The perfect netbook

Written by Antony Leather

March 14, 2009 // 5:36 p.m.

Tags: #atom #dell-mini-12 #elonex-webbook #laptop #nano #netbook #samsung-nc10 #samsung-nc20 #via

I’m sure most of us have had to lump an old heavy laptop around at some point or another. For those of us who commute a fair distance to work, something that weighs in at more than 2kg can be a royal pain in the backside to carry around, especially if you have a case, power brick and other sundry hardware too.

My old 1.6GHz Pentium M laptop has certainly seen better days but it’s relatively nippy and handles XP and video playback fine. Also, because our lab is five floors away from our desks here at Dennis, I was able to start writing up reviews between benchmarks whilst still in the lab tweaking things. However at nearly 3kg, I felt I’d run some dreaded army marathon with a ton of gear on my back by the time I’d got to work.
I decided enough was enough and started looking for a smaller, lighter replacement. Fairly early on I had to dismiss many of the smaller notebooks because their high specifications were often beyond my needs and combined with lightweight chassis were pushing the prices beyond my budget too. After all, I just needed something primarily for word processing and if I’d been particularly organised the night before, watching an episode of something on BBC iPlayer or another movie from a totally legal source, on the train.

Eventually I managed to nab an Elonex Webbook which usually come free with mobile broadband packages, but I got the netbook on its own for a reasonable £140. It’s similar to the Eee PCs and MSI Winds of this world with a 10in screen and fairly usable keyboard. However, apart from the fact most of my colleages seem to despise it and pass regular comments along those lines, something that’s bugged me in recent weeks is the lowly grunt of its Via C7-M CPU which starts to crawl if you even consider playing something as demanding as a flash game. Still, it manages videos and Word okay and it’s great for plonking on test benches filled with fire-breathing graphics cards to start writing things up too.

However, being in a lab filled with the latest netbooks and notebooks, it’s all too easy to spot something a little better. In fact I’ve seen quite a few things.
Amongst various notebooks was a Dell Mini 12 netbook.

The perfect netbook The Perfect Netbook?

To me it seems a perfect size. The screen is massively more usable than the 10in display on my Webbook, especially for viewing spreadsheets and websites. However Dell have left massive edges straddling the keyboard meaning the keyboard itself is practically no bigger than most 10in netbooks. This is a great shame because it’s incredibly light too and is equipped with a low power version of the Intel Atom CPU meaning its battery life is also impressive. The new Samsung NC20 is a similar beast (probably, no almost certainly the wrong word) although Samsung have squeezed in a larger keyboard and a Via Nano CPU but it costs nearly £400.

The perfect netbook The Perfect Netbook?

Then I started thinking about how much I use my Webbook and the answer is a hell of a lot. Surely then it would be a better idea to fork out for something like a 12in notebook that would be big enough and powerful enough to churn through anything I would usually throw at it? A quick look online reminded me why I didn’t do this in the first place which included lots of spaces after the pound sign and I was in fact right back where I’d started months ago – looking at notebooks. I guess the moral of the story is, or at least what I’ve found from owning a netbook, is that they are far from perfect. They’re small (I constantly press the wrong keys especially the pageup button which sends the curser, and the next few sentences I write before I notice, half way up the document.) and underpowered for anything but light Internet browsing and word processing. If you’re buying new, they’re pretty damn expensive too for what they are as they seem to have acquired the desirability factor in a big way unfortunately.

So what’s the middle of the road? For me it has to be significantly less than 2kg with a 11-12in screen. It should cost less than £400 but doesn’t grind to a halt at the first sniff of desktop tower defence like most of these Atom and VIA equipped machines do. I certainly haven’t found it and I don’t even know if you could class it as a netbook but whoever makes one first will find one willing customer.