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Netbook, notebook, portable, ultra-portable: what’s in a name?

UltraportableWe’ve had a discussion previously trying to nail down what makes a notebook a netbook with no resolution.  We admit it doesn’t really make that much difference but in our coverage we try to standardize on the terminology we use so you can follow what we cover over time.  The overall impression we get is that netbooks are thought of as the smaller notebooks, traditionally with displays 10 inches or less.  Dell is trying to confuse everyone with the Mini 12, a notebook with a 12-inch display and netbook components.  At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if we call a given device a notebook or a netbook although we typically start calling them notebooks when the screen passes 10 inches in size.

Another term that we’ve started to see cropping up to describe some notebooks is the "ultra-portable" tag.  This term is usually used for thin notebooks to indicate they are more easily carried around by mobile professionals than most notebooks.  I have seen notebooks with 14-inch displays and larger referred to as ultra-portable and that’s when it starts to get confusing.  Like the netbook question, what makes a notebook ultra-portable?  I have a hard time rectifying that a notebook with a large 14-inch screen is an ultra-portable device, simply because the large display means the device is a lot bigger than smaller ones.  Sure the notebook may be very thin but let’s face it, a thin notebook with a large screen won’t fit in the smaller gear bags so can it really be "ultra-portable"?  I think not.  Again we’re not trying to put our terminology forth as the only proper terms but we do try to be consistent within our own coverage. 

We’re also interested in what you think about the ultra-portable tag.  If you see a notebook with a large screen tagged as "ultra-portable" do you find that term confusing or does it make sense?  What are the qualities that come to your mind if you see the term ultra-portable used to describe a notebook you haven’t seen in person?  Does thinness alone qualify a device as an ultra-portable, or perhaps light weight?  You tell us what you think and we’ll keep it in mind in future coverage.

10 Responses to “Netbook, notebook, portable, ultra-portable: what’s in a name?”

  1. FlyingShawn

    Here’s how I usually break down the different terms:

    UMPC: 4-7″ screen, generally touchscreen slate or convertible form factor, and usually attempting to squeeze a decent amount of computing power into that size (ex. Core Solo processor), thus usually making them fairly expensive (usually upwards of $1300). Examples: Samsung Q1 and Q1U series, OQO, HTC Shift, Fujitsu U810

    Netbook: 7-10″ screen, mostly traditional clamshell designs (with a few “netvertibles,” with hopefully more to come in the future), the defining characteristic is an emphasis on cheaper, lower power-draw components (specifically, Intel Atom or Via Nano type processors) to fulfill the role of a “companion computer” (as opposed to someone’s main computer, which has more horsepower), thus keeping the cost relatively inexpensive (roughly $300-$600). Examples: Asus Eee PC’s, Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind.

    Notebook: full size, traditional laptops and tablets, mostly in the 12-17″ screen range, and featuring sufficient horsepower to be someone’s primary computer. “Notebooks” have several subcategories, such as:

    -Ultra-Portables: the simplest way to describe these is as “full power notebooks in netbook frames.” Essentially, they try to take the higher-end components needed to be one’s primary computer and squeeze them into smaller frames. Thus they typically have 7-10″ screens, Intel Core Solo or Core 2 Duo processors, and are typically fairly expensive ($1500+), so you pay a premium to get all that power in such a small package. Examples: Sony Vaio TX and TZ series, Fujitsu P1600 series.

    -“Thin and Light”: As their name implies, these are essentially “normal” notebooks designed in such a way as to be thinner and/or lighter than the “average” notebook thickness/weight. Typically they have 12-14″ screens, are less than 5 pounds (“average” notebooks are 5-7 lb), are less than 1.5″ thick (with some examples being ultra-thin, like the Macbook Air or VooDoo Envy), and cost slightly more than “average” sized notebooks of similar power and screen size. Examples: Apple Macbooks, numerous business notebooks from HP, Dell, etc.

    -Desktop Replacements: As their name implies, these notebooks are larger and more powerful than most notebooks, but aren’t intended for mobility. Typically they have 17″+ screens, weight ranging from 7-10 lb, and desktop-level components (desktop processors, high-end discreet GPUs (sometimes even SLI or Crossfire multi-GPU systems), and excessive amounts of hard drive and RAM). Typically fairly expensive due to their high-end components ($1700-3500+). Examples: HDX Dragon, most Alienware notebooks.

  2. If you have to know te origin of the erm to decide wheter or not you’re going to use it, youre more biased than the people you’re complaingin about. I agree that ultra mobile, or rather UMPC, is for 5″ish devices that coost a lot of money. Netbook should go up to 10″, notebook anything above.

  3. “Netbooks” are Intel’s marketing term. They even bought the term “netbook”. Go to and you hit an Intel page. If you are truly un-biased you won’t use Intels marketing term. Gartner and IDC use “mini-notebook” not netbook, because they arent biased.

  4. To me, ultra-portable seems to describe a computer that fits the size requirements (or close to them), but doesn’t match the low cost characteristic. Notebooks like the VAIO TX and TZ come to mind immediately.