RE: Which is better?
It's hard to give any "expert opinion" here, because we don't know what uses you need it for or what kind of computer you already have, and we are talking about very different devices.
A laptop or a netbook will likely come with Windows (or you will be able to install Windows). It will be able to run all Windows software subject to hardware limitations. Games won't typically run on a netbook, but many will on a more powerful full size laptop. The storage capacity (hard drive) can usually be upgraded (presently the largest laptop hard drives are 1TB).
iPad runs iOS and only the software from the Apple App Store. It works fine for the common uses -- web browsing, IM (yes, Messenger is available), email, remote desktop and so forth. If you need anything more specific, you would be wise to check the App Store before you buy. Since you are posting here, you probably use Plus! -- that, for example, won't be available on the iPad.
There is no real Microsoft Office for the iPad. There are alternatives that can open Office documents, but a heavy Office user might still find them unsatisfactory.
Another issue to note is limited connections. There's no USB on the iPad, so you will need to figure out how to handle your external hard drives and printers if you have/need any. There's no wired networking. If you ever find yourself in a situation where only a wired connection is available (e.g. older hotels), you might have a problem. There are solutions to these limitations -- wifi routers with built-in print and file servers, portable routers might work in the hotel example, or you could use mobile data when available and reasonably priced. It's just things you should consider in advance.
The rest is what format you like better. The pads are supposed to squeeze netbooks out of the market, but we have heard such claims before and they don't always come true. The pad format is arguably better for reading documents and ebooks, also easier to use in tight spaces, like onboard an airplane.
This post was edited on 09-04-2011 at 11:10 PM by Adeptus.