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The perfect netbook isn't a netbook at all

Posted on 17th Jun 2010 at 11:57 by Antony Leather with 40 comments

Antony Leather
You may have read my previous posts on my Netbook escapades. In short I’m now on my third, except it isn’t actually a Netbook - but more on that in a minute.

First, a brief recap: the original netbook I bought was awful. Thanks to its 10in screen, it was too small to be of any real use and its VIA processor was too slow.

I then thought I’d found the perfect Netbook in the form of a Philips Freevents. It had an 11.6in screen and a Core Duo processor that was even capable of playing flash-based HD video.

Unfortunately, a few months into the proceedings it started to... well, it can only be described as fall apart. Firstly certain keys on the keyboard would stop working regularly, each time requiring a complete disassembly of the machine. The case itself proved to be less than sturdy too, with several sections starting to become loose.

Fearful it just wasn’t up to the job, I started looking for something else, especially as I was soon moving house and looking at a slightly longer, but more laptop friendly train ride to work. Thankfully PC Pro had just conducted a group test of CULV machines which seemed to be just what I was looking for.

I’d already decided I didn’t need much power. I would be watching videos on occasions but the machine was mainly for web browsing at home and for typing on when I'm commuting.

I wanted very good battery life and weight was also an issue – I didn’t want to be lugging 2kg of copper and plastic around with me all day – 1.4kg was the maximum and I also needed something with a screen a little larger than 11.6 inches as I’d found that even the keyboard on the Philips Freevents wasn’t quite big enough.

Thankfully there was a clear winner in the form of the Acer Aspire Timeline 3810TZ. Among its perks was a battery life in excess of eight hours (WIN!), a 13.3in screen, 4GB RAM, and also a webcam and microphone. The gods were smiling too – I’d just received a 20 percent discount voucher for eBay and as luck would have it, a reputable retailer was selling them for a decent price.

The perfect netbook isn't a netbook at all The perfect Netbook Part 3
The Acer Aspire 3810tz is just about big enough at 13.3in to be comfortable to use regularly and its LED backlit screen is bright and vibrant.

When it arrived I was extremely impressed. Firstly, it's incredibly light for something nearly as big as your average laptop – just 1.4kg which was the same as the Philips I’d had before despite it being a much smaller machine. The screen was very bright and vibrant too thanks to LED backlighting which I’m guessing aids conserving battery life.

They weren’t lying about that either – I can charge it on a Sunday night and not have to find the power adapter again till the following weekend having used it on the train for an hour most days.

The keyboard stretches close to the end of the chassis and is nearly full size so typing is infinitely better than on a netbook. However, performance is still an issue. It can cope with playing HD content and web browsing is smooth and snappy. Word processing isn’t an issue but one thing I was a little disappointed in is its inability to play BBC iPlayer HD content smoothly. HD Flash video it seemed was a step too far.

However, I later noticed that the onboard Intel graphics is supported in Adobe’s GPU hardware acceleration in the up coming 10.1 version of its Flash Player. Having seen what a difference this can make to HD content from BBC iPlayer on an Ion-equipped machine, this sounded like the answer to my prayers. I found it made no difference with playback still as choppy as the Southern Ocean.

Instead of it being Intel's fault, I found that forums were awash with people saying that they no longer saw any performance improvements. Apparently the BBC have fiddled with the service since I last tried the 10.1 beta and the two were no longer talking to each other with people reporting the issue literally happened over night. Hopefully a work around will be available and standard content is silky smooth.

The 3810TZ shows no signs of falling apart, its battery life is a real boon, it fits in my small rucksack, is not too heavy and is generally a joy to use. The new range of CULV ultra portables aren’t much more expensive than many netbooks and they bridge the gap nicely between something that’s slow and too small to use on a regular basis, and a full fat laptop. Maybe I wasn’t looking for a netbook after all.

Do you find netbooks too small to use? Do you get on with them okay or have you gone for something a little larger and more powerful? Let me know in the comments.

