The Netbooks Are Taking Over!

27 Comments

I’ve long been skeptical of netbooks, but clearly, I need to reassess my elitist attitude toward them. I wasn’t a fan partially because I don’t like using them and partially because I didn’t believe that consumers would really go for a machine that seems to call for so many compromises. Most early versions didn’t use the Windows software familiar to most consumers, and the machines still have crummy graphics performance and require expensive 3G contracts in order to make them truly mobile.

However, perhaps I was too hard on them, or maybe I just forgot the appeal of cheap gadgets, because this weekend I was treated to a taste of how popular netbooks seem to be. On Sunday afternoon, I saw an ad for an HP (s HPQ) netbook in the Toys “R” Us weekly circular, and I stumbled across my latest Consumer Reports featuring on the cover an Asus Eee PC  with ratings for netbooks, laptops and desktops inside. (The Samsung NC10-14GB was the No. 1 pick.)

netbooktoySo while I may not want a netbook, plenty of others do. As more people seek cheap alternatives to laptops for their kids and smaller machines for travel and to take to coffee shops, I could soon be in the minority. For those seeking netbook nirvana, check out the broad coverage over at our sister blog jkOnTheRun or some of the following posts that offer a quick primer on the machines.

  • A Quick Guide to Netbooks
  • 5 Things to Consider before Buying a Netbook
  • 10 Ways to Trick out Your Netbook for Free
  • 7 Ways to Make your WinXP Netbook Shine
  • 27 Comments

    Tom

    To solve internet problem, you could tether a phone to your netbook OR laptop!
    Works like a charm. With some ingenuity you could probably fashion a cool velcro holder or something…

    Netbooks are good because they are small but not too small. That’s it. They aren’t magical and there’ll always be bigger sized notebooks.

    virtual online worlds for kids

    I used to really not like netbooks too. But a friend of mine showed me how useful it is when he had all his works and documents saved in his netbook instead of carrying all those papers and getting them lost or wet or messed up on bad days. They’re really cheap too!

    rob

    Feels like a classic mistake of “not for me so nobody will like it,” and all the more surprising given the sales figures, huge amount of anecdotal evidence that netbooks serve a slew of different purposes for millions of people–to say nothing of people in developing countries who would love to spend more, are scraping to get a netbook.

    Outside of developing countries, netbooks are the Nintendo Wii of the computer world. Vast numbers of people are fine with a machine that is to computers as a Wii is to a PS3. Let the various sites and super-techhy people rail about how slow and limited netbooks are; I took mine up to 2 MB of RAM, can do some photo editing while I stream video, have Word open, have the Net going.

    Oh by the way, I’m writing this on a 10-in Asus–sort-of. I am using a USB-connected keyboard.

    (I got decent at using the smaller, built-in keyboard and use it while traveling, hope someone can engineer a really clever way to make some sort of unfolding keyboard that fits within the 10 inches.)

    I wonder if the extra couple of inches for the 12-inch netbooks will have a significant impact on how willing people are to tote them around, how easy they’ll find it.

    tom

    i think there is a bit of a flaw with the concept that netbooks need 3G. many people buy netbooks for the low cost; most of these people will just use free WiFi whereever they can. it is actually the high end laptops users who will increaslingly demand 3G access to internet everywhere and be willing to pay the price.

    Gadget Sleuth

    Netbooks will be the future for “general” PC users, due to their reliability and low price. For power users (as pointed out), netbooks will be viewed as “toys”.

    Jez - Samsung Netbook Community

    As the founder of a user website dedicated to the NC10 I have been a fan of this little machine since it first came out. It is interesting to see the many stories of people being converted from “what’s the point” right down to “I can’t live without it!”

    I have a large powerful desktop which I couldn’t live without. As an IT pro I need the ability to run virtual machines, run professional software and of course play games(!). So why would I need a netbook? Wow, well I use it all the time. It really transformed the way the net is used in our house. Suddenly you can log in and check something out in 30 seconds, no need to go upstairs and fire up the beast just to check a train time. You can have it in the kitchen, living room, even the ..ahem.. bathroom.

    The Mrs will check out rightmove on the sofa, I’ll check my emails whilst she is cooking, etc. It just allows us to integrate the net into our lives in a cool new way. It’s less of a solitary activity. Sure you can do that with a laptop too, but why limit yourself to shorter battery life, a heavy weight and greater cost if you just want to use the net.

