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The Netbook: Six Months Later

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In an effort to curtail my disastrous gadget spending habits, I’ve decided to take a look at devices I’ve purchased with the stated intent of increasing my productivity, to see if intentions and reality reflect each other at all. Today, I’m turning my critical gaze on my netbook, which I picked up just over half a year ago.

My particular netbook is the Asus Eee PC 1000HE, but the model doesn’t really matter. It’s a light device with a 10-inch screen, a small keyboard and an all-day eight hour battery. When I bought it, it was freshly released, and was generating quite a bit of buzz among the mobile computing crowd. One of the first things I did with the Eee PC was to install the Windows 7 beta (s msft), and it’s still running the release candidate today.

Dream: The Road Warrior

Now that we’ve established what it is I’m working with, we can move on to how it’s working out. At the time of purchase, I wanted a netbook so that I could travel lightly and work from virtually anywhere without requiring a power source or, when I used my 3G USB dongle, a Wi-Fi connection. I also wanted something I could just throw in a bag, without much concern for either the device itself or for the additional space it would take up. I envisioned a future of road-warrior remote working, where the only limit to my mobile productivity was what time the trains stop running.

As many of you probably already guessed, my vision of the future didn’t exactly turn into reality. But just how far off was I? The truth is, very far off.

It didn’t help that Apple (s aapl) released the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with a built-in six hour battery shortly after I purchased the Eee PC. That aluminum beauty quickly replaced my black plastic MacBook, and it would’ve been a shame to hide it away, so more often then not, if I was stepping out, I’d pick the Apple notebook over the Asus. Sure, the Eee PC would’ve saved me some space, but if I really wanted to travel light, I could always just leave all bags at home and depend on my fully capable iPhone.

Looks weren’t my only concern in choosing the MacBook Pro over the netbook for on-the-go work. I also couldn’t get over the cramped keyboard on the smaller device. The Eee PC is widely touted as being among the best in its class in terms of keyboard space and quality, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable to use. It still requires adaptation, which means that when you go back to a full-size keyboard, it can be hard to regain your bearings.

The only real advantage that my Eee PC has over my MacBook Pro is that I don’t really care that much what happens to it, so I’m more likely to use it in high risk situations, or when I think I might get caught outside in inclement weather. The netbook was a great deal less expensive than the full-size laptop, obviously, so its safety weighs less on my mind.

Reality: Couch Potato

Truth is, though, in most cases where I feel more comfortable taking the Eee PC along in my bag, I won’t actually ever have cause to take it out until I get home again. Which leads me to the actual use my netbook now has: Coffee table resident and visitor’s notebook.

It now remains in the living room, on the storage shelf underneath the main surface of my coffee table, just waiting for some much-needed attention. When my girlfriend or anyone else is over, it gets thrown into use as an idle Facebook browser while I use my MacBook Pro and we simultaneously watch TV (who consumes only one kind of media at a time anymore?). Occasionally, when I want to check out a Windows program and write about it in Mac OS X at the same time, I’ll use the Eee PC to run software while working on my iMac.

Was it a worthwhile investment? Probably not. Do I appreciate having it around? Yes, enough not to sell it, by way of which I could probably actually recoup some of the cost of the machine. As productivity boosters go, though, it doesn’t pass the test, and I’ll think twice about buying into whatever the next new subcategory of computer happens to be. Unless it’s the Apple tablet (GigaOM Pro subscription required), which I will (of course) buy in a second regardless of any and all lessons learned.

What gear have you purchased that subsequently hasn’t lived up to the intended use you had for it?

Editor’s note: For more information on netbooks and where they’re headed, check out the report, “The Future of Netbooks,” over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

11 Responses to “The Netbook: Six Months Later”

  1. Interesting article, considering much of what I have been reading is that the netbook is replacing the notebook in the corporate world. I have an Acer Aspire One and it is terrific! I run Ubuntu Linux on it and it runs just fine. It’s great for writing, woring on the Web, and updating my Web sites. From what I see in the corporate world, many IT supervisors are even using it to run most of their corporate work, replacing the “bulky” notebooks.

    Well, each one has its place, I guess. However, I’m just seeing more people speaking of replacing their notebooks with netbooks.

  2. Netbooks can be very useful when pushed beyond their “marketed use cases”. I actually use my netbook for everything including coding and building software. Its just a question of what you install and how far you go to use it.

    If you cant find enough software for your netbook, I would suggest you try LyteRAD to build custom apps from it comes in a free edition. There are a lot of possibilities.

  3. I agree with Richard – netbooks can be great, depending upon what you need to do with them.

    I have a 1000HE, exactly like the netbook Darrell wrote about here. I bought it back in May to take to court with me (I’m a traffic attorney). I carry all my client files on it, and I make notes during trials with it. I love it!

    I still use my regular laptop throughout the day as my main computer, and I bring it home quite a bit for extended work (or play) in the evenings. But my Eee PC was a great investment!

  4. For months now I have been looking into buying a net-book for on the road connectivity. I have printed out the volume equivalent of “War and Peace” on this subject and have a goggle alert on the Eee PC HE which is how I found you. You wrote by far the most informative article on this subject.
    Many Thanks,

    • Leslie, it just depends on what you want to do on the netbook. I am retired recently and am pretty computer savy, but just don’t need the computing power I needed in the corporate world anymore. I bought an Eee 1000HE for browsing and some financial spread sheets and documents, and it was prefect for that use — plus the long battery life and portability. My wife liked it so much I gave it to her and bought a Eee 1005HA for myself

  5. Please don’t post links that require a subscription (ie. GigaOM Pro). Totally worthless to most readers (and you did it twice!). There are plenty of worthwhile articles out there on netbooks that aren’t on so-called “premium” sites.

    • Celeste LeCompte

      Hi Dan, I hope you’ll give GigaOM Pro a chance before you decide it’s worthless! I’m the editor for Pro, and we’re trying to offer access to in-depth articles and research reports to GigaOM Network readers (and others) at an affordable rate — $79 a year for all-you-can-eat research and deep analysis is pretty dang cheap!

      So, we figure if you’re reading our content here, you might be interested in what our colleagues over at Pro have to say as well, especially if you want to dig even deeper on the topic you’re reading about right now (e.g. netbooks). If we don’t link to it, how would you know about it?

  6. Good luck trying to get gadget addicts to own up to the uselessness of their purchases. The first step of resolving addiction is recognizing the problem.

    I think you’ve already used the netbook for its best purpose which is to keep kids/guests off your personal computer.