40 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Madness_3d 17th June 2010, 12:11 Quote
You need to get 10.1 Beta 1. Beta 2 doesn't work with iPlayer, something to do with the specific interlaced format their using or something.
pimlicosound 17th June 2010, 12:52 Quote
I used an MSI Wind netbook as my main PC for nearly 2 nears, before getting a Macbook Pro 13. I used it mainly for web browsing, Skype chatting and some light office work, and it was fine. With Windows 7 and an upgrade to 2GB RAM, the performance was OK on everything I wanted to do except HD Flash video. Neither the screen resolution nor overall size of the keyboard and trackpad were a problem. Conclusion: I can easily live with a netbook - except when my requirements change, hence the Macbook.
barrkel 17th June 2010, 13:02 Quote
I'm still using my Toshiba Portege R500. It's about 1.2kg, has a DVD writer, LED backlight etc., 12.1" screen. But it's hardly a netbook, more an executive ultraportable class machine.
SteveU 17th June 2010, 13:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Madness_3d
You need to get 10.1 Beta 1. Beta 2 doesn't work with iPlayer, something to do with the specific interlaced format their using or something.

Forgive my ignorance but why do you need a Beta version at all, I thought the latest normal release of Flash was the proper 10.1?
Meaty Pete 17th June 2010, 13:09 Quote
Something I've been meaning to ask bit tech for good while now is that when windows 7 was released towards the end of last year I bought an ASUS eee netbook for under £320.

HOWEVER the point is that it has 2GB of ram (yes 2!) and a single 250GB HDD. It has an 11.6" screen and Z something or other atom at 1.3 ghz but the ASUS BIOS has an auto overclock feature of upto 30% (which I have to admit is always on) overclocking it to 1.8 GHZ.

HOW DID I GET THIS?!?!?! especially at the time, even now netbooks have only recently upped the usual 160GB HDD to 250GB

What the jiggles?? Still can't get my head around it?? And I was reading custom PC and other PC review magazines ALL doing netbook reviews at the time and I was half expecting the newer specs to be creeping in but its now nearly 9 months later and still zip.

Any thoughts anyone?
Xir 17th June 2010, 13:21 Quote
this Acer Aspire 3810tz is 460pound here (cheapest), which is about twice that of you standat "Netbook"
It's a nice CULV though
EvilMerc 17th June 2010, 13:28 Quote
Had the original MSI Wind for a year, had to use it as my main computer for a while as my rig broke. It was...usable, just.

I then got a bonus from work and had a look to see if netbooks had come on at all and in terms of performance and they really haven't. The only ones that appealed to me were the AMD based ones, much more power against the stagnant Atoms.
The main feature I was interested in was the idea of a discrete graphics chipset. ION is crippled by the Atom while AMD/ATI setups were relatively powerful but sacrificed battery life.

No longer needed the portability though and got a fully-fledged laptop and I'm now a very happy bunny. Laptop for going places where I have a power outlet, netbook for when I want the portability and a rig at home for my gaming.
Tom @ CCL 17th June 2010, 13:36 Quote
13" Macbook Pro is the best Netbook replacement in my opinion.

9 hours real world battery life, lots of power when you need it and is very durable for use out and about.
adam_bagpuss 17th June 2010, 13:44 Quote
Quote:
The new range of CULV ultra portables aren’t much more expensive than many netbooks

not really true considering you can pick up a netbook now between £200-300

the laptop you have is £509 which is double the cost of a netbook and still £100-150 more than a full fat better performing laptop.

even the cheaper version is £428 which is still £100-150 more expensive than your average netbook.

considering a netbook cost around £250 and the CULV is £430 (basic version) thats a whooping 72% more.
REMF 17th June 2010, 14:20 Quote
11.6" would be the limit of the size i would tolerate, anything bigger is just too bulky.

looking forward to AMD's Fusion chips, should provide enough grunt for small form factor devices.
jrr 17th June 2010, 14:37 Quote
I have:
  • unibody aluminum macbook 13" (the non-pro with a removable battery)
  • 10" vaio netbook (VPCW211AX)

The mac is very comfortable to use, largely due to the super awesome trackpad.

