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Summary:

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 […]

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2, S12 netbooks

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2, S12 netbooks

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?

  1. The thing is, the Macbook isn’t big or cumbersome. My 15″ Macbook Pro comes with me most places where I don’t have to carry it around much. So, flying it goes in the wheeled hand luggage, or it’s in the boot (trunk) of the car. If I’m carrying all day then it’s the Mini 9 or Viliv S5.

    So, I guess it boils down to how much, if any extra hassle it is to take a bigger notebook. A lot of the time it probably isn’t much.

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  2. It sounds to me you’re looking for the 13″ MBP performance in a netbook, an unfair request to make at the moment.

    I’m not sure about your problems with audio creation on a netbook – my HP 2133 handles CD quality digital audio just fine, and that’s with Cool Edit Pro running on the VIA C7.

    Web connectivity is easily doable on any device, but streaming audio and video is a whole new matter. Flash-heavy content will murder any device that cannot provide at least 128MB of video RAM – blame Adobe. If your needs go beyond webcam chats and youtube playback, you probably will be better off with a dual-core notebook with discreet GPU.

    But at a mere 13″, you won’t get any better performance for the size than the MBP. Well maybe a new HP dv3 with T9900 inside, but that’s another discussion.

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  3. On the question of power, do netbooks have enough power and generally come with enough RAM to run MS Office products well without lag?

    My sister needs to buy a laptop for work on the road when away from her iMac. I suggested a Macbook, of course, but should she consider a netbook if all she needs to do is run Office and online applications?

    Thanks for any feedback…

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    1. Most I have tried will run Office fine. Not the fastest computers around but OK.

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  4. I have a 13″ macbook – I don’t really see the need to travel with anything smaller. I wouldn’t gain anything by using a 10″ machine vs a 13″ one.

    Now when airplane seats get smaller and I can no longer open the macbook up then I reserve the right to revisit that statement.

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  5. Not sure if that’s a good analogy. Most photographers will bring all their gears along for their traveling (vacation, etc) and at the end they could only use one or two lens. I feel like this is the same case here if I am a frequent traveler. My MSI wind handles everything I use daily pretty well, except 720P (or above) video. I even use it for lightroom (sparingly) and picasa (frequently). Enough ram and keeping the infrastructure clean (don’t install too much crap apps) is important as well as doing frequent maintenance is key, I think, for a netbook. I believe win xp is light weight enough for 80% of the tasks. Is it worthwhile to get those 20% things done during your travel?

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  6. For your situation, the Macbook seems to be the no-brainer. I’m in a similar situation when I travel, except that my ‘macbook’ is a Dell XPS M1330. Roughly the same size, every bit as powerful, except that I don’t get anywhere close to 5 hours of battery life, and I don’t have a spare battery. My netbook of choice is the Asus EeePC 1000HE, which is *much* smaller than the M1330, and also gets easily 2x the battery life, if not more.

    For personal trips, the 1000HE does the trick quite nicely – it has a sizable 160GB HDD so that I can offload photos and videos throughout the trip, and is capable of handling most of my blogging, which only really entails on-the-spot photo editing and word processing.

    I’m actually facing the same issue on a trip that I’m taking in September – I’m actually tempted to carry along both, though I likely will end up bringing only one. The 1000HE is winning for now, based on the battery life and size, but being able to edit a bunch of high-resolution photos and then upload them in a timely manner is not looking good on that one – not yet, anyways.

    An interesting quandry, no doubt. If we’re not buying these netbooks to take along on short trips, what *are* we buying them for?

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  7. The interesting thing is that the Macbook is double the weight, and triple, or more, the price. For my needs on the road, I am a netbook type of person preferring weight to being a power user. I can access the web, run MS Office documents.

    Jimbo

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  8. While you’re struggling with your decision my P1620 and I will just enjoy our holiday next week.

    Gordon

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  9. Franco Cavadini Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    There is something I don’t understand: considered that in your office you use a big external monitor to work, why don’t you buy a “real” ultraportable (like the lenovo x200 or something like that, with a 12″ screen) to substitute the Mac AND the netbooks? You would get a powerful enough machine to work on everything you do, but still a laptop easy to transport and with very good battery life.

    Is there something I’m missing?

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    1. Not at all. My decision process is centered around the three devices I have at my disposal right now. I’m not buying anything for this trip, I must decide from the available tech pool.

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  10. I found perfect netbook – iPod Touch :)

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