For the past three years, netbook sales have been through the roof. In these rough economic times, people who needed portable computing may have seen the lower-priced netbooks as alternatives to higher-priced full-powered laptops.
Those sales numbers are now starting to drop, but there is still no denying that netbooks have peaked the interests of many consumers. Whenever I carry my netbook around, I inevitably get comments about its size. Some stop me to ask how much I paid for it and where they can get one. I wish I had time to give them the full story on netbooks, both the good and bad, but usually I do not.
Fortunately for those of you reading this article, I have the time now. If you are considering buying a netbook, there are things you should know, both good and bad. Like any other electronic device, netbooks are not for everyone nor everything. The following should help you decide if you have room for one in your life.
1. Highly Portable
The days of the mega-laptops with huge 17-inch screens may well have passed. There is now less space on airplanes, smaller tables at coffee shops (when any are available at all), and smaller, more fuel-efficient cars for those with environmental and financial concerns. Moreover, people are moving more often and want to stay connected whenever they feel nomadic. Having to lug around an 8-pound behemoth no longer seems practical, unless it is part of an exercise routine.
Netbooks are small with their 10-inch, 9-inch, or even 7-inch screens, and they are decisively lighter than full-size notebooks. Some weigh as little as 2 pounds. The standard seems to be a 10.1-inch screen and a weight of about 2.8 pounds.
With 3G wireless service, a netbook can also become a truly mobile device with instant access to the Internet, no matter where you are. If convenience and mobility are important, netbooks are winners.
Granted, you might be able to find a notebook for $300, but not the cool one you really want. Many netbooks, on the other hand, are under $300 and still manage to provide users with all the essentials they need to get online and get their work done.
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For those on a budget, such as mobile college students, netbooks just make economic sense.
|Asus Eee PC 1005 PE||$359.99|
|Acer Aspire One D250||$299.99|
|Dell Inspiron Mini 10||$299.99|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2||$359.00|
3. Familiarity (i.e. not a tablet, MID, or other gizmo)
For the gadget geek, this may not seem so important, but familiarity is crucial for those who use electronics specifically for business, education, or other critical tasks. Tablets are lovely, and there is little doubt the iPad will sell well, but the familiarity of a keyboard and a touchpad, the features that make laptops/notebooks usable, trumps style and the awe factor for many users.
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Other gadgets like Mobile Internet Devices or even fully-loaded smartphones are just too small. Netbooks may be a little smaller, but they still look and feel like notebooks. They run the same or similar operating systems and software, and they do not require the user to learn any new functions or operations.
1. Small keyboard
Those who write often and use the computer as their primary method of communication know that having a good keyboard is important, for both productivity and physical health. Netbook keyboard size is generally measured in percentages. In other words, the percentage listed will tell you how close to a full-size keyboard it is.
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For example, the HP mini 311 has a keyboard size of 92%, as does the Asus Eee PC 1000HE. The Samsung N120 manages to squeeze in 97%. Keep in mind that these sizes are in comparison to standard laptop keyboards, which may already be smaller than their desktop counterparts. Furthermore, key positioning and the actual size of the keys vary.
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The only way to really know if you are comfortable typing on a netbook keyboard is to try it. It will take time to adjust, possibly as long as a week. If you want a mobile device primarily for the purpose of writing, this may be a definitive mark in the “con” column.
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2. Lower powered processor and RAM
The lower-powered processors that run netbooks are both their gift and their curse. On the one hand, processors like the Intel Atom N270 or N450 offer lower power consumption and extended battery life. With an average of 1.66 GHz, they are certainly not over-priced calculators, but they also will not solve the world’s most complicated equations. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Even for basic tasks like surfing the Web, there will still be a speed difference when compared to a dual-core fully-loaded notebook, but the difference may not be enough to sway you.
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The real differences come with complex applications and multi-tasking. The average netbook will have 1 GB of RAM, two gigs less than many desktop PCs, and its single processor may be painfully limited for those accustomed to dual-core or even quad-core systems. Running a few applications should be fine, but if you need heavy-duty power for multiple browser tabs and more than a handful of applications, your netbook will come to standstill.
3. Poor Graphics Capabilities
Unlike certain tablet computers or mobile phones, netbooks can handle Adobe Flash player, and sites like YouTube and Hulu run just fine, albeit not optimally. Switch to HD, however, and you will immediately see a netbook’s limitation. Nearly all netbooks use integrated graphics chipsets on already reduced-power processors. Although some promise HD capabilities, do not expect miracles. At any rate, with such a small screen, HD video may not even be a concern. Most netbooks do not have optical drives anyway, so watching DVDs will not be an option. Downloaded videos at the standard DVD resolution, however, work just fine.
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Where the graphics output is really felt on a netbook is gaming. Anything beyond the casual 3D games of a few years ago simply will not run on a netbook. For general 3D usage, netbooks will probably be enough for most, but if you are a serious gamer, most full notebooks probably are not enough for you, let alone a netbook.
The Bottom Line
If you need something that is small, lightweight, and inexpensive, with all of the familiar features of a basic notebook, you should have no problems adjusting to a netbook and maybe even loving it. If, however, you want a device that can break the sound barrier with its speed, play Blu-ray DVDs in full HD, and allow you to effortlessly churn out three 200-page manuscripts per year without cramping your precious fingers, you probably do not want a netbook.