I selected the vaio for its screen resolution - 1366x768 over the meager 1024x600 of most netbooks. At ten inches, though, it's painful to use even with custom DPI settings and browser zoom. It's okay on a desk right in front of my face, but lap distance is too far! I still haven't become accustomed to the keyboard and the trackpad is just sad. Ubuntu support is pretty good, though =]
lacuna 17th June 2010, 14:55 Quote
Ha, my 'netbook' is a 15" Toshiba satelite 2410 (vintage 2003). The battery doesn't actually last long enough to load windows so I guess it scores quite badly on that front but apart from that its great!
rickysio 17th June 2010, 15:06 Quote
Ha, my 'netbook' is a 3.5" Nokia N900 - it comes with standard netbook performance too! Flash can run, but most of the time it's lousy, I can browse the web, I can edit documents, I can listen to music, but I get better battery life out of it.

And in Singapore, the two cost similarly! Woo hoo!

I still want a CULV, though. >.>
Madness_3d 17th June 2010, 15:36 Quote
http://myhpmini.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=59&t=4456

Forum thread concerning iPlayer on the HP Mini 311. It's an ION Netbook so the results may not be directly comparable but I just thought the Blog Poster might be interested in looking into it.
Steve @ CCL 17th June 2010, 16:59 Quote
MSi GT 729.. Not really small.. but pwns..
Tom @ CCL 17th June 2010, 17:11 Quote
Not really a good battery life either Steve!

High spec and long battery life do not go hand in hand.
TheUn4seen 17th June 2010, 17:18 Quote
3810TZ looks nice, but it's still an Acer - which means it'll stop working and fall apart in six months. My friend owns one of the biggest computer shops in my city (strictly PC, not one of the electronics supermarkets for idiots) and just lately he completely stopped selling Acers - he said that when warranty return rates were (in some months) as big as 55% it was just too much work processing the returns compared to income from selling them. Acers are cheapest for a reason, if you want quality you need to spend some more money for a proper machine.
Combatus 17th June 2010, 17:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by adam_bagpuss
Quote:
The new range of CULV ultra portables aren’t much more expensive than many netbooks

not really true considering you can pick up a netbook now between £200-300

the laptop you have is £509 which is double the cost of a netbook and still £100-150 more than a full fat better performing laptop.

even the cheaper version is £428 which is still £100-150 more expensive than your average netbook.

considering a netbook cost around £250 and the CULV is £430 (basic version) thats a whooping 72% more.

Unfortunately I wrote the blog post a few weeks ago when it appears the Timeline was cheaper and I also managed to pick up my Timeline for about £320 after an eBay discount. I'm also comparing it to 11.6in netbooks such as the ASUS Eee PC 1101HA Seashell which I can't find for less than £300 so my argument did stand up I promise!
Tom @ CCL 17th June 2010, 17:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheUn4seen
3810TZ looks nice, but it's still an Acer - which means it'll stop working and fall apart in six months. My friend owns one of the biggest computer shops in my city (strictly PC, not one of the electronics supermarkets for idiots) and just lately he completely stopped selling Acers - he said that when warranty return rates were (in some months) as big as 55% it was just too much work processing the returns compared to income from selling them. Acers are cheapest for a reason, if you want quality you need to spend some more money for a proper machine.

Would disagree with the return rates youve quoted on that one. :)
Combatus 17th June 2010, 17:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheUn4seen
3810TZ looks nice, but it's still an Acer - which means it'll stop working and fall apart in six months. My friend owns one of the biggest computer shops in my city (strictly PC, not one of the electronics supermarkets for idiots) and just lately he completely stopped selling Acers - he said that when warranty return rates were (in some months) as big as 55% it was just too much work processing the returns compared to income from selling them. Acers are cheapest for a reason, if you want quality you need to spend some more money for a proper machine.

