6 Reasons to Buy a Netbook

By Craig Buckler
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NetbooksNetbooks have become one of the largest sectors of the hardware market since Asus introduced the Eee PC in late 2007. Asus has enjoyed phenomenal success with their netbook range and the early models sold out instantly (I tried to buy one without success). Every major PC manufacturer now produces a netbook and the market continues to expand.

Netbooks typically use slower hardware and older software, which makes them ideal for children or those with more modest computing requirements. However, thay can also provide web developers and freelancers with an ideal accompliment to their existing PC setup.

1. Portability
Like many people, I use a full-sized laptop for my primary development tasks. However, I have so many accessories attached, that it might as well be a desktop PC. If I want to move the machine, I need to unplug a second monitor, external harddisk, keyboard, mouse, and various cables. Even when that’s done, the machine remains too heavy to carry for long periods.

I now take a netbook when visiting client sites. It has all my essential software and can be plugged into projectors or monitors just like a normal laptop. There’s no need to disassemble my office hardware and the device can be carried all day without causing a hernia.

2. Communication and quick tasks
Netbooks are great for checking email, running Skype, or performing quick tasks. Most netbooks are wifi-enabled and are provided with a fast OS such as Windows XP or an optimized version of Linux. The devices can be started up, used, and shut down quicker than most Vista laptops take to boot.

Incidentally, do not be afraid to buy a Linux-powered netbook. Once you are over the initial “it’s not Windows” shock, you will find Linux to be a highly-capable and usable OS which can run Windows software if you install Wine. Even if you do not like the OS supplied, you can download and install an alternative such as the excellent Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

3. Working on the move
Mobile phones and Blackberry devices are useful, but the small screen, tiny keyboard, and limited software makes it difficult to do real work. The majority of netbooks are powerful enough to run software such as Apache, PHP, MySQL, OpenOffice, and a simple IDE or editor such as Notepad++. I even know of people who run Photoshop (although it was more to prove a point rather than do design work!)

4. Photography
The majority of netbooks have built-in memory card readers. This makes it easy to take a netbook to a shoot, copy/backup files, and examine photographs on a larger screen. Most netbooks have webcams, so it’s even possible to take a few shots without a camera.

5. Backup and synchronization
A netbook provides you with another computing device in the event of your main PC failing. That happened to me a few months ago, but I was able to carry on working.

Software such as Dropbox is also invaluable for backing up and synchronizing files between all your PCs.

6. Price
The first Asus Eee PC was a fifth of the price of similarly-sized machines. Although the hardware specifications and prices have increased, it is still possible to buy a netbook for $200: far less than a decent mobile phone. You could even use one as an alternative to a Kindle!

Replacing a netbook will not cause significant cash-flow problems, so you will not be as afraid to lose or break the device.

This blog post was written and posted using a MSI Wind U100.

Do you use a netbook or are you considering one? Do you find it useful? Have you experienced other benefits?

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  • MikeE

    Seriously, this needed saying? Could you have made this article any more generic?! Must be a slow news day.

  • I’m waiting for the Mac version… May not have to wait long, either!

  • Anonymous

    i got a laptop some years ago for the same reasons- i was on the move so much that it was becoming harder and harder to arrange my schedule so that i can sit down at my own desk to do any real work.
    while my laptop is mobile (and has replaced my desktop computer entirely), i am considering a notebook as an alternative.
    my primary concern refers to the programs i would/would not be able to use.

    what are the disadvantages of a notebook?

  • tagyboy

    I use every day a Samsung NC10. It runs under windows XP, and a LAMP solution is installed that I use with the PHP Edit IDE. When not at work or at home (I move a lot), I often start developping websites on it. The keyboard is not too small, I only miss the “home” and “end” keys wich are only usable by combining them with “FN” key. I use Microsoft Terminal Server Client/Server to connect to my main workstation and, by example, to do some photoshop :) All you have to find, is a good connection :)
    I have never done a better investment (I think it’s the only netbook really usable for long terms).

  • “I’m waiting for the Mac version… May not have to wait long, either!”

    The definition of a netbook is small and cheap. Any apple on will more likely be an untra portable, which is small, more powerful but more more expensive.

    I have an Acer Aspire One and it’s one of the best little things I’ve ever got. So light and more than powerful enough for browsing the web quickly.

  • amdowney

    I have a great portable/powerful Sony vaio, but for doing heavy graphical work and big file laoding the desktop is quicker (well the laptop does have Vista). Laptop hard drives being space and power saving generally are nowhere near as fast as a good desktop HDD so bear that in mind.

    But I couldn’t live without my laptop with wireless acess becoming the norm in places!

  • Matt

    I love my Samsung NC10 – I do recommend doubling up the RAM to 2GB though!

