Tuesday, August 25

Why does everyone love netbooks?

I am once again at odds with popular culture. I just don't "get" netbooks. Seriously.

I just can't seem to understand the appeal. You get a small, cramped keyboard for not much less than a regular laptop. It doesn't even attempt to compare itself to laptops' functionality, either. So why get one?

According to an appealing slideshow on Best Buy's website, it's all about mobility. Take your Internet with you everywhere. Access your social media, email, etc on the go!

Um... Isn't that the appeal of smart phones? Pay hundreds of dollars (plus the privilege of steep monthly plans) so that you can use social media while shopping? Check email while out to lunch? Access work documents while you're out of the office?

So if you have your Blackberry or iPhone, your internet is already portable. And about half as expensive. Unless you want to hop from free wifi to free wifi, you'll need to buy internet access. Probably from a company like AT&T, which charges $60 a month. Its cell phone data plan is $30.

Of course, the screen size is significantly better on a netbook. Smart phones have about a 3" screen. Netbooks are about 10" and have a separate keyboard. Then again, if you're worried about screen and keyboard size, why not just pay a couple hundred more for a full-size laptop? You'll get around 5" more in screen size, and your hands won't cramp up trying to squeeze onto the just-barely-too-small keys.

Oh, but portability! That's the real advantage over laptops.

They're about half the weight of a laptop. (Are there people out there actually struggling to carry around a laptop? They weigh about 6-8 lbs. Start using free weights stat!)

They fit in women's purses. (How many purses do you have that would allow you to easily slip in a 10-inch-long netbook, however thin? And even if it does fit in the empty purse, will it still fit when your other stuff is in there? Remember you'll have wallet, keys, your cell phone, and probably some makeup or other personal items.)

Okay, they fit into women's larger purses. (Oh, good. Just what I want: A $200-400 piece of technology banging around in my purse that I often sling onto the floor, drop or otherwise abuse. Surely nothing could go wrong there!)

And, by the way, why don't you ever see how men are supposed to carry them? I've seen that women can carry them tucked under the arm. Can men do this? Or does it look weird and prissy? If men just carry it in their hand, doesn't that mean a higher likelihood that it will slip out? Under arm or in hand, I don't see how it's more convenient than having a slightly heavier laptop, safely tucked away in a case.

But say you do like tucking a netbook under arm and jetting around. It seems awkward. One arm swinging, the other clenching the netbook? How is that better than carrying a case in one hand? Or a backpack to free up your arms?

As you probably know, the skin by your armpits is thinner than most areas. That means it's more sensitive. Do these netbooks heat up like laptops? Wouldn't that mean it's likely to burn that tender skin?

Heck, what if you are a normal person and sweat? Or not a normal person and sweat abundantly? Is the moisture going to hurt the machine? Will the heat of the machine (and clenching it under your arm) cause you to overheat more quickly and thereby sweat more?

And what about good, old-fashioned clumsiness? I am not a graceful gal. And I'm not even all that much klutzier than most people I know. I shudder just thinking about the myriad ways I'd be dropping something like that. Or hitting it on objects I'm walking by. Or some other, stupid move that I couldn't do if I tried but will easily achieve through negligence.

I will agree that you probably don't need the full capability of a laptop if you're just out and about. How often do you really use a CD on your laptop at all? Let alone at a cybercafe. But are these netbooks only supposed to appeal to the laptop-less citizens? Because it seems like it's trying to find a niche that appeals to all consumers.

And why, exactly, if you have either a smart phone or a laptop (and, let's face it, there's a good chance you have both) would you need this third item? Bigger -- but not big enough -- screen and keyboard; data plans just as expensive as those for laptops and twice the cost of cell phones' internet access; less capability than a laptop and not much more than a smart phone, without much of a differentiation in price.

Gosh, I can't understand why I haven't already gotten one!


Blogger Alissa said...

I'll stick with my laptop, thanks. I think when netbooks first came out they were significantly cheaper than laptops, but laptops have dropped so much in price and offer all the same features and so much more besides that I don't really understand the netbook thing.

August 25, 2009 at 6:35 AM

Blogger Meg said...

They aren't for everyone, but they are very useful for some.

I'm sticking with my laptop for now, but a netbook would have been GREAT when I was in college. I tried taking my laptop to class but it was just too heavy, which was unfortunate since I type up notes much easier and quicker than I can handwrite them -- and that makes them easier to organize, search, review, etc. One would also have been great when I went to SxSW since I took a lot of notes there and carrying my laptop really did a number to my shoulder. And try taking longer notes on a BlackBerry! Not happening! (Though, I do LOVE my BlackBerry for soooo many other things.)

I don't really need a notebook now since I stay at home most of the time, but I can still see the appeal of having a VERY portable ebook reader and video player for trips. As it is, I do read some stuff on my BlackBerry when traveling, but it strains my eyes a lot and it's very slow getting from page to page. Again, I could take my laptop, but mine just isn't that light -- which is o.k. most of the time since I bought it to be a desktop replacement, not something to stick in my purse.