Well it's been 4 months and it's problem free so maybe their CULVs aren't too bad!
Grimloon 17th June 2010, 18:00 Quote
Samsung N220 here which I do most of my office documentation on, works a treat as I don't have to remember to copy files across between it and the desktop or vice versa when working at home. Monitor and keyboard are OK for shortish periods (90 minutes a day either on or waiting for a train) but it gets hooked up to a KVM in the office which definitely helps. 1152 x 864 isn't a huge change from 1024 x 600 but 19" screen beats 10" hands down.

Regular streamed iPlayer is OK for SD playback, no go for HD and don't even think about the iPlayer Desktop (unfortunately the latter was what I really wanted )

£320 all in including the 2GB SODIMM I added.
thehippoz 17th June 2010, 18:21 Quote
hmm good sales pitch.. I'll have to take a look at it
Bungletron 17th June 2010, 19:06 Quote
I am busting a refurbed 1.7GHz Pentium M Lenovo Thinkpad X31, these things go for peanuts (£100-£200) on ebay as there is massive surplus of ex-business units out there. Had it for 3 years and its still going strong. Mine came with a DVD dock that I can use at home but otherwise is ultra portable! Definately would consider an upgrade to a 2 year old Core 2Duo X60 model which are now around same price range, just make sure you get 'a grade' and check the description for warranties and battery condition.
HourBeforeDawn 17th June 2010, 19:19 Quote
for me a netbook is 10 screen which works well BUT it would be nice if it was at least 720. I no longer have a desire for large screen laptops, the largest I think I would go is a 14 but probably rather go no bigger then a 12" I like how portable the smaller laptops are versus the larger, but Im holding out for ASUS EeePad ^_^
PostItNote 17th June 2010, 19:39 Quote
Alienware m11x is my netbook.
sandys 17th June 2010, 19:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by adam_bagpuss
not really true considering you can pick up a netbook now between £200-300

the laptop you have is £509 which is double the cost of a netbook and still £100-150 more than a full fat better performing laptop.

even the cheaper version is £428 which is still £100-150 more expensive than your average netbook.

considering a netbook cost around £250 and the CULV is £430 (basic version) thats a whooping 72% more.

£349 plus you can get quidco, not same model but not far off.
Bede 17th June 2010, 21:28 Quote
Alienware m11x. Expensive and totally brilliant. 11" is netbook sized, it's only a little heavier than a netbook, the keyboard is better than anything you'll get on a netbook, and being able to swap between integrated and discrete gfx means that battery life (for me) has been upwards of 6 hours. Once you get off the train it is a very powerful laptop on it's own, comfortably playing Fallout 3 on high/ultra high settings :)
Combatus 17th June 2010, 21:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bede
Alienware m11x. Expensive and totally brilliant. 11" is netbook sized, it's only a little heavier than a netbook, the keyboard is better than anything you'll get on a netbook, and being able to swap between integrated and discrete gfx means that battery life (for me) has been upwards of 6 hours. Once you get off the train it is a very powerful laptop on it's own, comfortably playing Fallout 3 on high/ultra high settings :)

A little heavier? Dude these things START at 2KG! My Timeline is well over half a kilo lighter! Seriously though, they're small but you'll definitely notice it's in your rucksack.
javaman 18th June 2010, 00:25 Quote
I would love to get a CULV laptop. I would love something that can handle light gaming, ie sims, but the atom's are far too slow no matter what people say about ion. Alienware have a very nice gaming netbook but the price is just far too much! Hopefully one day ill get what the alienware offers without the out of this world price tag......yep, pure cheese without the cake! ;)
Xir 18th June 2010, 09:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom @ CCL
13" Macbook Pro is the best Netbook replacement in my opinion.

At about 5x the cost...who wonders?
I'm sure a Mercedes is better than a CG125...doesn't mean they're comparable :(
Steve @ CCL 18th June 2010, 09:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom @ CCL
Not really a good battery life either Steve!

High spec and long battery life do not go hand in hand.

