We’ve discussed netbooks on the ABA Solosez listserve recently and I thought some of that discussion would be helpful for Ross Ipsa Loquitur readers. Here’s the most recent netbook-chat:
Netbooks grew out of the One Laptop Per Child movement (OLPC), started by Nicholas Negroponte from MIT. The idea is to provide rugged, maintenance-free, ultra low cost laptops to children in developing nations. Here’s the info about the program: http://laptop.org/en/vision/index.shtml including info about how to give. It’s a great initiative. Here’s a link to info about the laptop that’s distributed by the organization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OLPC_XO-1)
This charitable concept then spawned the commercial follow-up when Asus released the first netbook, the EEE 701 about two years ago (http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/asus-eee-pc-701.aspx). The rest is history.
First, debunking netbook myths: “what can netbooks do compared to laptops?” Facts:
- Netbooks ARE laptops! They can do everything any laptop can do BECAUSE THEY ARE LAPTOPS!
- Netbooks are just a category, like ultralights, powerlights, gaming laptops, business laptops, desktop replacements, etc. etc.
- Netbooks have to be viewed individually to look at the specs involved, just as with any new system being considered – while there are certain very common specs, others can vary such as storage situation, operating system, and screen size
- A very common “standard” specification for many currently available netbooks, regardless of vendor is 10″ diagonal (actually either 10.1″ or 10.2″ if you want to be precise) display, 1 Gb RAM standard (usually upgrade to 2 Gb by replacing the single standard DIMM – often for around $25 from suppliers like crucial.com), Windows XP Home, 160 Gb drive (although 250 Gb drives are just starting to appear), Intel Atom N270 single-core processor, Intel graphics chipset, 6 cell battery good for anywhere from 3-10 hours depending on model/vendor, and about 2.5 to 3.5 lbs. Also no optical drives included (CD/DVD) so plan on $35-$85 for an external slimline USB CD or DVD burner (mine is a DVD burner I bought new on eBay last Fall for $55 shipped) so you can load disc-based software.
- There are also less costly systems with small flash drives for memory (SSD – Solid State Drives) from 4-16 Gb in storage capacity
- There are also less costly systems that run some version of Linux rather than Windows XP Home
- There are also less costly systems that have smaller 8.9″ displays (and of course, smaller everything else including keyboards)
- There are also factory-refurbished systems now coming to market that can save money
- There are also newer netbooks appearing that have larger 12″ displays with 1280×800 resolution and larger keyboards
- There are also newer netbooks appearing using newer processors such as the Intel Atom N280 and Z530 as well as the Via Nano, and some models just now appearing with discrete (independent from the PC’s RAM) graphics processors like the new nVidia Ion series. While these larger-profile systems start to blur the lines between where the netbook category ends and laptops begin, they have more of the specification characteristics of netbooks so for now, they’re solidly within that category
- It is a product category were new models flood the market constantly – not all released for U.S. use, but don’t expect to have whatever you buy be “current” for more than about a week (not kidding – if this bothers you, just be prepared for it)
- Very popular models used by multiple Solosezzers include:
- Asus EEE 1000Hx series with the 1000HE being one the current hot models
- Lenovo’s S10 (and inevitably, the forthcoming 12″ S12 model) (I have the former and *LOVE* it)
- Acer Aspire One (10″ and new 11″ models preferred, the latter recently spied at a Walmart of all places as the first netbook I’ve seen with a 250 Gb drive)
- MSI Wind (again, 10″ models preferred)
- Samsung NC10 and the newer 12″ NC20 (I have the latter and *LOVE* it)
I don’t think much about the Dell Mini series – the hard drives are too small (60 and 80 Gb while everyone else is selling 160 Gb and now even drives) and too slow (4200 rpm). I don’t think much either about the HP MiniNote series – bizarre mouse button placement can drive you fricking nuts! Gateway is just selling relabeled HP MiniNotes so those don’t really count.
Expect a continuing flood of new releases with faster processors, discrete video, longer battery life, bigger keyboards, etc. Watch sites like www.lilliputing.com for solid product info.
In terms of software, Netbooks do NOT generally come bundled with any kind of commercial office suites such as the Microsoft Office Suite (come on, how could they when an entire netbook might retail for $299-$399ish?). Linux models often DO come with bundled open source software though – often a Windows-like interface and programs like the OpenOffice suite, Firefox and Thunderbird for email.
