say, good job getting a discussion around the concept and possibly igniting more agressive efforts by the companies that are properly equipped to deliver these devices to the market.


I’m intrigued by this device. I think it is a good idea if the price is low enough and the battery lasts long enough.

I’m thinking of my 77 year old mother. With this should could:

– have an on-screen icon to get her email. She doesn’t type, so tapping out a response with the on-screen keyboard would be good enough. All of her mails tend to be a few words or one or 2 sentences

– have on-screen icons linked to the two or three websites she likes to visit

– have an icon that links to a photo site where she can see pitures of the grand kids

I’d have to take a few minutes to set it up for her, but I think a tablet like this might be less intimidating to her than firing up the desktop.

I currently have a desktop set very much like this, but she voiced a desire to be able to “look at the internet and read my letters” from several spots in the house. This device she would carry around. A laptop is a bit much and a netbook screen is too small. And as she puts it, “you always have to wait for it to turn on.”

Just my thoughts…


Eric Atkins

I’d rather have a netbook than the Crunchpad. Sorry TechCruch. Great idea, but the market is being flooding with netbooks that seem to have more features, options, and better prices.


I think I’ll go with a netbook… Simply because it can do everything this tablet can do and more.

William C Bonner

It seems to me that the first modification I’d want from a web browsing tablet is that it needs to run in portrait mode so that I can see a reasonable amount of each page on the screen without scrolling. (Which is the same problem I have with the crop of netbooks that have less than 600 vertical pixels)

What I basically would like is an iPod touch with a larger screen, say a 10 inch screen. But the cost escalating above impulse purchase price makes this all a thought exercise as opposed to something that I’d actually buy.


Funny thing. I just bought an EEE PC 900a at Best Buy this past Friday. 1GB RAM, 4GB SSD, just like the Crunchpad. I paid $200. Now, maybe Best Buy didn’t make money, because it was marked down, but I’ll bet Asus did.

This device is largely the same spec as the Crunchpad, save for screen (and keyboard). And I paid the target price for Arrington’s device.

I think the Crunchpad makes more sense if it is physically much smaller and ditches x86. For the defined purpose of the device (a superset of web browser) there is no good reason to stay x86, as it is too expensive from a hardware as well as power budget perspective. I should think ARM makes more sense, especially something like the Nvidia Tegra platform, or whatever Cortex processor is in the Archos 5 and 7 devices. I personally would be interested in a device that was the physical size of my Sony PRS505 reader in it’s leather case. Roughly that of a paperback book.

The real bogey is if Apple makes an upsized iPod Touch. If that screen grew to ~5-7 inches, Apple would sell more at the probable $500 price than Arrington could sell at $200, let alone $300.

Remember the quote from Steve Jobs when asked about if Apple would make a netbook, he said they wouldn’t enter that market because they didn’t know how to make a $500 computer that wasn’t junk. They do know how to make an iPod Touch that isn’t. More screen, more battery, and Boom! they’re done designing it. The Touch gives lie to the thought that x86 is needed for rendering the complicated pages of today. Linux with a flash plugin on a Webkit browser would be formidable.



isn’t this the company that openly & harshly dissed netbooks?

and this is the alternative device they create?

i guess they see now it isnt as easy as they thought it was. there is so much fundamentally wrong with this that it isnt even worth my time listing.


This is a classic case of a guy assuming that everyone else wants what he wants.

Arrington thinks that the netbook fills a niche, and no one wants or needs them. Sales of netbooks are proving otherwise.

He’s trying to plug a hole that doesn’t need filling.

Mari Silbey

Netbook, netbook, netbook all the way. I agree that two years ago it would have been a different story. Now I can’t imagine who would buy this who wouldn’t buy a netbook instead. Unless some kind of stylization turns this into a status symbol. Not seeing it in the prototype.


Runs a full-blown OS but they’re going to strip out everything but the browser because why? Are you even going to be “allowed” to add anything else? Wow, take a platform with a lot of capability and neuter it. No thank you, not for 3 C’s. Seems like they are trying to do the wrong thing on the wrong hardware, like it should just use a low-power ARM chip or something. Why carry a bulky dumb web display when I can tote a slightly smaller and fully capable netbook instead?


neat that they were able to do that, but netbooks simply have taken up what niche they may have been able to corner with this.. too late!

i do think the android tablet idea may have some merit though.


Perhaps this could be a more cost effective tool for intraweb-based enterprise applications that would otherwise use a Motion tablet or Fujitsu convertible (e.g. health care, warehouse, etc). IMO the consumer market will largely prefer the features and brand name recognition of netbooks.


Did someone say …Multitouch? and make it as smooth as iPhone and Palm Pre.
Indeed loose the camera, (unless it can swivel front and back) maybe add an extra usb port instead.
12 inch size is great but it will probably suck the juice out of the battery too quick.
So shrink it to 10 inch and replace the gained space with a bigger battery.

Dave Winer

I wonder why they don’t just hack the keyboard off an Eee PC 1000H, or better yet, leave the keyboard on. Sheez. You know what else — who needs a laptop when you’re watching TV. My TV is a Mac mini with an EyeTV thing attached, so if I want to use the computer, I just make the TV window smaller and use my Bluetooth keyboard/track pad to move around the screen. I think we’ve found better ways to do what they’re doing with off-the-shelf here-now hardware. A solution in search of a problem. BTW, no doubt Apple is going to come out with a super iPod Touch that’ll make this thing look like a cheap hack. Yeah it won’t cost $200, or $300 but everyone is going to want one anyway. Only question is will it get ripped off when we’re waiting in line at the soup kitchen. :-(

Dave Zatz

Yeah, for the same money I’d rather buy a netbook. And honestly, my iPhone is a pretty decent couch-based web tablet. The screen is somewhat small, but it’s a sunk cost and one less device to charge.


Crunchpad’s opportunity cost is much higher than the little netbook under the same price.

Sean Brady

This sort of device might have been interesting to me, that was until ASUS showed of the T series EEE Pc’s. I think I would look towards a netbook in any case.


This thing completely misses the mark.

It’s large and heavy.

It still uses a full blown OS. So, it’s not an instant on device.

It’s going to be more expensive than devices that do way more, and are more portable.

The device I’m waiting for is that 150-200 dollar GiiNii Android tablet, that was shown at CES. This device sounds like it will be what the CrunchPad was supposed to be.

I really think Arrington over promised and under delivered with this device. Even if this thing gets manufacture, which I doubt, it won’t sell.

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