What is a Netbook?

 A customer called today, who had heard the term 'netbook' but didn't know what one was.  This seemed like a good chance to write a little primer about what a netbook is, and also what it isn't. 

The term 'netbook' is relatively recent, and used to describe a subclass of notebooks.  They're designed to be small, inexpensive and efficient, perfect for general web use, but not for heavy lifting.  There are several factors that make netbooks appealing–light weight, compact size, long battery life, low prices. These are good features, and the primary reasons I like my own netbook.  However, its utility is limited in scope.

The machine itself is fantastically lightweight; most of weight comes from the (relatively small) battery pack. Combined with the small physical size, this makes it very easy to just pick up and go. Battery life is easily 6 hours on a charge, maybe even longer depending on how you use it. 

I find it incredibly convenient for certain things. Maybe you're sitting on the couch watching a movie and want to look up some trivia, or figure out where you've seen that actor before. Stuck in a game and need to look up a FAQ? You've got a good quick way to satisfy that need. It fits the bill for e-mail, light web browsing, chat and music, and even offers some capacity for video playback.  It's nearly the perfect device for getting some work done on the road.

But a netbook's not a machine for full time, day-to-day use. Even on a model with a large and comfortable (by netbook standards) keyboard, typing for extended periods can be awkward and tiresome. On the more compact models it's a struggle at the best of times. With touchpad-click enabled it's all too easy to send the cursor to some random location on screen. The low screen resolution leads to a lot of scrolling on webpages, and the low power hardware that makes battery life so great limits performance. Anything beyond the most casual of gaming is out, and while YouTube works fine, the more intensive player on Hulu stutters.

To put the performance question into perspective, Daniel (our support lead), points out that the ATOM processor used in most of these netbooks has less processing power than an Intel Pentium M chip, which is a notebook processor that's about 3 generations old. 

Netbook Strengths Netbook Weaknesses
Lightweight & Compact Size Small Keyboard, Ergonomically unfriendly.
Long Battery Life Difficult to service, if a given part fails.
Inexpensive Low Performance
Great uses: Email, Web Browsing, YouTube, Word Processing, Listening to Music Unable to run: Hulu, Video Games, CPU intensive applications like Video Editing, Photoshop, etc.

I don't mean to scare away anyone who's considering purchasing a netbook. I think they're great little machines.  This post was even written on one!  There's a lot of great models out there, and they can make the perfect inexpensive compliment to a household or business that already has a powerful desktop.  But before you purchase, make sure you're aware of the limitations and put a comfortable keyboard high on your list of priorities!