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5 Things to Consider Before Buying a Netbook

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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. [digg=http://digg.com/gadgets/5_Things_to_Consider_Before_Buying_a_Netbook]

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.

71 Responses to “5 Things to Consider Before Buying a Netbook”

  1. Question:

    When a device specifies “up to X hours battery life,” does that mean adding together all the time that you have the device on and working? or does it mean the whole time the device is unplugged, even if it is turned off and stowed away? Makes a big difference, as I might have it with me for 10 hours but only using it for 2 or 3 hours total at most. Thanks!

    ~Faith

  2. cobyone

    I agree that netbooks do spitty much and can keep up with mostly what other laptops do! I’ve got the Samsung NC10 and it does all I need it to do. If you want small you will have to get used to small screen and keybored, however I don’t think it’s that bad in size and the fact I now have a really small computer and a light one is fantastic. One note may I add, is that if you are wishing to use iTunes, please be warned you may need to get an external disc drive if you want to put your music cd’s on! But there come at good prices if you look hard enough. A small price to pay to do all I need it to. Netbook is a great intention! Cobyone

  3. MBBarnes

    I have seen no pros nor cons going LINUX with respect to printers or WIFI.
    I am considering purchasing a NetBook fo my Mom and the LINUX is getting my atention due to simplicity (at least what I saw on the Aesus eeepc site).
    I dont want to become her remote support tech with this purchase so I am looking for intuitive GUI and stability.

    I will need to set her up with wifi at home, a printer for her emails and such along with a possible usb extra printer with bigger keys.

    Any ideas or things to look for with these requirements ?

  4. mark christensen

    thanks for all the advice but i didn’t see anything about how the acer aspire one 10.1 ability to play on game sites such as pogo. if anyone could answer this for me i’d appreciate. thanks again

  5. Everybody should buy the notebook according to the real needs. To buy the same notebook as your friend bought is not justified unless both of you have the same needs. Anyway, the range of notebooks available today is large enough to satisfy the most of the people. Actually, buying the desktop computer today is quite unnecessary, unless you have a special business needs.

  6. VÄ“er

    What keeps me off from buying netbook atm is lack of 3G connectivity, its still not a standart and only 3g netbook i can get where i live is EEE 901 with 2 year contract for 600 bucks+monthly fee 20-40 bucks. Aint that sh1tty?
    So what i consider is:
    -looong battery life, like 10hours standart (hopefully arm and pixelqi are about to make it real!)
    -10″ screen with 1280×800, not that unreal
    -fast and lasting ssd, no less than 20Gb
    -comfortable keyboard to type on
    -faster than atoms/nanos in current netbooks
    -price 200-300 usd.

    I guess im in for some wait :)

  7. 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…

  8. lccurtis

    I recently purchased my Acer Aspire One with Windows/XP, 160gb hard drive, 1gig of RAM and I must say I am very impressed. I have reviewed several post which state that netbooks are not capable of being used as a primary pc, I find this to not be true. I am a I.T. professional and have been for 15years. My netbook does everything I need it to do I also have 3 other laptops Dell 15″, Dell Latitude 12″, and IBM Thinkpad 15″ and my 8.9″ inch Acer can keep up with all of them.

    I see no reason why these cant be used for the work environment as well. Most corperate users do not require these high end pc’s only to be utilized for email and maybe a powerpoint presntation. I would recommend my Acer to anyone.

    I would advise anyone looking to purchase a netbook please take your time and look at all your options. I myself think my Acer is the best deal for those who are looking at only $329 Linux, 8gb HD, 512 RAM, $399 for WinXP, 160 gb hard drive, 1gb RAM.

    If you looking at anything larger than a 10″ inch screen then you should not be looking for a netbook (DELL)

    LCurtis