Speaking of purses, I could definitely fit a netbook in my bag -- or at least my tote I usually use. One would also fit well in my backpack or a messenger bag (both good options for guys). Or, I could get a dedicated bag. If I put it in my purse, I'd get a padded sleeve for it.

My husband has been thinking of getting a netbook, though he may be getting another laptop first and waiting till netbooks are a bit more powerful for the price. He works in the wireless industry and has to use his laptop a lot in the field. Carrying it around gets a little tiring and a netbook could do most if not all of what he needs when he's in the field.

August 25, 2009 at 9:04 AM

Blogger Abby said...


As usual, I'm completely behind the times and consider a netbook to be a relatively new item. If they were cheaper when they came out, I could see it, perhaps. But at the current prices, just get a laptop, for goodness sake!


I guess I could see a student getting one. But, again, you have the redundancy issue. I'm betting that the average college student wouldn't be content with just a netbook and would want a regular computer at home.

That said, unless you can easily situate a laptop (and a cooler) on your lap, laptops are not very viable with those little half-desks at most colleges. Not as easy but certainly money-saving would be to just tape the lecture and type up notes at home.

The reader is an interesting idea for netbook use. From what I understand, the netbooks use less energy and so last longer than a laptop? But, really, if you're somewhere that allows for you to be still enough to read, I would find it hard to understand why a laptop isn't a viable option.

As for purses, I could fit a netbook in my tote too. But my tote is big enough that it gets jostled a lot and sometimes even banged into things/people. So I wouldn't want a piece of technology like that in it. Either I'd hurt the thing or the people I bumped past. I agree that a messenger bag for men would be a good solution. But how many adult women do you know who use a backpack? There are some, of course. But not many.

I think the best reasoning is your husband's. I don't know how much walking you do in the wireless industry, of course, but you make it sound like quite a decent chunk.

The thing is, most people in most jobs, really don't have to carry a laptop around for long periods of time. Maybe to the train/bus and then to work and back again. But this whole idea that you have to heave some heavy laptop around seems specious, on the whole. There are a select number of individuals who could find it incredibly useful. But most of the audience that thinks it would be so great not to have to "lug" around a 6-lb laptop are barely carrying it at all!

I think it's just trying to help people come up with an excuse why they need the latest gadget. Which is what any good advertising campaign does. I just call BS as to the generalized reasoning behind said campaign.

And if anyone does get a netbook, I agree with your husband: Wait until you get more value for the money. If the netbook had more capability, it might be a viable alternative. But at present? It's just the midpoint between cell phone and laptop, without actually replacing either one.

August 25, 2009 at 10:07 AM

Anonymous Shevy said...

Well, I'm not in the market for one. I have both my beloved Blackberry and my laptop, although each has its drawbacks for truly portable use. My Blackberry doesn't have a full keyboard (irritating as I'm a touch typist and double striking keys is not a normal thing for me) and a very small screen. My laptop and its backpack weigh a ton, considering that I have soft tissue damage to my shoulders from a long ago MVA and have asthma to boot. Carting it around is NOT fun.

However, I know Krystal from Give Me Back My Five Bucks decided to get a netbook for her year-long trip around the world. For something like that, where power usage, size and weight all count significantly I think it makes sense.

I'm just not going to spend a bunch of money to get something that doesn't provide me with anything I don't have already in one format or another. (Although I believe RBC [Royal Bank of Canada] was *giving away* a netbook with a new e-account a while ago...)

What I'm trying to figure out is whether a turbostick would be worthwhile, given that I go back and forth to my rural house where the nearest free wifi is 20 minutes drive and there's no cable, only satellite service.

August 25, 2009 at 11:13 AM

Blogger Meg said...

Well, I don't really see them as being all that redundant if you're using them for somewhat different things. Assuming you have the money, I say, use the best tool for the job. Hammers and rubber mallets will both strike things, but they aren't the exact same tool -- which is why people in need of both will have both.

I had no problem putting a laptop on my desk in college classes. Sometimes we had individual desks, sometimes we had tables, but my laptop fit just fine -- though a netbook would have been easier, probably.

Also, in many cases you CAN'T tape the classes. The teachers often won't allow it. Might be a paranoia thing or copyright sort of issue, I don't know, but in my experience it is VERY frowned upon unless you have a documented disability where you can't take notes. And even then, they seem to prefer you arranging for someone to take notes for you.

Besides, when are you going to have time to relisten to all your classes just to make notes? That's hours of extra work for maybe a few pages of notes.

Living in a college town, I know plenty of adult women with backpacks -- as well as laptop bags. And if you need your computer, you take whatever bag is best. And it's not like you HAVE to take it everywhere you go, just where you'll need them. For example, when our friends come over to visit, a lot of them bring backpacks and computers because we do stuff on them (for example, some keep track of D&D characters on their computers).

Anyhow, most people probably don't NEED a netbook or even a laptop. However, there are A LOT of people now with laptops for work, school, and even just personal reasons. Fewer and fewer people are buying desktop computers now because laptops are powerful and cheap enough for many people to get instead of desktops, which are bulky and not even easily carried around the house. People like the convenience of laptops and are getting, well, spoiled by their portability. And a netbook is even more portable, so why shouldn't people want one?

