/ 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Within a year it had been superseded.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.

Comments
Member

I bought a Dellnetbook running XP. It is painfully slow, I only use it when I have to. However it was only £150 new from PCW, so it was, and still is worth it…..

Member
Mark says:
22 April 2011

Arguably tablets are taking over the role of netbooks. I say “arguably” because I can’t imagine being able to, nor wanting to, do any significant amount of work using a touch keyboard. This is why I think Chrome OS actually has a chance if Google can release it at budget price point.

Member

I don’t know about other tablets, but keyboards are available for those who want to type on their iPad.

Netbooks are so crippled that I would rather carry around a laptop.

Member
Fred says:
23 April 2011

I bought a netbook prior to spending 6 weeks in hospital, in fact it was the one ‘tested’ above. With a Vodaphone dongle managed to keep in touch with all those at home 250 miles away, surfed the net listened to podcasts etc. the only thing I couldn’t do was use iplayer.

Have really been converted to Linux, takes up so little space and does pretty well all that I ever wanted Windows to do, just wish I could download books for the Kindle on it!

Member
Graham says:
25 April 2011

Andrew,
Does the new Samsung NS310 change the view on Netbooks?

Member

Not at all. It’s still got an Atom processor on Windows 7, and it’s still got a restrictive 10-inch screen. Nice design is great, but functionally it’s still the same old product underneath.

Member
YouKnowWho says:
26 April 2011

£399 iPad 2 is….. ….twice the price of my MSI Wind, which works just fine, and if it were to get dropped/lost/stolen – no great loss, but a £400 ipad?
Also the ipad has only half the RAM and only one tenth the storage!

Easypeasy works well too, booting from a USB memory stick.

Member

I’ve got a rebadged MSI Wind (1.6Ghz, with RAM upgraded to 2Gb). Its light, ultra portable and I’ve managed to load Windows 7 Ultimate on it after some tweaking. I do however use it in tandem with a gaming laptop. In comparison to tablets I find I can do SO much more with it, and, despite its diminutive size (and older processor!) I get it to run 720p HD video quite comfortably. Even older games (when loaded from a pen drive) run quite well. I’ve had Call of Duty 1 & 2 and even far Cry run nicely on it. I paid £100 for the netbook second hand and since I’ve had it I’ve not had a single problem with it. People have rasied the whole “The IPad has a keyboard” – no sorry it just doesn’t. I’d much rather type for hours on a real keyboard than numb my fingers on a tablet screen.

On the screen front – yes 1024×600 is restrictive, and yes at times websites look very bunched. But for seamless operating away from your desk a netbook wins hands down every time.

Member
Geoff Uttley says:
26 April 2011

Bought a Tosh NB305 a year ago (airside, qquite cheap) while on my way to Chicago where I saw the launch of the iPad; was a bit worried that I’d bought too soon. A year later I’m still chuffed to bits with it; long battery life, good screen, keyboard, easy to swap files to and from my main laptop using a stick or email. Does exactly what I bought it for, and will save wear and tear on my main laptop too.