Ask [GAS]: Do you really need that netbook?

By Natania Barron
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

I have a MacBook. It serves all of my needs flawlessly. It runs my browser, Scrivener, and a handful of other programs I use on a daily basis. It’s sleek and white, and quite resilient (having survived a few tumbles at the hands of my three year old). Aside from the spot where my wrist has flaked off some of the plastic at the edge, it looks pretty much exactly like it did when I first purchased it.

We should be happy. But we’re not.

And I’ll tell you why: for the last two years I’ve been besotted with netbooks. I have found myself inexplicably looking up reviews on Amazon, comparing specs; more than once I’ve been lost in the aisles at Costco, running my hands over the smooth keyboard on the new Acers, batting my eyes lovingly at the HP. Then there was that one time that I nearly bought one at Wal-Mart. A Dell. Because it was $298. For shame.

I blame BoingBoing. I blame other writers. I blame the whole internet. You know why? Because I don’t need a netbook. I have a perfectly good MacBook, and although it’s a little heavier and bigger than most netbooks, it outperforms them in every aspect imaginable. In fact, I used to have the same iBook that CNet recently profiled, which essentially was a netbook. Before there were netbooks. And we were happy. So why not now?

Yes, I have fantasies about slipping a Vivienne Tam designed netbook right into my purse, knowing that wherever I go, I can take it out and write. There’s a weird sense of power in that concept. I don’t want an iPhone, mind you. I want a small computer to bend to my will. And it’s silly how much time I’ve spent contemplating what it would be like: a coffee shops, airports, at the park…

I am not alone. I know of people who own netbooks–some who love them–but I also know a great percentage of people who simply want one. It’s a cheap computer, with limited specifications, only good for a handful of tasks, and yet we are obsessed. We think, somehow, that the netbook will make our lives easier. But that’s the problem. If, like me, you already have a gadget that gets the job done (and better–I mean, when it comes down to it I’m not willing to give up Scrivener) isn’t purchasing an additional machine actually making your life more complicated?

So why does this itchy wanting feeling persist?

Because geeks love gadgets, and we have come to love the lies, too. Sure, netbooks can be great; I wish I had one in college, for instance. But now? I don’t need two laptops. And I sure don’t need a laptop that underperforms my current model. So all that leaves me with is the fact that I want something small and cute that fits in my purse and… yeah, that just doesn’t hold up in an argument, does it?

So where do you stand on the netbook debate? Are netbooks really just bigger smartphones with keyboards? A clever marketing ploy? A viable/necessary device? A fad? A farce?

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50 Responses to Ask [GAS]: Do you really need that netbook?

  1. I consider my eeePC 701 indispensable. I fly at least a couple times a year, and having hauled larger laptops in the past, I can tell you my back loves the fact that I have a netbook.

    They're not perfect for everything, but I think they definitely fit a niche.

  2. I consider my eeePC 701 indispensable. I fly at least a couple times a year, and having hauled larger laptops in the past, I can tell you my back loves the fact that I have a netbook.

    They’re not perfect for everything, but I think they definitely fit a niche.

  3. I too think of my EEE 1101HA as indispensable. While I'd like a macbook pro 13", its 3 times the price, and I'm a student. Not to mention the EEE has 1.5-2x the battery life; the 5 hours of the 13" mbp isnt enough for a full day.

  4. I too think of my EEE 1101HA as indispensable. While I’d like a macbook pro 13″, its 3 times the price, and I’m a student. Not to mention the EEE has 1.5-2x the battery life; the 5 hours of the 13″ mbp isnt enough for a full day.

  5. I am pretty obsessed with netbooks as well, though I don't think that will solve my obsession. It's definitely all about a pocket sized PC that will take the place of my laptop, camera, cell phone and all for a small monthly fee. I currently have a work laptop, but want a smaller netbook/pocket PC type device. I've got the geek drive for technology.

    • Check out the PocketSurfer. I am rooting for a class-action, across–state-lines movement to produce a pocketsurfer that works without having to pay for a wifi plan, like they have in the UK and India. They've bypassed the US yet again on this subject and it's time we were included in the world's privileges. Although you can get it with an expensive plan in the States now, it's not fair to leave us out.

