The Netbook: Six Months Later

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).