Clarity on Netbooks and should you buy one?

Ars ran a good story breaking down Biz360’s low rating numbers on Netbooks. Ars generally thinks that the algorithm used by Biz is probably skewed in a way that unduly punishes netbooks. The article does a good job explaining why, but I can see why netbooks might, overall, be rated low. But I think the problem may also have to do with ambiguity. I think many people may be rating a netbook low because of confusion.

Ars outlines everything in the article, but what I am proposing is an end to the ambiguity. Clearly I love netbooks, they have so many compelling features (mobility, price, weight), I’ve pointed out the positives and the negatives before, but I figure I’ll put it in better form for anyone considering.

What are they:
Small–netbooks are small, typically 10” or less, but if the price and weight are right I would consider 13” at the largest
Cheap–if the starting price is $700 or more than forget it you are looking at a BMW not a Hyundai think $200-$500 and you have a netbook.
Weightless–usually under 3 pounds, compare that to the 17” behemoth and it might as well be weightless.
Underpowered–these machines are meant to be carried around and used in extremely mobile situations. You aren’t going to find much more than 1GB 2 is certainly max, no fancy video card (are you really going to play a game on your 9” screen?) and often a low powered SSD for power consumption and protection. Not to mention the processor which is under powered for various reasons.
Internet ready–These things thrive on attaching you to the internet. If you need to email and do facebook this is your device. Some actually come with a specific OS geared towards internet applications.

To quote Ben because it is a good definition:

I divide netbooks from notebooks in the sense that netbooks try to lower prices, heat creation, and storage space by limiting RAM, CPU type/speed, and HD type/size. They are primarily designed for limited applications and not intended to be a “mobile workstation.”

They are not:
Mobile Workstation–don’t expect this to be your primary machine, if you need to walk around with your entire digital life at anytime these machines won’t work for you.
Top of the Line–with a price tag of <$500 you can’t expect the best engineering or parts to be used. For that price the machine could only last a year and I would be happy.
Speed–again they aren’t designed to do heavy lifting.

What to watch out for:
While I like that Linux plays a huge role in the netbook revolution that also poses a problem to the people who don’t pay attention but clearly want Windows. If you are considering purchasing one, but need Windows, make sure that is what you are getting. Also, clearly this won’t be your only machine, so don’t think of it like it will.

Finally try it before you buy it. Now with the Dell Mini 9 you can’t do that, but Dell has a good return policy. The point here is that the keyboards are often shrunk due to machine size. If you are a touch type person than you will want to practice to make sure that the conditions are desirable. The Mini 9 worked well for me, but I couldn’t touch the Asus models.

So should you get one? My vote is yes. Who couldn’t stand to use a nice highly mobile machine at such a low price. But now you have been warned. You know what you are getting yourself into, so no complaining if things aren’t quite like the big boy models.

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