How to Buy a Netbook – The Essential Guide

When the first netbooks came to the market, there was a great deal of interest in these nifty computers. Many buyers were amazed that it was possible to get a device that pretty well replicated the capacity of a full-on system at a fraction of the usual price. However, the rise and rise of these mini-laptops suffered a reality check when Apple and their copycats brought the more “cool” tablet computers in the market. In addition, the prices of complete spec laptops have fallen considerably to become cost competitive with netbooks. Manufacturers of netbooks, boxed into a corner, have had little option but to innovate such that today’s mini-laptop comes with special features including more expansive keyboards and screens as well as higher capability all at slashed prices ala Walmart specials.

Admittedly, we are not witnessing an avalanche of netbook releases as was the case a year ago but the array of choices available out there is still stupefying. A look at the brands available reveals a respectable set of reputable manufacturers such as Samsung, Toshiba, Lenovo, ASUS, Sony, HP, and Dell. However, it is worth noting that when the term netbook is used, it encompasses such a wide array of devices with different specifications that drawing a line on what constitutes a netbook and what does not is not the easiest of tasks. As a handy guide though, if it is a portable PC that can be defined as lightweight with low price tag and components with limited capability; then it is a netbook. Despite this broad categorization, netbooks still vary widely in terms of special features, keypad sizes as well as screen design. When it comes to the components, word has it that both Intel and AMD have some specialty chips on the pipeline after a lengthy lull. Despite this lack of certainty, we are sure this netbook buying guide gives you all the lowdown you need to choose a device suited to your needs and lifestyle.

Bigger Screens, Larger Keyboards

While it is not as hard to distinguish between netbooks and other laptops, you need to take your time before choosing one system over another. In the early days of netbooks, it was almost conventional to have all screens in the 10-inch dimension served on 1,024X600 resolution as default. Nowadays, the netbook has broken away from this restrictive mold and such high end netbooks as the HP Pavilion dm1z as well as the Lenovo Thinkpad now come with 11.6 inch screens. In fact, today you can buy some netbooks with 12 inch screens such as the Asus EeePC 1215B.

In the formative days of the quintessential netbook, it was almost unthinkable to expect a device with a full keyboard. Nowadays full keyboards are almost standard even on 10-inch netbooks. Several devices in this range will serve to illustrate this trend from the Acer Aspire One D260-1270 to the Toshiba mini NB305-N600 and the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3. All the new generation netbooks with larger than 10 inch screens come with full keyboards as a standard spec.

Standard Features and More Exceptions

As you would expect, all netbooks worth a mention in this guide come with an array of USB ports, card readers, webcams, as well as built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. What is not always included is an optical disc drive. In fact, a closer look at some popular netbooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t proves that the device is no more than a convertible tablet complete with a touchscreen. You can also expect inbuilt bluetooth connectivity feature. There is also an increasing number of netbooks which come with embedded wireless broadband modems.

Atom Platform No Longer Standard

It used to be that when you bought a netbook you were guaranteed that the processor would be on the Intel Atom platform. This was until AMD and its Fusion APU technology made a big impression and gained industry-wide respect. Not only are AMD APUs speedier than Intel Atom but they bring better graphic rendering not to mention battery efficiency. Another defining feature is that you are likely to find AMD netbooks with high capacity (3GB to 4GB) internal memory. Good examples of AMD APU netbooks are the HP dm1z and the Lenovo Ideapad S205.

Intel has not sat on its laurels in the face of the AMD onslaught with Atom processors now in the fourth generation. The most recent offerings of this reinvention are the 1.83GHz Intel Atom N475 and the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N455 netbooks. Both come with a single-core processor as well as DDR3 RAM support. There are also a few Intel based netbooks with dual-core technology which are touted to have a 20% boost over and above what you get with the single-core alternatives. Best of all, this improved performance does not come at the expense of lower battery life.

 

Factors to Consider in Netbook

The standard netbook battery is a 30Wh 3-cell unit though it seems the trend is gradually shifting to 6-cell battery units. From verifiable laboratory tests, it has been shown that the 3-cell batteries will give you between 2 and 3 hours of battery life after a single charge. The higher capacity batteries are however guaranteed to last anywhere between 7 to 10 hours of continuous usage. In short, the most suitable battery option will depend on your normal daily schedule and access to power for recharging. Office types will find the lower capacity batteries fitting while students and those usually on constant travel will do much better with the higher capacity batteries. When it comes to hard disks, you have a choice between solid-state drives (SSDs) and the more conventional spinning hard disks. It is generally true that the spinning hard disk drives are more affordable in terms of dollars per GB of capacity with options starting from 250 GB and higher. The SSD drives on the other hand are much costlier though they enjoy such advantages as being more durable and have faster data transfer rates.

 

What A Netbook can Do

Despite their innocuous small sizes, netbooks do pack plenty of capability. They are more than devices for surfing the net and basic office applications. They are very good platforms for fancy photo editing applications for example. With minimal inconvenience, they will also perform pretty complex video editing with programs like Adobe Premiere Elements 9 or Windows Media Encoder 11. They are also handy when it comes to managing and playing large MP3 music collections and will also stream videos from online video sharing sites like DailyMotion and YouTube without so much as a fuss.

With many of the netbooks in the market commanding price tags ranging from $300 to $500, they are good enough status symbols. For instance, the sleek looks of the aluminum framed HP 5103 place it in a class of its own. Another fashionable netbook is the Toshiba NB305-N600 with its lively textures and colors. Admittedly, the jury is still out on whether netbooks are here for the long haul in face of the onslaught mounted by tablet computers and the reinvention of full-feature laptops. However demand for netbooks remains healthy. Moreover, the variety available in the market will continue attracting the attention of buyers interested in a device with the functionality of a laptop without having to pay through the nose for it.