5 Tips for Netbook Buyers

Netbooks have become a hugely popular hardware category, and I’ve been using them for more than a year, including trying many of the new models. Making compromises is part of the design of netbooks, so it’s important to evaluate them in a hands-on way when you go to buy one. In this post, you’ll find five tips for better netbook shopping.

Don’t buy solely online. Buying online can be a great way to get many kinds of systems at the best prices, but I wouldn’t recommend shopping solely online when buying a netbook. They’re designed to make compromises like the ones discussed below, so it’s important to have your hands on the device before you decide that a particular model is right for you.

Keyboard size is critical. Many netbooks are kept small and lightweight by compromising on keyboard size. Especially if you have big hands, a tiny keyboard can be a major annoyance. The Dell Mini 9 netbooks have good-sized keyboards and are reasonably priced, and the Acer Aspire One systems have nearly full-size keyboards. Many of the Asus netbooks have smaller keyboards.

Pointing devices matter. Quite a lot of shipping netbooks use trackpads, which annoy some people. Compounding that, the trackpads on some netbooks are set to behave in a hyperactive way, where you can sometimes barely touch them and your cursor will fly somewhere that you didn’t intend it to go, or the page you’re on will start scrolling unexpectedly. Put in some time playing with a netbook’s pointing device before you buy.

How much battery life? Battery life varies widely among netbooks, but you actually can get some units where the battery will last much longer than notebook batteries do. The new Asus Seashell line claims a whopping 11 hours of battery life. My experience with two previous Asus netbooks, though, is that I get about four hours of battery life if I’m doing tasks that don’t involve video and audio, and about 2.5 hours if I am doing video and audio. Think about the applications you use most when evaluating battery life, read reviews, and remember that you can maximize battery life if you turn the brightness down.

Display size. Netbooks originally came out with tiny 7-inch screens, but the displays have gotten much larger in many cases. However, the displays are typically not very large vertically, so make sure that the display on the netbooks you’re evaluating will suit the tasks you want to perform.

Share your netbook buying tips in the comments.

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