By Jamie Bsales
January 21, 2009
The class of ultraportable and affordable netbooks, on which Wi-Fi is generally standard, keeps improving. We recommend four of our favorites under $ 550 (even less, if you prefer Linux) from the second generation.
In 2008, laptop sales topped desktop computer sales for the first time, according to a report by market intelligence firm iSuppli. At least part of the credit for this growth goes to a new class of laptops that emerged during the year: netbooks.
These little machines are small notebooks. They pack a usable screen, keyboard, and the required Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity in three-book packages that you can slip into a bag and take with you wherever you go. But unlike ultraportable class laptops, netbooks don’t have all the features or performance of a full-scale laptop, nor the hefty price tag. While a three-pound ultraportable typically costs between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000 (miniaturization costs, after all), netbooks typically cost less than $ 500.
The first generation netbooks had limited appeal. Since the keyboard can’t be as wide as the screen, the original eight-inch screens meant keyboards were cramped as well. document, which quickly becomes annoying.
But the big stumbling block for mainstream buyers was the operating system. To keep prices and hardware requirements to a minimum, early machines used variants of Linux, not the more familiar Windows.
While many netbooks are still available with Linux, the second generation models offer good old Windows XP. This not only gives you instant familiarity when using the machine, but also allows you to run essential programs, such as Microsoft Office. Netbook makers have also moved their platforms to larger screens: ten-inch wide LCD screens are now the norm. These typically offer a resolution of 1024 × 600, so most websites scale nicely from side to side. The extra width also means keyboards have more room to expand; they’re still not a normal size, but at least they’re comfortable to type.
Before giving up your laptop or desktop, however, be aware that netbooks come with trade-offs that don’t make them suitable as a primary PC. For starters, their small size means there’s no optical drive on board. And while a ten-inch screen looks huge compared to the eight-inch on the less expensive models, working on such a small screen for long periods of time becomes tedious. You can use the VGA port that most netbooks include to connect an external monitor to a desktop computer, but you’re still dealing with a relatively underpowered processor.
The Intel Atom and Via Nano processors that power most netbooks are great for consuming content, such as browsing the web and reading emails and documents; but not content creation, such as working with media files.
Yes, you can run typical productivity apps, but our tests show that heavier tasks, such as encoding an audio file in Apple iTunes, take five times longer on a netbook than on a laptop at $ 599. Intel is rumored to be working on a more powerful dual-core processor for netbooks this year, but it will be months before they hit production machines.
Still, a netbook can be a worthwhile investment if you often need a second, more portable system on which to catch up on email, polish a document, or browse the web away from your desk. The larger screen and keyboard make it more comfortable to use for such tasks than a smartphone, and the price is right. Below, we detail four of our current favorite models.
ASUS Eee PC 1002HA
ASUS pioneered the netbook market with the original Eee PC, and it offers a wider model lineup than any manufacturer. One of its more recent, the Wi-Fi enabled Eee PC 1002HA, is also one of the best. Priced at $ 499, it offers a 10-inch screen, 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive.
While early Eee PCs had a toy-like appearance, the brushed bronze finish of the 1002HA has a sophisticated look, so you won’t be embarrassed to use it in a meeting with a customer. The machine weighs just 2.8 pounds and is only an inch thick, so you can carry it around with you effortlessly.
The screen offers a very bright and crisp image and even small texts are crisp and readable. The keyboard has a comfortable feel, although the Shift key on the right is small and not in the standard spot, which might slow you down if you’re a fast typist. We were also impressed with the audio quality of the front stereo speakers. The battery lasted almost three hours when we played a video loop continuously, which should translate to around five to six hours of battery life for typical use. [Read a review of the Asus Eee PC 4G laptop here.]
Dell Inspiron Mini 12
If a 10-inch screen is still too small for your liking, consider a netbook like the Dell Inspiron Mini 12. Starting at $ 549 for the model with Windows XP (or $ 499 if you prefer Linux), the Mini 12 has an extremely comfortable inch screen to use. The other specs are similar to other netbooks: 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive and, of course, built-in Wi-Fi.
As you would expect, due to the larger screen, the Mini 12 is not as compact as other netbooks. But at 2.7 pounds and an inch thick, it still won’t weigh you down. The machine is available in glossy black, white, red, or even pink, as well as five designs by artist Tristan Eaton (although the latter screams “student” rather than professional).
The crisp and bright screen has a resolution of 1280 × 800, making it easy to see your work or the web without much scrolling. The keyboard is similar in size to 10-inch netbooks, which is a shame; although it feels good, there seems to be enough room for a full-sized keyboard.
The Mini 12 has a larger touchpad than most netbooks, which makes on-screen navigation much easier. The optional six-cell battery we tested adds $ 30 to the price, but provided excellent four hours of battery life in our rigorous video reduction test, so you can expect almost seven hours of battery life between. loads with more frugal use.
HP Mini 2140
Good looks, an excellent keyboard and a crisp 10.1-inch display combine to make the HP Mini 2140 a standout among today’s netbooks. Priced at $ 499, the Mini 2140 comes equipped with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 160 GB hard drive, and Windows XP.
The aluminum shell of this Mini has the look of the company’s high-end EliteBook notebooks. The case looks great and makes the case more resistant to stains and scratches than typical plastic film. Weighing just 2.6 pounds, the Mini 2140 is also one of the lightest 10-inch netbooks with built-in Wi-Fi on the market.
The bright screen produces rich colors, although we found the small print to be a bit less crisp than on the other panels we reviewed. On the plus side, the keyboard is the best we’ve seen in a netbook, with a spacious layout that’s easy to type on.
The hard drive features HP’s DriveGuard technology, which includes a system that parks the head of the hard drive to prevent data loss (and drive damage) if the machine is dropped or jostled. The standard three-cell battery only lasted 2 hours 15 minutes in our testing, so road warriors will want to go with the available six-cell power pack.
Samsung entered the fray for branded laptops in the United States last fall, and its entry into the netbook separated from the pack from the get-go. Priced at $ 499, the NC10 offers a 10.2-inch screen, 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, Wi-Fi, and Windows XP, a common formula. in the category.
Available in satin white or dark blue, the compact NC10 weighs 2.8 pounds. At 1.2 inches, it’s a bit thicker than other netbooks, but barely; it’s still easy to slip into a bag. The keyboard is only seven percent smaller than a full-size laptop keyboard, which makes typing enjoyable. The bright display delivers crisp, crisp text and rich colors. In actual use, the standard battery provided approximately six hours of battery life for web surfing and the like before needing to be recharged.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and internet products and services. Article courtesy of SmallBusinessComputing.com