What’s the Best Netbook for the Price Right Now?

msi-windEarlier today, I received a note from Mike, a jkOTR reader who recently got his hands on an MSI Wind netbook. Not just any Wind either; it was mine. Mike might have a little netbook fever now and he was asking my opinion on the best netbook for the price; in terms of value. Mike doesn’t have any specific requirements in terms of the hardware. He’s just planning to check e-mail and surf the web when out and about: basic tasks that a netbook is perfect for. He doesn’t even need a high-capacity battery since this is definitely a secondary device for him. Aside from those minimal requirements, he thought he’d occasionally upload photos or post to a blog using Windows Live Writer.

Of course, all I can do is offer an opinion: that and a buck will get you cup of coffee at McDonald’s. But that’s what he asked me for, so here’s my opinion on the best netbook for the money right now.

I ruled out any device with an 8.9-inch display in my thought process. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but the larger 10-inch screens represent nice “bang for buck”. You can always upgrade some components, like memory or storage capacity, but you’re generally stuck with a screen size for the life of a device. This pushed the current Acer Aspire One, the Dell Mini 9 and some of the Asus Eee PCs out of contention.

I then took a peek at the starting prices of the more well-known brands: the Lenovo S10 and the HP Mini 1000, for example. For a Windows XP version with a 10-inch display, you’re looking at around $349 for the Lenovo and a little more for the HP. Each offers the minimal but usable 512MB of RAM but they differ greatly in terms of storage capacity. The HP offers an 8GB SSD drive while the Lenovo provides a very generous 80GB drive for nearly the same price. Both devices offer a three-cell battery, a webcam and WiFi, so there’s minimal to no difference there.

I see that Amazon has my MSI Wind available for $349, which is nearly the same price as the HP and Lenovo. Spec-for-spec, it generally compares equally to those two netbooks with the 3-cell battery, but it bumps the storage up to a 120GB hard drive and provides a full 1GB of RAM. That may not be required, but remember, I’m looking at value here, which I roughly equate as price-for-specification in this case.

For another $40 on Amazon, I think I have the current value winner: the Asus Eee PC 1000HA. It generally offers the same base specs, but ups the hard drive to 160GB. That alone might not be worth the extra $40 over the MSI Wind, but the kicker is the battery. The 1000HA at $388.50 includes a 6-cell battery. Again, it might not be what Mike needs, but these specification bumps for not much additional cash are worth it in my opinion. Of course, some online shopping might yield lower prices, which could easily change the analysis. Additionally, I’d never recommend anyone buy a consumer electronics device this close to CES. Although unlikely, you just might find a newer, better or less expensive option announced this week.

The good thing about opinions is that they’re never truly right or wrong. That’s why I welcome yours here: what would you tell Mike to buy, and why?

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