  • ErisDS

    ^ I agree – surely the Mac version was the air?
    The whole point of a Netbook is that it’s cheap and cheerful, Apple only do cool and costly. Just buy an EEE PC & install Leopard?
    I have an EEE PC 1000H, it is the most stable Windows machine I’ve ever used. I have Photoshop on it so that I could take it on holiday, shoot photos with my digital camera, edit them and publish to web before I got home :)
    Worked like an absolute dream, PS is actually pretty usable although obviously the small form factor makes major design work a bit difficult. The 95% keyboard doesn’t feel squished either, so unless you have sausage-fingers, it’s lovely to use.

    I wholeheartedly recommend them.

  • I have considoring getting one for a while. A few weeks ago I heard that my school could be selling some off super-cheap in sept, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to get a cheap one then!

  • surely the Mac version was the air

    There are strong rumors of a Mac “netbook” to be announced soon. Could be rubbish, but I’d be surprised, given the popularity and usefulness of these little things. (I bet Apple is miffed IT didn’t think of them first.) The Air is still much too big.

    You are probably right that they would be expensive, though… [Sigh]

  • israelisassi

    I’ve been considering one for the same reason portability reason listed. I’m guessing the next step for netbooks will be a tablet version. That would be the icing on the cake for me.

  • Mike

    My Laptop does all of these too!

  • I have a 20″ iMac at work, and a (quite lovely) 13″ Dell laptop at home and when moving around/visiting clients. The A3″ laptop is nice, but still a bit big to carry around without a second thought.

    Netbooks are nice, but i know that in many situations i wouldn’t use it, and keep using the 13″ laptop instead.

    I’m still waiting for the ebook reader of the future (with color eInk, video, internet connectivity, supple “screen”, and whatever they have in the labs). :)

  • jphilapy

    “Incidentally, do not be afraid to buy a Linux-powered netbook.” and
    “OS which can run Windows software if you install Wine.”
    The problem with netbook is that if you wish to run programs such as photoshop or dreamweaver on win xp, then you will be running too slow. Much slower if you try to accomplish the same task using wine with linux.

    Netbook is good for light weight tasks and that is it. Use a lightweight editor. Put your ebooks on it. Or as this article suggest, use it with skype. It is great for the go, but don’t expect to replace your laptop or desktop.

  • glenngould

    For the photoshop performance issue: use Photoshop 7 if you have it! It feels like notepad++ to me: simple, very fast and pretty much all tools I need if working on screen graphics at low-res.

    Anyway, definitely I’ll buy a netbook soon.

  • mmj

    I am a netbook user, and have a few comments. It’s awesome, and I love that I can just carry it in my bag all the time and never notice it.

    • The keyboard is hard to touch-type on. You can type pretty quickly, but things that require ‘fingers on home positions’ like Vim are difficult.
    • Some dialog boxes just don’t fit on a screen that’s 600 pixels high. This is the fault of the respective software developers, not of the netbook, but nonetheless it is a harsh reminder that the days of 600-pixel-high resolutions being commonplace are all but gone.
    • I need to increase the font size for comfortable reading. You fit slightly less on a page with a larger font (and some websites kind of break).
  • I find netbooks are a bit of a bad compromise between portability and power, to be honest.

    They aren’t really truly portable – I have a Dell XPS M1330 laptop, which is just as portable as a netbook, fits in a backpack etc, but also has the power to do a lot more things, like running photoshop, my PHP IDE, a browser etc all at once, without slowing down any – which is what I need to work on the move. The screen resolution is good, plenty of HD space, and no less portable. The only disavantage is the price.

    If I wanted something portable for communication, browsing the internet, reading documents etc, then the first thing that springs to mind is a smart phone, which is far more portable than a netbook.

    Netbooks for me take the worst of both worlds – not powerful enough to be all that useful, and not portable enough to be ‘truly’ portable like a smart phone would be.

  • Ally McC

    I recently changed my 4 yr old 12″ Toshiba Portege A200 for a Samsung NC10 and I’m surprised at how much more convenient the smaller footprint is.

    It fits on train and plane seat back tables so much more easily with the screen at a much better angle. The battery is FANTASTIC – realistic 5+ hours with screen brightness turned down.

    Only downsides are having to use Fn key for home and end keys but this is easily learned and lack of securing screws on monitor connections.

    Running XAMPP on 2GB SD card for web development on the move – really pleased with it. :)

  • monton

    On the move and portabilty are the benefits of a laptop, but given the choice between a laptop and desktop, I would always go with a desktop. If I am at home I always use the desktop, it just doesn’t feel as comfortable when using the laptop. I prefer the keyboard of a desktop and the really big monitor.

