Resistance was futile. I am netbooked.
If you’re vaguely interested in gadgets – which I assume is anyone reading this on a computer or phone – you’ll probably have heard of or seen these new smaller-and-lighter-than-laptop machines that aren’t powerful enough to be UMPCs yet not cheap enough to be OLPC.
Anyway, enough with the acronyms. They’re not important here.
The original Asus EEE PC about a year or two ago kickstarted the market for netbooks which are said to be geared for educational use or life as a second or third computer.
Since then many manufacturers have jumped on this lucrative (and perhaps simply fashionable) bandwagon with varying degress of praise.
However you must remember the current crop of netbooks at heart all have the same specifcations.
All the popular ones have the Intel Atom chip which is optimised for these sorts of devices. While very usable, do realise that an Atom is not designed for heavy duty work. And if that’s what you’re after, you’re better off looking at a laptop.
Screen sizes range from 7″ to 11″ (7 being too small in my opinion and 11 getting too close to normal laptop screens), memory upto 1GB and disk space is either a high capacity 2.5″ drive or lower capacity fast solid state disk.
Lastly, in the netbook world it’ll be hard to find bloaty Windows Vista but the ageing Windows XP isn’t the only option as Linux is finding it’s home on these machines, and in most cases it’s a fresher and lighter option. A few tinkerers even put OS X on them.
What made me pick the Toshiba NB100-11R was three things. 1) Brand name, 2) Build quality, 3) Acceptable specifcations for price [@ Laskys].
Some people might say I’m stupid because if you do a search, at least via the big engine that starts with G, you’ll see there are quite a few reviews (often professional) that say this machine is either terrible or middle-of-the-road. I disagree with all of them, but I am biased in this is the only netbook I’ve ever owned. The only concession I will make is it could be middle-of-the-road, but then most are. It’s however, not terrible. I find it a great surfing machine and for light document editing.
Unlike some other netbooks, the NB100 is good looking – I don’t understand comments on it being ugly. The version I have is black and just looks like a standard, sturdy mini laptop with well placed connectors. What more would I want?
The -11R available in black only is on average £50 cheaper than the Windows XP version which has more HD space and RAM, however Ubuntu Linux (which is supplied in a Toshiba branded ‘netbook remix‘) breathes easily under the supplied 512MB RAM and 80GB is still plenty of disk space, much more than on the current SSD’s which are around 16GB.
The boot time might be a little slower than some machines, but then as I pointed out it is using an HD, so the small loss in boot time allows for more file storage. Once booted (and it’s still a quarter of the time of my 5yr old desktop), working and even logging off is surprisingly fast. An SSD maybe sturdy but no laptop could survive totally intact from any smash (say a screen dent), so until SDD’s reach reasonable prices they’re often not worth it yet and an HD will alert you to be careful. Also as a HD requires more power, battery life is a bit less than say the similarly priced competitive Dell Inspiron Mini 9. The battery (which does stick out a bit, but is hardly an eyesore – and allows space for the function keys unlike the Inspiron) gives 3hrs (with WiFi on) which I think is fine. Not as long as the Samsung NC10 (upto 7), but I think only a sadist would want to work on a netbook for a number of hours per day and given that laptop batteries often trickle in small amounts even when not used.
The heavier 10″ Samsung NC10 however does also have a better keyboard, apparently one of the best. But the sting is, that this top player has a price tag of about £300 on average (not that the approx. £250 for the Linux NB100 is peanuts) and is bigger. It’s my own preference that once crossing over £300 I’d rather get an entry level laptop which is more powerful, if not as portable and battery friendly. The sweet max. price of a netbook should be £200, or a bit less.
The NB100 keyboard however is okay. It’s probably about standard for an 8.9″ screened machine but you wouldn’t want to type on it for ages. I naturally type by ‘hunt and peck’ (and can do so without looking at the keyboard) so I seem to be okay on it. I do make typos but I anticipate I’ll get better as more time passes.
Grey keyboard labelling however is unforgivable which renders the keys unseeable in moderate darkness, so a cheap USB light might be a necessary investment.
The trackpad however is fine. It has a large enough area to move around and is as responsive as I allow Ubuntu to let it. The trackpad buttons are also placed on the bottom like on a laptop (as opposed to left and right on Acer machines) and after getting use to their thinness and travel are fine to use. I also like the status lights at the beneath them which are good for easy notification of status but a bit poor when charging as you need to look between the closed lid for the battery charging indicator light.
Sound is fine and the widescreen is also very easy on the eyes. Ubuntu in the remix format is also attractive and easy to use. It’s true that there is a geeky aspect to it and in some (often rare and getting rare) scenarios you will need to enter typed commands in the Terminal application, but there are helpful folks who will just tell you what to paste (see this is as a way to restore sound on the NB100 after one slightly problematic Ubuntu update). Otherwise though, the interface is a lot like Windows or Mac (somewhere in between) and most things can be accessed by point and click. Browser, email and office applcations (which can read/write all popular formats) are there by defualt and much more can be found in the simple to use repostories or downloadable .deb files (similar to Windows .exe). The only people I’d sway from Linux are those who are really scared of trying something new and may hate a bit of learning curve, otherwise any semi-literate computer user should give it a go. I was online (wirelessly) and clicking away in minutes (but I must say I have once tried Ubuntu on my desktop).
It does get warm but no more than others in it’s class and the inclusion of CD/DVD writer software in the Windows model is actually clever contrary to some opinion, because if you purchase a disc drive/writer, how are you going to get the programs on the machine from the unit before installing it? There are other ways but putting in xxMB of software already on a 160GB unit is no dumb move. I don’t think I’ll need to get a drive but I assume Ubuntu has such utilities built in which might be handy if I need to use the recovery disc which is included.
I would have however liked more than a 0.3mp web camera for the price but as I’m not into that it’s not a bother. You also get your standard 3 USB ports and an SD card reader.
All in all though, I find it a fine attractive machine (with a standard size charger lead) and would not take to heart some unfair reviews. But you have to remember the best netbook (which probably is the NC10 as of writing) may not be the best one for you.
The best one for you will depend on how much you want to pay and how much you want to compromise (and they all have a compromise compared to a laptop as well as obvious advantages in more travel freedom). For me I find the Linux NB100 brilliant. Not only do I have something different to Windows (and I’m fine with Windows, I don’t get caught in OS fanboyism) but it’s a responsive system which can take on most (but definitely not all) of the tasks I perform on my desktop PC.