    It also allows streaming radio and movies without having to buy an internet radio or expensive HD video recorders, runs Office, plays older games, allows me to develop PHP and MySQL software, etc.

    Don’t underestimate the modern netbook, check out the NC10 :)

    Vivian

    You are over analyzing the netbook. It doesn’t replace anything. I call it my paperback computer. It fills in the gap between iphone and my regular laptop used for light computing e.g. checking social networks, blogs, email, talking on Skype.

    Travis

    I think dismissing Netbooks is a huge mistake. I just took a 3-week trip to Europe for which I bought an Asus Eee 1000HE and it was PERFECT. Small, light, portable, mega-long battery life, etc. I’m a software developer and it was fine running everything I needed (MySQL + Apache + PHP on Windows). Having a larger laptop wouldn’t have been practical in my situation. I couldn’t have watched 3 movies on the flight home. So what are you really compromising by choosing a Netbook? Graphics? Processor? Last time I checked, I don’t need either of those things to do 99.9% of what I do every day. This is the best laptop I’ve ever owned (and I’ve owned some good high-end Thinkpads, which I still think are great).

    Michael Horowitz

    The upcoming 11.6 and 12 inch netbooks may very well take over, in a huge way. They are much cheaper than existing 12 inch laptops and much better than existing 10 inch netbooks. I personally spent a lot of time with a handful of netbooks and eventually tired of their compromises and opted for an X series Thinkpad (I love the red eraserhead though, to each his own). Regardless of individual models, there’s a huge difference between a 10 and 12 inch screen.

    I agree with the comment above that the low price of netbooks “make you comfortable taking it places and doing things with it that you’d be worried about doing with a full-priced notebook”.

    I expect there always will be a place for small cheap netbooks, but that 12 inch netbooks will have a huge impact on the overall laptop market. At that size there are very few compromises and the price is right, for what you get. They will be judged good enough for a large percentage of users.

    As to the consumer reports review of netbooks, it’s lacking in many ways, which I wrote about on my blog
    What Consumer Reports didn’t tell you about netbooks
    http://blogs.computerworld.com/what_consumer_reports_didnt_tell_you_about_netbooks

    Michael Salsbury

    I own both a notebook and a netbook. The notebook is great for anything that requires higher resolution, more speed, and an optical drive… like gaming, video editing, etc. But I don’t do a lot of that. A lot of what I do is browsing the web, writing blog posts, and basic office productivity type applications. My Asus Eee PC 1000H netbook handles those tasks extremely well. The netbook is small enough to fit in a winter coat pocket, carry very comfortably in a shoulder bag, or put on my lunch tray at work next to my meal. The battery allows me to run the device for hours between chargings, far longer than my main notebook can run.

    When you compare a netbook with something like a MacBook Air, Dell Adamo, or the 12-13″ thin-and-light notebooks, it’s easy to dismiss it. Compared with those devices, its screen is smaller, its graphics capabilities abysmal, its processor anemic, etc. But you’re comparing a $1000+ device with a $250-350 one. Would you be comfortable leaving your new MacBook Air in a bag in your car? Would you feel better seeing someone drop your $300 netbook on the floor or your new Dell Adamo? Unless you’ve got lots of disposable income or an incredible faith in your notebook manufacturer’s build, you’ll appreciate the fact that a netbook (relative to a full notebook) is a commodity device that you can almost consider “disposable”.

    Those, in a nutshell, are the netbook’s advantages… It’s small and light like a higher-end device from Sony, Apple, or Dell. It’s powerful enough for the things most computer users spend their time doing. Its battery life usually bests much larger devices. And it’s cheap enough to make you comfortable taking it places and doing things with it that you’d be worried about doing with a full-priced notebook. If you can live with the compromises (smaller screens, lower resolutions, less 3D graphics power, slower processors, etc.), it’s a great device. If you can’t, or you can afford something bigger and better, then a netbook may not be for you.

    I love my netbook and carry it almost everywhere I go. I find it very fun and useful. At the same time, however, if I could pick up a more-capable device like the Adamo or Air for “just above” a netbook price, I wouldn’t bother with a netbook. (For example, a $500 Air/Adamo would be enough for me to ditch the netbook and move on.) I figure a couple of years out, netbooks will be in serious competition with used thin-and-light notebooks from today… although advances in netbook performance, graphics, and battery life might keep them in the lead.