But netbooks are NOT just for people who already have computers. One of the draws of the netbook is that it's great for those people who "just want to read stuff online and check email" -- which is A LOT of people. Since my husband also is a general computer guy, we're constantly being asked about computers for so-and-so's grandma or father-in-law who just wants to do a few simple things like that and doesn't need or want to pay for a lot of power. For them, the netbook is PERFECT as an only computer.

Anyhow, again, they're not for everyone, but I see A LOT of good reasons for A LOT of people to get one -- assuming they can afford them, of course. And fortunately, they are getting a lot cheaper.

August 25, 2009 at 11:37 AM

Blogger Darcie said...

One of the reasons you state for NOT getting a netbook - that it is likely to get jostled around and potentially broken or damaged - is exactly the reason I got one. I've got a very nice laptop that I paid $1500 for (admittedly, 2+ years ago) and a netbook that I got for $225. I don't keep anything on the netbook that I don't have backed up on the main laptop, and when I travel for work, its so much nicer to be able to take a 2 lb computer with me, rather than a 6 lb one. I know it doesn't sound like a lot of difference, but when you are traveling for work, there are so many things that you have to lug around with you, any little bit that can lighten your load is appreciated. Also, since the netbook was so cheap, I don't worry too much about it getting damaged, or stolen, or whatever - yes, it cost money, but for me, its not significant money, like replacing the laptop would cost. I also love to use the netbook when I cook, to pull up a recipe or technique - again, the low cost makes me not worry too much about damage.

August 26, 2009 at 7:55 AM

Blogger a.b. said...

I'm actually typing this on a Dell Mini 9 as we speak! I own a netbook, but it is not an accessory, it is my primary computer. I got it about a year ago now, after my ibook bit the dust. I own a netbook because:
1. I don't have a dedicated workspace so it's nice that the netbook doesn't take up much room.
2. No moving parts - I upgraded to the solid state drive so there are no moving parts, and it's not subject to magnetic data wipes (from what I've been told).
3. It has all the functionality my ibook did, 1GB ram, upgradeable to 2, Windows XP. I can even run Photoshop on it if I need.
4. I don't have a traditional smartphone, nor will I pay the money for one. I already pay for internet service; I don't feel like doing it twice.

So far the only problems I've run into is they didn't have room for an F11 and F12 key, so they're not there (probably didn't need them anyway), and when I go back to a full size keyboard it takes a few minutes to get my typing up to speed because a few of the keys are in different places to make (most of) them fit.

When I bought my netbook it was a third of the cost of a comparable full size laptop, so it was a good deal for me. I wouldn't have gotten one if I already had a laptop, as I would've felt that redundant, but as is, I love my "little lappie."

August 26, 2009 at 11:56 AM

Blogger FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com said...

I love my netbook because I take it on vacation or when I travel all the time.

So it's like a mini laptop when I need it rather than lugging my heavy 15" Dell.

It lets me unload all my photos onto it, go through them, delete, reformat, check the internet etc.

I don't own a smartphone at all but if I had one, I'd still have Netbook anyway...

But Netbooks are handy in other ways that smartphones aren't -- they have applications like FTP that I use all the time, like a real laptop and are truly portable.

You also cannot type fast or well on a smartphone. It's not awesome on a Netbook but I actually go pretty fast on my HP Mini, almost as fast as on a keyboard.

August 26, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Clearly, I must accede to popular opinion. Perhaps I have been too rash in dismissing these things. I personally would still prefer a regular ole laptop. I don't like cramped keyboards. But then again I have big hands for a girl. I'm sure I'd get used to it, mind you, but... Yeah.

Still you've all made excellent points in favor of the netbooks. I'm slightly swayed. But I still contend that most of us don't carry our laptops around enough to really make the weight difference worthwhile.

August 26, 2009 at 6:34 PM

Blogger Revanche said...

I can see why a netbook isn't a NEED, but it's most definitely a Luxureed in my book. My RA, and rather tiny physical frame, doesn't allow me to carry nearly as much as I think I can so a 6 lb laptop when traveling is a pretty big deal. When all told, my luggage (that I carry on my back and shoulders) totals nearly 20% of my weight, any lightening that allows me to continue daily activities is highly appreciated. I already skimp on the clothing, if I could carry a sweater plus netbk instead of just a lappy, life would be a lot happier. :) [Just reflecting on my recent packing post.]

If it weren't so heavy, my laptop would go with me everywhere because I love working on it during any down time. I'd read, but I read very fast so I very easily run out of things to do. While I'm a patient person, I'm happiest doing stuff, and blogging via iPhone (which I'd like to unload post-contract, and downgrade) isn't the easiest. And again, RA is a problem. Typing on the phone for too long really cramps up the hands something awful.

So yeah, netbooks, not for everyone. But not completely ridiculous either.

August 27, 2009 at 1:15 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home