  6. I am pretty obsessed with netbooks as well, though I don’t think that will solve my obsession. It’s definitely all about a pocket sized PC that will take the place of my laptop, camera, cell phone and all for a small monthly fee. I currently have a work laptop, but want a smaller netbook/pocket PC type device. I’ve got the geek drive for technology.

    • Check out the PocketSurfer. I am rooting for a class-action, across–state-lines movement to produce a pocketsurfer that works without having to pay for a wifi plan, like they have in the UK and India. They’ve bypassed the US yet again on this subject and it’s time we were included in the world’s privileges. Although you can get it with an expensive plan in the States now, it’s not fair to leave us out.

  7. I bought a EEE myself, and it was great for my college classes. It was powerful enough to take notes and browse the web just a little, but not powerful enough to run video games on. I would've been tempted to play Diablo 2 on a more powerful machine.

    Now that I'm out of college, I've found far fewer uses for it. I don't travel frequently, and I don't have a way to get Internet everywhere per a phone card. I don't frequent coffee shops. So the niche it has to fill now is… sitting in the living room waiting for me to want to check my email but feeling too lazy to go to the library to check on my desktop machine.

    My conclusion: if I had a phone with a data plan (or a PDA with a keyboard), I would have no specific gap for the netbook to fill.

  8. I bought a EEE myself, and it was great for my college classes. It was powerful enough to take notes and browse the web just a little, but not powerful enough to run video games on. I would’ve been tempted to play Diablo 2 on a more powerful machine.
    Now that I’m out of college, I’ve found far fewer uses for it. I don’t travel frequently, and I don’t have a way to get Internet everywhere per a phone card. I don’t frequent coffee shops. So the niche it has to fill now is… sitting in the living room waiting for me to want to check my email but feeling too lazy to go to the library to check on my desktop machine.

    My conclusion: if I had a phone with a data plan (or a PDA with a keyboard), I would have no specific gap for the netbook to fill.

  9. I have an MSI Wind and it's pretty loaded with memory-hogging programs. The few I use most often are:

    * Firefox (obviously), but with MANY extensions. More than I have on what used to be my main computer (a Mac mini).

    * Chrome.

    * Windows Live Messenger with Messenger Plus (with two accounts open at all times – a personal one for friends and one I use for professional stuff).

    * AIM.

    * OpenOffice. Hell, I'm writing a whole web series on it.

    * GIMP. I do a bit of web design and for the basic background+icon graphics most websites need, it's good enough and you don't need Photoshop for that basic work.

    * iTunes.

    * Spotify.

    More often than not all at the same time. And guess what? It's a little slow, but not painfully. It's not lightning fast, but it's not like I feel I'm missing out on anything. It doesn't get so slow it needs multiple reboots through the day – I just turn it off when I go to bed.

    I now use it as my main computer around the house as well as to take to the library (and other places) to use for writing that web series with a friend.

    When it eventually breaks, as it's bound to before most standard laptops, I'm gonna get a new one of the latest version of the MSI Wind or something comparable. It's not perfect, but for the price, it does the job, which is all people really need.

    I've learnt high-end massively-specced computers are a rip-off. Which probably makes me more of a geek than those who buy them. Haha.

  10. I have an MSI Wind and it’s pretty loaded with memory-hogging programs. The few I use most often are:

    * Firefox (obviously), but with MANY extensions. More than I have on what used to be my main computer (a Mac mini).
    * Chrome.
    * Windows Live Messenger with Messenger Plus (with two accounts open at all times – a personal one for friends and one I use for professional stuff).
    * AIM.
    * OpenOffice. Hell, I’m writing a whole web series on it.
    * GIMP. I do a bit of web design and for the basic background+icon graphics most websites need, it’s good enough and you don’t need Photoshop for that basic work.
    * iTunes.
    * Spotify.

    More often than not all at the same time. And guess what? It’s a little slow, but not painfully. It’s not lightning fast, but it’s not like I feel I’m missing out on anything. It doesn’t get so slow it needs multiple reboots through the day – I just turn it off when I go to bed.

    I now use it as my main computer around the house as well as to take to the library (and other places) to use for writing that web series with a friend.

