2009 was undoubtedly the year of the netbook. Even though these ultra-portable notebooks had been around before 2009 it was this year that really saw them take off. This was partly because almost every PC maker added at least one netbook to their range in the past year, so awareness was at an all time high. But it was also a result of the better performance most of the devices delivered when compared with the first generation of netbooks.
One of the problems with the earlier netbooks was that they were underpowered, particularly when running something as demanding as Windows Vista. But with XP making a comeback on netbooks and most makers shifting to the Atom processor, the performance factor increased substantially and made them worth their price tag.
The other problem with early-generation netbooks was that they were impossibly small. The Asus EEE that launched the netbook craze, for example, had an almost unusably small keyboard and a tiny 7-inch screen. It was usable but you didn’t want to have to spend too much time working on it. Fortunately, later generation netbooks are shipping with easier to use keyboards and much better screens.
If you are planning on spending some of your holiday bonus on a netbook, spend some time looking at the actual hardware. Storage can generally be upgraded with additional memory cards and while a slower processor might seem a bad buy initially in real world situations the difference is not that noticeable. What will be a pain, literally, is if the keyboard or trackpad are difficult to work with. This is not something you can change.
Here, we look at some of the better netbooks available if you are going to splash out.
Samsung NC10 (Around R3 500)
The Samsung NC10 is a neat little package that weighs in at just over 1kg and sports a decent 10.2-inch screen. The NC10 has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, WiFi b/g, bluetooth and a 1.3 megapixel webcam. The keyboard is a not exactly the same size as a standard laptop but pretty close to it which makes it easy to use.
Dell Inspiron Mini 10 (Around R4 000 – R4 400)
Dell’s Inspiron Mini 10 is a reasonably-priced netbook at around R4 000. The 10.1-inch screen is a good size and the 1.6GHz Atom processor and 1GB of RAM is standard for models in this range. The Inspiron is available in a range of colours so very much targeted at the consumer market and the 160GB hard drive is also standard fare. Bluetooth, HDMI port, WiFi b/g, a 1.3 megapixel webcam and 3-in-1 card reader make the Mini 10 an attractive package.
Asus EEE PC (Prices from R2 500 upwards)
The Asus EEE PC is the netbook that started the ball rolling. The Asus EEE PC 701 is the entry level model and sells online for around R2 500. For that, though, you don’t get a lot. The 900MHz processor and 500MB of RAM are okay but not the speediest combination around. The 7-inch screen is also significantly small and the keyboard is not the easiest to work on.
But, if you’re looking for small and just want to check an email or two when you’re out, the 701 is not a bad choice. If you want to do more, however, then the 1000HA is a better option. It sells for around R3 300 but with its 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 10.1-inch screen, 160GB hard drive and 1GB RAM is up these with the Samsung and the Dell, for a slightly better price.
Acer Aspire One (Prices from R3 500 upwards)
In the beginning there was the Asus EEE PC. But when the Aspire One appeared it made the Asus look cheap. One of the best-looking netbooks available, the Acer Aspire One comes in a range of configurations with matching prices. At the low end the R3 500 price tag is in line with the other machines here.
But at the high-end, which includes built-in 3G and the likes, the price tag edges into the realm of a decent laptop, despite being so much smaller. Most of the Aspire Ones ship with a choice of 8.9-inch or 10.1-inch screens and a 1.6GHz Atom processor. Most other specs are in line with the other machines here, although watch out for the 0.3 megapixel webcam which is woefully small.