A netbook as we’ve come to know it is a small laptop that is cheap. That’s about it, although the term can be confusing, as larger notebooks are sometimes called netbooks, since that is currently the hot buzzword.  So you want to get a small, cheap […]

A netbook as we’ve come to know it is a small laptop that is cheap. That’s about it, although the term can be confusing, as larger notebooks are sometimes called netbooks, since that is currently the hot buzzword.  So you want to get a small, cheap notebook (or netbook) if you will, what are the five things you should know before plunking down your cash?

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1. How are you going to use your device?

This may be the most important thing to determine prior to a netbook purchase as it plays a role in the things covered in this article. The term netbook implies you will want to do web surfing and work with email, and all netbooks can do this well. However, netbooks are full laptops and can be used for a lot more than that, and many purchasers want to do a lot of the same things they do on other computers. Netbooks can be used for word processing, spreadsheet work and the like, and these can be factors in which operating system to select, as well as the size of the screen and keyboard. Many users want to use iTunes with their iPhone or iPod; that means you need a netbook that runs Windows XP.

2. How much screen do you need?
Netbooks come with three different size screens, and it’s important to think about how big a screen you need. The smallest screen found on netbooks is 7 inches — that’s small! — and these display at a resolution of 800 x 480 which doesn’t show much on a single screen.  The next size up is 8.9 inches and these often run at 1024 x 600, which is a big step up in screen real estate.  The largest screen size — 10.2 inches — is rapidly becoming the standard for new netbooks, and these also run at 1024 x 600.  A good rule of thumb is: Get the biggest screen you’re comfortable carrying around if you intend to be highly mobile.

3. How small of a keyboard will you tolerate?
When you’ve purchased computers in the past, you probably didn’t give a lot of thought to keyboard size, but it can be a critical factor for many netbooks users. Netbooks small size means scaled-down keyboards that fit the  width of the device. This can have a tremendous impact on your ability to comfortably type for extended periods. Netbooks with 7-inch screens are the narrowest, and these keyboards can be as small as 80 percent of a full-sized one.  It is almost impossible to touch type on these tiny keyboards. The bigger netbook keyboards (ones with 10 inch screens) are usually 90 percent the size of a full one, and the key spacing of most of these is fine for normal typing. A lot of netbooks on the market are produced outside the U.S. and many have non-standard key placement, so be sure you take a good look at this, as it can negatively impact fast typists.

4. Do you need the (heavier) extended battery?
Some people just want a netbook to surf the web in front of the TV at home; for those folks battery life is not that important. But if your needs are more mobile, then it’s worth considering the battery life of your options. Netbooks usually ship with either standard or extended batteries, which are usually 3-cell or 6-cell batteries respectively. Battery life can be as short as 2 hours or less with the standard batteries, so get the extended battery if at all possible. These can typically provide 4 hours of mobile juice which is a lot better than the 3-cells. Remember that the bigger the battery the heavier the netbook will be as you carry it around.  An extra half pound of weight doesn’t seem like very much but when you add that to an already packed gear bag it can get awfully heavy by the end of a long day.  Of course, your battery will last for more of that long day too.

5. Can you walk away from Windows?
This was originally not a decision factor as early netbooks only shipped with the Linux operating system.  This was fine with geeks, but everyday customers soon began to demand a more familiar OS. Some netbooks shipped with Windows Vista early on, but the performance on the hardware typically used in netbooks was not good enough. OEMs have since shifted to include Windows XP on most netbooks currently available, and this has become the de facto standard.  If you want a standard environment or want to install any Windows software you already own, XP should be your choice of OS. There are many different variants of Linux in use on netbooks, and it can be daunting to get familiar with an operating system you haven’t used.

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  1. @James,

    You’ve missed a HUGE elephant in the room, embedded broadband capabilities. ;-)

    You’re number one reason is Internet access, hence how ’bout high speed access. Perhaps this was implied?



  2. James Kendrick Friday, December 5, 2008

    Very few people I discuss netbooks with care nor want integrated 3G. There’s a big cost involved (compared to total netbook price) and that ongoing $60/month data plan is off putting for many. Most folks indicate that WiFi is all they need. Me I like my 3G but not embedded so I can use my modem with multiple devices.

  3. A Quick Guide to Netbooks – GigaOM Friday, December 5, 2008

    [...] 5 Things to consider before buying a netbook. [...]

  4. 10 Ways To Trick Out Your Netbook for Free – GigaOM Friday, December 5, 2008

    [...] 5 Things to consider before buying a netbook. [...]

  5. Joe Panettieri Friday, December 5, 2008

    Most of the Linux user interfaces I’ve seen on Netbooks are simple and intuitive. My wife and two of my sons (ages 8 and 10) use an Asus Eee PC netbook with Linux and never asked me “Where’s Windows?” They found their way around with NO problems. They just assumed since it was a smaller device the software was somewhat different.

  6. 5 cosas a tener en cuenta antes de comprar un Netbook : Gaceta Digital Saturday, December 6, 2008

    [...] Más información: Gigaom [...]

  7. I disgaree about the OS Part. I’m running Vista on my Wind with merely 1.25 GB of Ram and it does the job for me pretty well.In fact I found it to be a lot more usable than XP. More importantly Vista has resulted in a better battery life and with SP2 coming soon I would be on it only increasing.

  8. James, don’t forget we’re up to 12″ screens now with the Dell Mini 12 Inspiron. FWIW I believe the best netbook out there just now is the Samsung NC10. Great keyboard, 160Gb HDD, LED backlit screen and great build quality. Also, crucially, has an easy upgrade to 2Gb Ram.

  9. Recently purchased a 10″ netbook with a 40 GB solid state drive (SSD). 32GB of the SSD uses flash memory with a very slow write speed, and can seriously affect performance if you are using applications that perform much I/O. Most users will find that the hard drive versions of the netbooks have much better performance.

  10. I bought Sony Vaio CR series..is it good choice

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