    When it eventually breaks, as it’s bound to before most standard laptops, I’m gonna get a new one of the latest version of the MSI Wind or something comparable. It’s not perfect, but for the price, it does the job, which is all people really need.

    I’ve learnt high-end massively-specced computers are a rip-off. Which probably makes me more of a geek than those who buy them. Haha.

  11. Or is it option C a good way for you to try to drive up page views?

    This argument is tired, for some people these work, if you are not one of them then don't buy one. If you still don't feel safe in your little Apple tower, or if your faith is still a little shaken then look at a picture of Jobs and wank until you feel better. All hail Jobs! All glory to the fruit!

  12. Or is it option C a good way for you to try to drive up page views?

    This argument is tired, for some people these work, if you are not one of them then don’t buy one. If you still don’t feel safe in your little Apple tower, or if your faith is still a little shaken then look at a picture of Jobs and wank until you feel better. All hail Jobs! All glory to the fruit!

  13. It's a debacle! I have the same problem. I see everyone with a netbook and I am wondering if I need one too, but I have a Macbook. What are the advantages of a netbook above a Macbook? It's smaller….but I don't mind the extra inches of my Mac.

  14. It’s a debacle! I have the same problem. I see everyone with a netbook and I am wondering if I need one too, but I have a Macbook. What are the advantages of a netbook above a Macbook? It’s smaller….but I don’t mind the extra inches of my Mac.

    • Agreed. I hate the keyboards on those things. And even though I run Ubuntu on mine, I still find it sluggish.

    • Agreed. I hate the keyboards on those things. And even though I run Ubuntu on mine, I still find it sluggish.

  15. Netbooks are great for 90% of what I use a computer for. I love my 1005ha, and am typing on it now tethered through my WinMo phone. Weee internet everywhere.

    Thanks and God speed

  16. Netbooks are great for 90% of what I use a computer for. I love my 1005ha, and am typing on it now tethered through my WinMo phone. Weee internet everywhere.

    Thanks and God speed

  17. I don't think you need a netbook, just get rid of that itchy pocket… My dad got a 10.1" netbook and it's OK. I mean, the keyboard is really small. I could barely type anything, typing mistakes the whole type, some keys used only with Fn… I don't like that. For me, the best "compromise" is a 13" laptop. It's small enough to be carried the whole time and big enough to have a spacious keyboard and an easy-to-see-anything screen. Netbooks are just for emails and stuff. Go with the Mac you already have… Far better…

  18. I don’t think you need a netbook, just get rid of that itchy pocket… My dad got a 10.1″ netbook and it’s OK. I mean, the keyboard is really small. I could barely type anything, typing mistakes the whole type, some keys used only with Fn… I don’t like that. For me, the best “compromise” is a 13″ laptop. It’s small enough to be carried the whole time and big enough to have a spacious keyboard and an easy-to-see-anything screen. Netbooks are just for emails and stuff. Go with the Mac you already have… Far better…

  19. I bought one to write, and it works perfectly for that–one typewriter page width, exactly. Consequently, I carry it around for everything else, too. I found out that for most things I do, I don't really need a laptop, and when my laptop dies, I may be totally switched to netbooks. It weighs half what my laptop does and the big difference for me was being able to carry it everywhere. I like the keyboard–I type better and faster when I don't have to reach as far.

    The question isn't why you need a netbook. It should be who, except for gamers and photographers, really needs a laptop?

  20. I bought one to write, and it works perfectly for that–one typewriter page width, exactly. Consequently, I carry it around for everything else, too. I found out that for most things I do, I don’t really need a laptop, and when my laptop dies, I may be totally switched to netbooks. It weighs half what my laptop does and the big difference for me was being able to carry it everywhere. I like the keyboard–I type better and faster when I don’t have to reach as far.

    The question isn’t why you need a netbook. It should be who, except for gamers and photographers, really needs a laptop?

