Courtesy of Law Technology News on 2/1/10, my article on netbooks, as follows:
Netbooks — those diminutive minicomputers that you’re seeing in airports and coffee shops — have more power than you might expect. Your first instinct may be that a netbook might be a handy way to work when you’re stuck in coach with limited elbow room; or when you want a better way to check e-mail before you go to bed than trying to read a Word doc on your BlackBerry.
In other words, you might expect a netbook to be a part-time adjunct to a full-size laptop or desktop system.
But many netbook owners are finding that “occasional” has become “most of the time.” Netbooks can feel just as responsive as the bulkier, more costly full-size laptops. This raises the inevitable question: “Is there any reason I can’t use a netbook as my primary computer system?”
One thing is certain: Netbooks certainly are maturing. A new generation of Intel netbook processors, the N450 “Pine Trail” series, was launched in December. The additional processing power of this main brain versus its predecessor Intel N270 chip opens up a range of desktop-replacement abilities that previously skirted the edge of practicality.
Most new netbooks follow the current standard of a 10″ display, a weight of about three pounds, and at least six hours of battery run time. Netbooks are also in operating system transition, from Microsoft’s Windows XP Home to Windows 7 Starter Edition.
The fundamental question when considering a netbook as your primary PC is processing capability: “Can I run all the programs I need to manage my practice, simultaneously, at a reasonable speed?”
For most of us, this includes at least four programs:
1. A word processor, likely a recent vintage of Word.
2. E-mail , with Outlook or Outlook Web Access the probable candidate.
3. Browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, or Apple’s Safari).
4. A practice/document management application.
My own experience, with Lenovo’s S10 and Samsung’s NC20 (both upgraded, inexpensively, to 2 GB RAM), has been very positive when running five programs. The netbooks are often my primary workhorse systems, with my trusty Lenovo Thinkpad T61 full-size laptop relegated to my laptop bag.
Lenovo’s S10/S12 models cost about $300 to $450 respectively, with the 10-inch and 12-inch displays being the distinctive difference. The S12 model incorporates a top-notch keyboard. Some models have larger hard drives, up to 250 or even 320 GB.
The following components can turn any modern netbook into a fully-functioning stationary (and mobile) workstation for a lawyer:
• Docking device to connect the netbook to other devices — such as an LCD display, printers, keyboards, wired high speed internet, etc.
For example, Toshiba’s $149 Dynadock U USB or Wireless U models allow up to three video displays via a single USB connection to any netbook.
Budget about $175 to $200 for a 22-inch LCD display, and another $100 for a wireless keyboard/mouse kit.
• An external USB hard drive for data backup (potentially partitioned to allow additional storage space when docked in the office).
There are very attractively-priced 1 TB drives, such as Western Digital’s My Book Essential series, available for as little as $90.
At least three drives are preferable for an alternating media-based backup scheme. Use data backup software, such as Acronis’s TrueImage Home 2010 for daily backups (about $60).
• Power Protection : Use electrical protection, for your docked home/office setup — as well as a portable surge protector for your laptop bag. Never, ever plug in without it.
For the office, brands such as APC, Tripplite and Belkin offer multiple outlet surge strips for less than $30. Tripplite’s Traveler is a $20 two-outlet, compact portable surge protector that is intended for mobile systems.
• Portable scanners can turn physical paper into PDFs when connected to your netbook via the office port replicator. These can be powered via your netbook’s USB port. Fujitsu’s ScanSnap S300 tips the scales at three pounds with a cost of about $255.
This complete setup, sans only your program software and requisite system maintenance utilities (e.g., an anti-malware suite and anti-metadata tools), can cost as little as $1,200. This buys a system ready to dock at your desk and easily portable when you hit the road.
Personal preferences vary; our colleague Donna Payne, in a recent Test Drive column, finds netbooks still a bit clunky for her needs. But unless your legal computing needs require more than four or five simultaneously running applications, you just might find that a netbook can be a very cost-effective, very portable, very dockable alternative to a full-size laptop or desktop system.
Here are a few tips to help you select the netbook that is best-suited for your particular mobile law practice approach, with the least dent to your technology budget:
1. How big are your fingers? All netbooks are not created equal — it’s important to choose a netbook that is comfortable. Face it, if you’re an ex-high school linebacker with fingers as big as a bassoon, the only keyboards that might have a chance of working for you would be the larger 12-inch models. The 10-inch versions, with more compact keyboards, will frustrate you.
But if you have the thin, agile fingers of a pianist, a 10-inch netbook may hit the note. Before ordering a netbook online (no matter what brand), find one of similar proportions at a local retailer and try out the keyboard.
2. How good are your eyes? Those of us on the far side of 40 may struggle and squint at the smaller screens on 10-inch units. The extra two inches of screen real estate offered by larger netbooks might make all the difference. As above, scout out netbooks to be sure you’re visually comfortable with the displays and the size of the characters.
3. To tablet or not? Netbook-sized tablets are just becoming available. As with traditionaltablets such as theLenovo Thinkpad X series, and various Hewlett Packard and Fujitsu models, these netbooks have touch-sensitive screens that accept stylus input. This means you can jot handwritten notes and fill-in on-screen forms, and use tablet-friendly software tools such as Microsoft’s OneNote.
Netbook tablets include Lenovo’s newly announced Ideapad S10-3t with a 10-inch tablet display and Asus’ EEE T91-MT model with an 8.9-inch tablet display.
4. Where to buy? We all want to spend as little as possible — the economy makes it mandatory to be as frugal as possible.
Online options include Pricegrabber.com, C|Net’s Shopper.com and Google Product Search (google.com/products) to track down the best possible pricing for your netbook — as well as related accessories.
One example is pre-release pricing on the new Lenovo Netbook Tablet, the S10-3t. It is listed as $549 on the Lenovo website — but only $499 from Amazon.com.
Aside from Amazon, with a wide range of netbooks available, other netbook-heavy web merchants include NewEgg.com and Provantage.com — both with a solid reputation for service and responsiveness, in addition to routinely lowest-in-category pricing.