Know your netbook

Netbooks are great mobile computing tools but many people misunderstand their purpose in the computing ecosystem

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  March 11, 2009

When they appeared on the market back in the twilight of 2007, I expected netbooks to take the world by storm and although these mini notebooks got off to a somewhat slow start, today, it’s a completely different story.

Adoption is expected to reach a colossal 35 million units by the end of the year and this number isn’t hard to believe because these machines are able to satisfy most peoples’ computing needs at a very attractive price point. However, don’t be misled into believing that a netbook is the only mobile computer you’ll ever need because these mini marvels have their limitations.

In terms of portability, netbooks might seem like the best buy on the mobile PC market because of their compact dimensions and negligible weight but don’t forget to consider battery performance. You see a small frame means smaller internal components and this includes the machine’s battery. And, the smaller the battery, the less juice it can hold so factor this into your buying decision. Ultimately, don’t look at a netbook as a fully-fledged replacement to a portable or ultra-portable machine because they were never built to take on that role.

Of course, I’m not saying don’t consider a netbook period if you like to be mobile; if you move between various locations within a city, a netbook should suit you fine because there’s always the possibility of recharging it after a few hours from a wall socket. If however your travels are more intensive and have you sat in an aircraft for several hours at a stretch, a netbook isn’t for you.

This is simply because its battery won’t be able to offer you the lifespan offered by a purpose-built portable or ultra-portable. Whereas the netbook might give you four hours of life under heavy use, a modern ultra-portable will offer closer to seven hours or more. Of course a portable or an ultra-portable will cost you more but you have to remember it’s a better fit for more demanding mobile needs.

From an entertainment perspective, today’s netbooks are also ill equipped to deal with multimedia. As they are built to a tight budget, these machines lack high resolution screens with strong colour saturation. So, photos and movies will look basic at best and you can forget about watching HD content (on today’s current netbooks) as these machines also lack sufficient CPU and video firepower to tackle HD content. Ultra portable notebooks on the other hand offer far quicker CPUs, screens that are brighter, offer a larger colour gamut and are also larger and so are better at delivering a viewing experience. Thus, these notebooks can display HD content and so are better mobile entertainment devices albeit at a higher price.

Netbooks are also somewhat limited in terms of storage as most of today’s offerings lack a built-in optical drive. This being the case, you’ll have to carry an external USB or Firewire drive if you intend to read or write to optical media. By comparison, most portable and ultra portable machines today feature a DVD writer or even a Blu-ray drive. With regards to wireless connectivity too, netbooks lack ‘N’ standard wireless hardware whereas newer portable and ultra portables feature this quicker, longer range connection technology.

In the end netbooks are still amazing devices but don’t expect them to excel at everything. Remember, at the end of the day these machines are built to offer a value-orientated computing experience. So, while they might cannibalise some market share from standard notebooks, portables and ultra-portables are still the way forward for intensive mobile needs.

3751 days ago

I have to disagree with your conclusions on battery life and screen quality. I am using a Samsung NC10 netbook. It regularly gives me more than 7 hours of life on one charge. The screen is the brightest in its class and looks great. HD YouTube video stutters, but standard resolution YouTube and higher rez QuickTime play full screen quite well. Check out my blog to see more real world experiences with netbooks;

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