    Jason Lackey

    After going to Micro Center over the weekend I can now say that I am cured of my desire for a Sony Vaio CS. The cheap Acers, on the other hand, running genuine XP, seemed rather cool for the price (1/3 the Sony)…

    Nicholas

    I think that we’ll see even more penetration as new ARM processors, and OSes utilizing them become available. Remember, the price today is probably about 25-50% higher than a similar device will be in a year. A touch screen Android device would be very cool!

    Baz

    I picked up an ASUS EeePC 701 when they first came out. It was meant to be a secondary (and more portable) device to my home (notebook) computer – and I wasn’t under any misconceptions about the limitations this little device offered.
    If it’s had any failings, its been the poorly realised Linux distro that came with it (and I’m not fussed enough to change that – but have since unearthed the ‘Advanced Mode’ Desktop), while its tiny SSD is still capable of storing some 600 photos, several hours of music, a whack of documents, a number of 3rd Party programs and still have room left over.

    Plug in an SD card or USB drive and I’ve watched movies….

    18 months (and several million netbooks later) it still garners some interest from others – especially its size, which makes modern netbooks look practically, well….notebook-like in size.

    Andrew Payne

    Do you have kids?

    Because of the price and durability (for the early SSD models), netbooks make a great starter system for kids. My kids are getting netbooks at an earlier age than they would have gotten their own laptop (say 10-12yrs for netbooks, 14yrs for laptops).

    With the browser becoming the only “app” that matters, netbooks are becoming a “gateway” computer for young users.

    bmoura

    I find a netbook is much easier to travel with than a full laptop. Much lighter to pack – and easier to bring out at meetings for some quick notes. The longer battery life is another bonus.

    When you add Windows 7 and some of the work that PixelQi is doing on longer life screens to the next generation of netbooks, their future looks pretty bright indeed !

    charlie

    @lava; absolutely right on, but you forgot this year the choice for consumers is wait another year to buy a real laptop, or buy a $300 netbook. Today’s laptop computers are SO powerful you can get 3-4 years out of one; if you want a new toy it is just easier to buy a netbook.

    Jeffrey McManus

    I don’t get why people are surprised at the popularity of netbooks. Disruptive technologies are nearly always a little bit worse and a whole lot cheaper than the technologies they replace. In a world in which processor power is no longer a meaningful differentiator for mobile devices, it’s no surprise that people are going after lighter weight and longer battery life.

    Arjun

    You bet. I bought myself a Samsung NC10, upgraded its HDD to 320Gigs and the memory to 2GB. There is absolutely no reason why I cannot use this config for ‘mobile productive office work’. It has a cam for voip video calls built in, great wireless connection, large HD and a good sized keyboard. Best of all, I slip it into my executive leather folio when I meet clients. Oh, and it does a great job of switching to external projectors (I’ve faced nightmares with may full size laptops).

    Lava

    The question was never whether netbooks would become popular or not.

    The question is whether the popularity of netbooks will decimate the PC industry. I don’t think companies like Dell or HP (at least the PC side of the business) will survive if half notebook customers opt to buy a netbook instead of a full-featured laptop. The margins simply aren’t there.

    It’s interesting that everyone trots out netbook unit numbers when talking about the “success” of netbooks. I wonder how so many analysts and tech writers can’t also look at netbook revenue and profits and compare them to the traditional notebook. I suspect many companies are selling 30%+ more units at a cost of a -50%+ loss of revenue and profit.

    Which doesn’t sound like a sustainable business strategy to me, but I guess unit numbers make people go blind or stupid or something.

    Honolulu Bill

    My Asus EEE PC turned out to be the computer I use most. Here’s how I use it:

    OpenOffice.org – spreadsheets and wordprocess – both of which save files in the .doc and .xls formats
    Wireless keyboard and mouse – although I can actually touch type on the keyboard
    Carry it with me when I travel – fast and easy to pull it out of my carryon bag for TSA security
    Coffee shops and public spaces throughout Honolulu offer free or cheap WIFI – SkyWave.com blankets the downtown and Waikiki areas.

    I plug in a 2GB flash drive for additional storage (there are 3 USB ports).

    Sacrificed Windows XP, but I’m making full use of the apps and functionalities this little $240.00 device came with. Worth every penny!

    MisterHobbes

    why not? I travel alot, all I need is a portable laptop with wifi, not a full spec laptop for photoshopping and more. I think it makes sense it today’s world when people travel more than ever.

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