Looking for the perfect netbook
We take a long, hard look at what's on offer in the netbook/UMPC market
(by editor © October 2008)
We've been pondering, prevaricating and putting off buying a netbook for ages, endlessly checking the spec sheets of competing models, waiting on new model updates and then holding off buying because another ruddy even better one had just been announced.
We've now resolved to buy the thing this week - even if the Ultimate Netbook Killa is announced tomorrow - and so we thought we'd let you into our decision making process, and perhaps you could influence our choice with with your own advice and opinions before we flex the plastic.
First off, let us explain what we're after: we want a netbook that is small and light enough to carry around all day and with a good battery life and a decent screen.
We're not after a fully fledged laptop replacement (which is a good job considering the low grunt of Atom processors), but we're looking for something that won't fall over or grind to a halt on basic duties like web browsing, document writing or perhaps the occasional minor photo edit.
Linux or XP?
Most netbooks come in both Linux and Microsoft XP powered flavours, with the Linux version invariably being cheaper. Although the mere mention of Linux might conjure up images of pimple-bothered, coke-swilling techies sweating over some obscure command line code, the interface installed on netbooks is now as easy to use as Windows.
There's also tons of highly capable free programs available for the Linux platform, but in the end we elected to stick with what we knew best and look for an XP-powered laptop.
The 10+' screen contenders
Seeing as we always like to start off with the priciest, the HP Mini Note 2133 first caught our eye with its fantastic keyboard, good specs and high end looks, but it really was too pricey an affair at £350 upwards - and reports of its deeply average battery life meant we crossed it off our list early.
The MSI Wind also looked mighty good, coming with a slew of positive reviews in it wake, but again the £340 price tag was high enough to make us think twice.
Of more interest to us was the Advent 4211 from PC World, which is basically a rebadged MSI Wind in a slightly more dour package for the bargain price of £280. We were really tempted by this one because there's no doubting that this is a spectacularly good deal.
We took a particular shine to the look of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Netbook but seeing as that still hasn't been released here, we had to discount it.
The more we looked, the more we began to lean towards the Asus Eee PC 1000H, with its mighty 'up to 7 hours' battery life being the clincher, so we headed into town ready to splash the cash.
As soon as we got into the shop and got our grubby mitts on the thing, we suddenly felt a nagging doubt in our heads. Isn't it, well, just a bit big?
We already own an IBM X32 ThinkPad as our main laptop and we were surprised to find that there wasn't a great deal of difference in size: the ThinkPad measures up at 10.7 x 8.8 x 1.19 and weighs 3.6lbs, while the Asus Eee 1000H comes in not far behind at 10.5 x 7.5 x 1.15 and weighs a fairly hefty 3.2lbs.
Mindful that the whole point of the exercise was to buy a highly portable and long lasting ultra mobile laptop, we decided that we needed to step down a size and cast our eyes at the smaller 9" screen models.
Part two: moving dowen to a smaller screen.
After weeks of deliberation, we worked out that netbooks with 10"+ screens were just too big for our needs, so our attention drifted to smaller screened models.
The first gen Asus Eee's with their paltry 7" screen were immediately discounted as we didn't fancy indulging in a scrolling frenzy every time we looked at a website, which left the 8.9" models for consideration.
This sector of the market is a hugely competitive one, with new models slipping off the new product slipways almost daily. Sticking to our preference for an XP powered netbook, we chomped through specs sheets like Fatty Arbuckle going through a pie factory, and totted up the pros and cons of each one.
Several coffees later, we'd nailed it down to a short list of three machines, listed here with approximate prices (remember that these netbooks come in all sorts of XP/Linux and memory configurations with prices varying wildly).
Asus Eee 901 XP 12GB SSD(around £280)
Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.9 x 1.5 (inches)
The good: Great battery life ('up to 8 hours'), great trackpad with multi-touch, by far the smallest, Bluetooth, wireless 802.11b/g/n
The bad: cramped keyboard, only 12GB SSD storage with a fast 4GB system partition and the remaining 8GB offering slower access times.
Read out full review here: Asus Eee 901 XP edition netbook review.
Acer Aspire One 120GB HD XP (£290)
Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1
Good: Tons of storage, lovely looks, big keyboard, two SDHC slots, shiner than the beadiest eye in the land
Bad: Poor battery life with 3 cell battery (the 6 cell option adds unattractive bulk and is not cheap), fiddly mouse buttons, small trackpad, no Bluetooth, slimmer but wider than the Eee, low res 0.3MP webcam
» Amazon listing for Acer Aspire One
Dell Inspiron Mini 9 16GB SSD (£299)
Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.9 x 1.2
Good: Compact size, solid build, attractive looks, reasonable battery life, fanless design
Bad: Average battery life (~3hrs), Bluetooth only an add-on option
We're still faffing about weighing up the options: our heart is drawn to the sleek lines and great keyboard of the Acer Aspire One, but we know that the less than stellar battery life is going to drive us up the wall at some point. The Dell looks mighty purdy too, and there's enough SSD storage onboard to keep us happy, but the massive battery life and small form factor of the Asus Eee 901 keeps tempting us the most.
We're going to brew up another coffee and have a think about it again, but feel free to drop us a line and tell us about your preferred netbook.
Eee PC 901
Acer Aspire One
Our Acer Aspire One netbook review
Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Review round up
Liliputing.com - compare all netbooks
« Back to tech homepage