So load whatever you want – MS Office 2003, MS Office 2007, WordPerfect X4 or OpenOffice 3.0 – whatever trips your trigger. As I’ve written about, you can very comfortable run 2-4 “big” apps, especially if you’ve upgraded the RAM to 2 Gb – on my two netbooks (Lenovo S10 and Samsung NC20), I usually have Word 2007, Outlook 2007 and a couple of browsers (Chrome and Firefox) open normally with very snappy operation. Once I go past that though, I notice the machines progressively bogging down – more than their little single core processors were designed to handle.
I see mainstream magazines reviewing netbooks where it is 100% clear the writer has NEVER actually used one. Even Laptop Magazine, whose journalism is usually first-rate, has written some dumb-ass material about netbooks recently, saying they can’t really be used for “real” work. A load of crap – just NOT true. Can you run 7-10 apps simultaneously like I can on my workhorse, max-equipped Thinkpad? No. But are they incredibly useful for MOST people for MOST things within the constraints of screen and keyboard size? YOU BET!
Some downsides and contraindications for netbooks:
- People with biggers fingers will be unhappy with 10″ netbooks, but likely fine with 12″ netbooks with their closer-to-full-sized keyboards.
- People who need bigger characters onscreen might not be happy with 10″ netbooks, but likely fine with 12″ netbooks.
- People expecting netbooks to perform the same as a full-size laptop with a dual core or Core 2 Duo processor will likely not be happy with ANY netbook.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine NOT having one – my original netbook article from my Technolawyer SmallLaw column will probably be instructive to those wondering about them, especially the latest 12″ models.
Things like keyboard decisions are VERY personal. I started with an Asus EEE 701 – the original commercial netbook. Linux only, 4 Gb SSD, 7″ display. Too small to be useful.
Then I moved to an Asus 1000H – loved it in every respect except for the fact it was a bit chubby and the glossy finish was a fingerprint magnet (which drove me nuts). Then a Lenovo S10 – which I have now. Loved its svelteness v. the Asus 1000H, preferred its keyboard feel over the Asus, identical performance to the Asus. Have played with a Samsung NC10 also, another very nice machine. I don’t see the differences v. the Lenovo S10 that he does. I see no performance difference with apples to apples software setups. I do agree that it may have a keyboard edge if you have larger fingers (which I don’t). Otherwise, I see it as a virtual wash, although Lenovo support is proven and in the U.S. market Samsung’s first computer offering is the NC10 if I’m correct, so the U.S. PC support offerings are an unknown commodity at this point. My Samsung NC20 is one of the most “perfect” portable systems I’ve owned – a convergence of positives including 1280×800 screen resolution for its 12″ display, a keyboard that feels full-sized to me, 5-6 hours of realistic battery life and an elegant set of included control utilities – I can’t recommend the NC20 more highly (other than the fingerprint magnet glossy case – a pet peeve of mine).
Other products to consider:
- Dell’s Mini series – I think these offerings are all over-priced compared to more established Netbook
- HP’s MiniNote series – those bizarre mouse buttons, for which HP is always panned in reviews, would be a deal-breaker for me.
- Gateway – it’s just a rebranded HP – same issue with the crazy mouse buttons.
- MSI – nice machines, but in this economy, I sure wouldn’t trust a second-tier maker from a long-term support perspective.
- The future: 11″ and 12″ models that may overcome the still remaining size issues with 10″ models (keyboards still just SLIGHTLY too small and screen resolution vertically too low (600 pixels v. at least 800 – all the vertical scrolling on 10″ displays can get very old, very quickly)
But following comments from fellow Solosezzers Scott Barer and Ben Schorr about keyboards, one person’s “awful” is another person’s “nirvana.” That aspect is VERY personal to each user (so if you buy, be sure that if you can’t test in advance, that you have 100% no questions asked return privileges – it’s really all about the keyboard, pointing device and display – the three points of human interaction with EVERY system. The other specs won’t / don’t matter if the three points of human/laptop interaction don’t cut it.
Hope that helps to clarify some of the issues with netbooks currently. I’m guessing that if ABA Solosezzers have these questions, others likely will as well.