Got about 3 hours out of it the other night watched two films on the TV with it (screen open too) about 10 mins before the second film ended it flashed up 10% left.. that'll do for me.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xir
At about 5x the cost...who wonders?
I'm sure a Mercedes is better than a CG125...doesn't mean they're comparable :(

Ha ha, well said sir.
runadumb 18th June 2010, 10:02 Quote
Ive had a samsung NC-10 for nearly 2 years now (im on it right now) and im definitely feeling its limitations more and more. The low screen resolution, inability to play HD video, general lack of speed, limited harddisk space and the god awful windows XP.
Now I could buy an extra gig of ram, win 7 and a new harddisk but thats hardly worthwhile when it wouldn't cure all my problems and would cost around £140. So ive decided that instead im going to get a culv laptop at some stage.
My problem is that I could easily justify the samsung as it only cost £270. Its mainly only used when im lying in bed or lazing around so spending £400 odd is a pretty big luxury. Especially as I want to do a new pc build which will probably run into a grand.
I just wish I could have gotten an ION netbok instead of this. I think it would have kept me happy enough for another year. Will wait and see what AMD's fusion chips turn out like but I will be itchying for a culv everyday until I finally get one.
rickysio 18th June 2010, 10:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Combatus
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bede
Alienware m11x. Expensive and totally brilliant. 11" is netbook sized, it's only a little heavier than a netbook, the keyboard is better than anything you'll get on a netbook, and being able to swap between integrated and discrete gfx means that battery life (for me) has been upwards of 6 hours. Once you get off the train it is a very powerful laptop on it's own, comfortably playing Fallout 3 on high/ultra high settings :)

A little heavier? Dude these things START at 2KG! My Timeline is well over half a kilo lighter! Seriously though, they're small but you'll definitely notice it's in your rucksack.

I can barely notice a difference between a 1.5kg weight and a 3kg weight. 2kg is nothing much.
yougotkicked 18th June 2010, 20:11 Quote
I still carry around my Asus EeePC 900, and it still does what i expect of it. that's the key, what you expect your computer to do. I see no reason for a netbook to be required to play back HD video, it's a 9" screen, HD doesn't do a thing for that small of a screen. I don't want a keyboard i can type comfortably with, i want one i can type one handed with. i regularly hold my netbook with my left arm and type with my right hand, I don't try to write long papers with my netbook, that's not really what it's for.

But maybe it's just me, I never really wanted my netbook to do a whole lot, others might have higher expectations than me, but I think you should just get a small laptop if you want that much capability, they had 12" laptops before they had netbooks.
Jamie 18th June 2010, 23:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom @ CCL
13" Macbook Pro is the best Netbook replacement in my opinion.

9 hours real world battery life, lots of power when you need it and is very durable for use out and about.

My 12" Powerbook was awesome; predating this "netbook" fad and delivery laptop power in a small neat package. Granted the G4 processor went out of date pretty fast as Apple rolled out Intel cpus, but I loved it.
frontline 19th June 2010, 15:48 Quote
Netbooks are far too under-powered for my liking. Ultra-portable laptops with slightly bigger screens, even though slightly more heavier, are a lot more useful - in my eyes.
thehippoz 19th June 2010, 16:43 Quote
they work well front after you've taken out all the pre installed software and tweak them out (talking win xp)

not to mention they'll fit in your man purse hehe
frontline 19th June 2010, 21:56 Quote
Man purse! - now i know what to ask for for my birthday :)
Yslen 20th July 2010, 02:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by adam_bagpuss
Quote:
The new range of CULV ultra portables aren’t much more expensive than many netbooks

not really true considering you can pick up a netbook now between £200-300

the laptop you have is £509 which is double the cost of a netbook and still £100-150 more than a full fat better performing laptop.

even the cheaper version is £428 which is still £100-150 more expensive than your average netbook.

considering a netbook cost around £250 and the CULV is £430 (basic version) thats a whooping 72% more.

At the moment, you can get this laptop for around £350. The HD4330 version is only £400.
roundyz 21st July 2010, 19:17 Quote
I too use a x31 as a netbook. I use it to mess about with centos.
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