The biggest benefit that netbooks bring to the table, besides being dirt cheap, is the high portability factor. They weigh just 2-3 pounds, and are generally as small as notebooks can get. That makes netbooks perfect for business travelers. Or does it? Do netbooks compromise too much? I’m in the process of getting ready for a short business trip, and while I was all set to bring a 10-inch netbook along, I’m now thinking I might need a “full” laptop with me. My fear is that I will run into a situation in which I need the power a big laptop can provide, and find myself falling short with the netbook. Read on to see what’s bouncing around my head about this.
It’s important right off the bat to understand that my situation may be very different from that of a lot of business travelers. I make my living on the web — connectivity is king and content creation is of utmost importance. That content creation is the sticky part, as far as netbooks are concerned. Written content is no problem; netbooks can do that as well as any laptop. Audio and video creation are different matters, however, and most netbooks I’ve tried fall short in those areas.
Performance vs. Portability
I use a 13-inch MacBook as my primary (and only) computer for my work. I connect wireless I/O peripherals at the desk and have a big screen, too, but while mobile, the MacBook alone does everything I need. That means my decision as to which notebook to take with me on trips is between the MacBook and another portable computer. My choice at the moment is either the loaned Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 or the S12 netbook. The S10-2 is the most portable of all three devices under consideration, with the 10-inch screen and low weight. The S12 is only slightly less portable, being a little bit bigger and heavier than the S10-2. The MacBook is firmly in the least portable category weighing a couple of pounds more than the S10-2 and being a little bit bigger (although thinner). The netbooks win the portability category hands down compared to the MacBook. They both weigh 1-2 pounds less than the MacBook and both are smaller. Carrying them in my bag is very easy, given the size advantage.
So my decision process must take into account portability vs. performance. The two netbooks have Atom processors and definitely lose in the power category. Netbooks in general are good for most everything but in the areas they fall short performance-wise, they really fall short compared to a high-end notebook. I haven’t tried a netbook yet that could handle audio creation well, and video creation/editing is a pipe dream. If I end up needing to do either audio or video I will totally lose out with the netbooks. That’s my main concern when trying to decide if I should take one of them on my trip.
There is another factor that must be considered in the portability category, though, and that is battery life. Business trips often find extended periods away from a power outlet, so total battery life is very important. Both the netbooks are getting a solid five hours of battery life on a charge, about what I get on the MacBook. That would make the battery life a draw except for one important fact — I have a second battery for the MacBook. That’s my particular situation and may not apply to anyone else, but it is a factor in my own decision. Having the two batteries means I can get about 10 hours (or longer) while mobile, which is twice as long as either netbook. Sure it’s not a fair comparison given that I only have single batteries for the two netbooks, but that is a fact. The longer battery life begins to tilt the scales toward the MacBook in the portability category, even though it’s bigger.
The fact is, however, it’s not that much bigger than the netbooks, and what little extra weight it has is not a big factor in my gear bag. The bag won’t feel much heavier on my shoulder with the MacBook than it will with either netbook. I don’t work with a laptop in my hands so the weight is not a factor at all while working, just in the bag. So what it comes down to is if I feel it’s a better gamble to carry a couple of extra pounds in order to be able to handle anything I might need to do on my trip. It’s a lot easier decision when broken down concisely like that. It makes me wonder if netbooks, due to the hampered performance they provide, are truly the better choice for the frequent traveler?