  21. I had a Toshiba laptop and never took it anywhere. It was supposedly really light for a laptop but I hated lugging it around. It was always 'something extra' to carry. So I bought a Samsung NC-10. Immediately fell in love with the anywhere up to 10 hours battery life I get from it and the full size keyboard. It performed as well as the Toshiba (which I gave away to my parents) and I rarely left home without it because it was so easy to just chuck in the bag I was carrying anyway. I do wish I'd gone for the only slightly bigger Q210, because it can game, but then I'd probably never get any work done.

    Then I got an iPhone. Now I don't take the netbook *everywhere* just everywhere I'd rather have a computer than an iPhone.

  22. I had a Toshiba laptop and never took it anywhere. It was supposedly really light for a laptop but I hated lugging it around. It was always ‘something extra’ to carry. So I bought a Samsung NC-10. Immediately fell in love with the anywhere up to 10 hours battery life I get from it and the full size keyboard. It performed as well as the Toshiba (which I gave away to my parents) and I rarely left home without it because it was so easy to just chuck in the bag I was carrying anyway. I do wish I’d gone for the only slightly bigger Q210, because it can game, but then I’d probably never get any work done.
    Then I got an iPhone. Now I don’t take the netbook *everywhere* just everywhere I’d rather have a computer than an iPhone.

  23. I can tell that the people complaining about the keyboards probably don't write much.

    Because as Michael says, once you are used to the keyboard, it's actually a lot easier and intuitive.

    If you actually look at the MSI Wind (at least) and compare it to a standard keyboard, you'll see that the keys are nearly the exact same size and spacing.

    It's other laptops that add huge buttons and spacing between them to accomodate for having a huge-ass casing without it looking bare along the sides and with a giant wristrest area like the 17" MBP does (Apple once again getting it right by keeping function before form yet still making it pretty). These keyboard designs on non-Apple huge laptops, while large, are NOT what is good or healthy for typing on.

    Netbooks actually are.

    And as for layout? Look around. There's plenty of netbooks with a standard keyboard layout.

  24. I can tell that the people complaining about the keyboards probably don’t write much.

    Because as Michael says, once you are used to the keyboard, it’s actually a lot easier and intuitive.

    If you actually look at the MSI Wind (at least) and compare it to a standard keyboard, you’ll see that the keys are nearly the exact same size and spacing.

    It’s other laptops that add huge buttons and spacing between them to accomodate for having a huge-ass casing without it looking bare along the sides and with a giant wristrest area like the 17″ MBP does (Apple once again getting it right by keeping function before form yet still making it pretty). These keyboard designs on non-Apple huge laptops, while large, are NOT what is good or healthy for typing on.

    Netbooks actually are.

    And as for layout? Look around. There’s plenty of netbooks with a standard keyboard layout.

  25. I read something on sammynetbook, and i totaly agree. People who bought netbooks probably complaining because they didn't bought samsung NC10, because it is perfect! See the old rewiev at notebookreview.com, they gave it 10. Because of what? ofcourse not the specs, but because everything is just done right! light. powerfull 6cell battery about 6h real life uptime when browsing. The keyboard is just perfect, 93% real size, all the keys are in right places, well-sized, nice feedback when typing. Screen is also reasonably small, 10.1 is perfect size for carrying around. I even like how it looks with it's shiny line around, and perl white mate finish. Damn it's perfect… Only flaw is when it comes to HD or even hq videos online, hd now way, hq sometimes ok, sometimes laggy.

    And you know it is realy customizable, i have multitouch on my track pad, momentum ant two finger sroll is just awesome for a small netty trackpad. Gaming? it's good for gaming, google intel gma gaming, there is this group of people who released modded driver, and tweaks, you can even run crysis with reasoable framerates! I'm currently on windows 7 and it boots really quickly, and sleep, wakeup is just 2s.. I even found some info how to make speakers louder. You can do sooooo much with it to make it better and better and better.. And for this price, i mean cheaper than smartphone, with 160gb 10" screen 1gb of RAM it beats them all.. But some info for those who considering to buy one. If you don't go anywhere you don't have and need a computer you realy don't need one. Unless you want to watch Dr. House in your bathroom :D