  • This blog post is much like what we used to be fed about the benefits of laptops until they lost many of these advantages due to people using them as desktop replacements.

    I bought a Linux Aspire One ZG5 to help me write my dissertaion and it was my saviour, I was able to type notes on the tube, connect to the Wifi at the london Library and not worry too much about it being stolen, especially as it has one of those Kensington locks to deter opportunists.

    Unlike a laptop I can take it with me even when there is oly a small chance of me using it. The ergonomics aren’t great but then I do most of my work on a deskop computer. The netbook delivers what laptops promised so long ago.

    The funny thing though is how many Operating systems I now use on a regular basis; Vista Ultimate at home, OSX and XP at work and Linux For One on my Netbook.

  • Dana

    You should add “for easier writing for people with small hands.”

    I have tiny hands that can barely reach across my keyboard at home, but I find myself typing so fast on an 8.9 acer aspire netbook I wonder how come I never realized my previous handicap.

    It’s also quite intuitive-I can take it everywhere with me and type on the run-whether it is a long email a short story or a paper. I can even go sit by the water and type if I want to.

    One thing you have to be carefull about with netbooks_the screens are delicate, don’t even drop them once. I already broke mine once but easily fixed it by buying a new screen on ebay.


  • smnbss

    Working on the move and Portability are not really good points for a notebook…

    If you really need to work a 13 inch laptop like the Dell XPS M1330 is much better. more power, more memory, more screen for just half a kg more than a notebook

    I agree with all the other points

  • Ron

    I understand the reasons to not include a DVD drive in a notebook, but if I saw a notebook that had one, I’d immediately buy two of them.

  • Clinton

    I have to say that the best purchase I have made to date is my macbook. (Note: I’m not a mac fanboy)

    There are the best of both worlds. I have the power to run all my major apps on the move and also use it in clamshell mode connected to a 22″ monitor. This is all I need. No desktop/netbook/notebook choice to be made. It does the lot. Very impressed so far.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    > given the popularity and usefulness of these little things.
    > (I bet Apple is miffed IT didn’t think of them first.)

    Oh you’re killing me. ROTFL!

    Apple’s first netbook shipped in 1994 or so. It was called “eBook” if I remember correctly. Very small and curvy and made out of translucent plastic. I think it was the first enclosure designed by Jon Ives. It ran NewtonOS, which had a Web browser, email, calendar, contacts, and thousands of other applications. Used flash memory in 2 PC card slots, no moving parts. Clamshell. Tiny keyboard. Netbook.

    Me, I think the iPhone and iPod are great netbooks. For $299 your iPod has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, OpenGL graphics, Unix OS, HTML 5 -compatible Web 2 browser, advanced typography, Exchange/Gmail/Yahoo/MobileMe/IMAP/POP3 email, MP4 audio video, Podcasts, text editor that auto-saves after each character, instant wake-and-sleep, awesome stability and software quality, all solid-state parts and storage, and hours more battery life than any other netbook. Thousands of plug-in and add-on accessories. Also the iPod has over 15,000 mobile-optimized applications, like Google Mobile where you speak your search instead of typing, and the results come up ordered by closeness to your location, and many others that are very handy when on-the-go as opposed to just making do with desktop software. Yeah, the screen is a little smaller than other netbooks, but it is of extremely high-resolution and high-quality and the specialized UI (no mouse pointer scroll bars showing) mitigates that quite a bit also. And, the iPod fits in your pocket and can plug into a full-size TV very easily, so that balances that out somewhat also.

    The keyboard is the main point of contention when considering iPod as a netbook. But everyone who has a netbook tells me you can’t touch type on the thing, you have to hunt and peck, and the keys are often in the wrong places. But on my iPhone I type over 40 words per minute with 2 thumbs. And the iPhone OS 3.0 opens up the hardware to 3rd party developers … we are only months away from a wireless Bluetooth iPod keyboard for touch typing. It will have full-size keys and be better than any built-in netbook keyboard on the market. If the Apple Bluetooth keyboard works with it, then consider the Apple Bluetooth keyboard against a typical netbook. It’s one piece of flat aluminum with a keyboard growing out of it. Ultra portable.

    Instead of asking why Apple doesn’t have the same kind of netbook as everyone else, you should be asking why HP and Dell don’t have touchscreens, don’t have 15,000 mobile apps, are still running last century’s software.

  • They just don’t work for me. 12″ ultraportable laptops are a better balance for me, with a full size keyboard and high enough resolution that every webpage/application works and is readable.

  • VPS
  • Jez – Sammynetbook.com

    I’ve owned an NC10 for 7 months now and have used it almost daily. I definitely recommend these fab little devices. They don’t replace a desktop, at least not for me, but it is a great ultra portable to have round the house.