/ Technology

Netbooks belong in the technology junkyard

Laptop over netbook

OK, netbooks are cheap and portable and the all-day battery life is nice, but that’s all they have going for them. They’re slow, have rubbish screens and there are better and cheaper alternatives to be had.

I remember reviewing the first netbook. The Asus EeePC 701 had an 8.9-inch screen and an 800 x 600 resolution. It ran a customised version of Linux. It was small, it was light, and it was cheap. At the time, it was a revelation.

Within a year it had been superseded. Netbooks settled on larger 10-inch screens and slightly faster processors, but that was three years ago. The netbooks of today have barely changed since then. Netbooks are the very antithesis of modern technology. They haven’t evolved, they haven’t improved. They’ve stagnated.

Slow and awkward

Despite their beginnings with light, nimble Linux-based operating systems, modern netbooks are lumbered with a ‘cut down’ version of Windows 7. It was never designed for use on netbooks, and it shows. It’s slow to boot, slow to load programs… it’s just plain slow.

Then there are the screens. With one or two exceptions, most netbooks feature a 1024×600 resolution – so restrictive it’s like peering though a letterbox.

It’s particularly annoying when using web browsers, as the tabs and toolbars take up precious space. Trying to use a modern computer application on a netbook screen is an exercise in infuriating compromise.

Better alternatives to netbooks

What seals the fate of netbooks in my mind, though, is that better, cheaper alternatives exist. In response to the popularity of netbooks, manufacturers have produced numerous cheap yet functional ultra-portable laptops. For as little as £350 you can pick up a decent 11.6-inch laptop (I recommend the Dell Inspiron M101z) with a nippy dual-core processor.

These small laptops aren’t crippled like netbooks, yet they demand only a modest premium. They have slightly larger screens, but are infinitely more practical, and have the processing power to tackle image editing, internet video streams and other ‘normal’ computing tasks. The better ones match netbooks in the battery life stakes, too.

Then, of course, there are tablets. Apple’s £399 iPad 2 is as good a riposte as any to the netbook. I’m writing this article on one, on a train sitting outside Waterloo. While it has its compromises, the iPad 2 is better at browsing the internet, and basic tasks (e.g. image editing) than any netbook.

If netbooks have a purpose now, it’s in offering children and third-world nations a cheap, accessible entry into computing – that’s it. But, otherwise it’s time to cast aside your netbook for something a little more adventurous. It won’t cost a fortune, and you won’t regret it.

Matt Long says:
15 January 2012

I have a netbook and as I only really use it for web browsing, writing simple docs and watching movies, I replace Windows with Linux (Ubuntu). It now boots and runs much quicker.