  26. I read something on sammynetbook, and i totaly agree. People who bought netbooks probably complaining because they didn’t bought samsung NC10, because it is perfect! See the old rewiev at notebookreview.com, they gave it 10. Because of what? ofcourse not the specs, but because everything is just done right! light. powerfull 6cell battery about 6h real life uptime when browsing. The keyboard is just perfect, 93% real size, all the keys are in right places, well-sized, nice feedback when typing. Screen is also reasonably small, 10.1 is perfect size for carrying around. I even like how it looks with it’s shiny line around, and perl white mate finish. Damn it’s perfect… Only flaw is when it comes to HD or even hq videos online, hd now way, hq sometimes ok, sometimes laggy.
    And you know it is realy customizable, i have multitouch on my track pad, momentum ant two finger sroll is just awesome for a small netty trackpad. Gaming? it’s good for gaming, google intel gma gaming, there is this group of people who released modded driver, and tweaks, you can even run crysis with reasoable framerates! I’m currently on windows 7 and it boots really quickly, and sleep, wakeup is just 2s.. I even found some info how to make speakers louder. You can do sooooo much with it to make it better and better and better.. And for this price, i mean cheaper than smartphone, with 160gb 10″ screen 1gb of RAM it beats them all.. But some info for those who considering to buy one. If you don’t go anywhere you don’t have and need a computer you realy don’t need one. Unless you want to watch Dr. House in your bathroom :D

    • Really?

      I hate to sound like a troll after disagreeing multiple times with people in these comments but…I never saw the big deal with it.

      As someone deeply into writing, I need the physicality of the things I'm planning out. I know Scrivener emulates this best as you can on a computer screen with corkboards, notebooks, etc…but it still isn't quite the same. I like being able to shuffle the notebooks, index cards, scrap paper, printed pages, etc out on my desk.

      And actually (back to the main point of the article), with a netbook taking up not much desk space, it's even easier to do so. Maybe that's why I like them. I know it's not much difference, but it's one extra pad you could fit on your desk to scribble on if you got a netbook.

      So as a writer, Natania, I'd say if you use Scrivener more than physical stationary, stick with a Macbook. But if you do use paper and pens as much, if not more, get a netbook – it's all about desk space in that situation.

    • Really?

      I hate to sound like a troll after disagreeing multiple times with people in these comments but…I never saw the big deal with it.

      As someone deeply into writing, I need the physicality of the things I’m planning out. I know Scrivener emulates this best as you can on a computer screen with corkboards, notebooks, etc…but it still isn’t quite the same. I like being able to shuffle the notebooks, index cards, scrap paper, printed pages, etc out on my desk.

      And actually (back to the main point of the article), with a netbook taking up not much desk space, it’s even easier to do so. Maybe that’s why I like them. I know it’s not much difference, but it’s one extra pad you could fit on your desk to scribble on if you got a netbook.

      So as a writer, Natania, I’d say if you use Scrivener more than physical stationary, stick with a Macbook. But if you do use paper and pens as much, if not more, get a netbook – it’s all about desk space in that situation.

  27. My Acer notebook is more versatile and has more memory than the Compaq laptop I used to have. It is actually faster. Although having to clear out the caches every day to keep it from freezing up is annoying. Now if only there was a notebook with a built in wifi router… sigh… or is there? (A router, not just a wifi receiver)

  28. My Acer notebook is more versatile and has more memory than the Compaq laptop I used to have. It is actually faster. Although having to clear out the caches every day to keep it from freezing up is annoying. Now if only there was a notebook with a built in wifi router… sigh… or is there? (A router, not just a wifi receiver)

  29. I'm with you Natania. I have an unreasonable desire for a netbook despite having a 13" Macbook.

    I lug mine around all-day everyday for work (on-site IT support) and the light weight of a netbook (without the insane cost of one of the ultralight Sonys, etc.) is a definite appeal. I suspect that the netbook would become my everyday 'work' machine, with the Macbook staying on the coffee table for after-hours use.

    Damn, now I want to go buy one right now…

  30. I’m with you Natania. I have an unreasonable desire for a netbook despite having a 13″ Macbook.

    I lug mine around all-day everyday for work (on-site IT support) and the light weight of a netbook (without the insane cost of one of the ultralight Sonys, etc.) is a definite appeal. I suspect that the netbook would become my everyday ‘work’ machine, with the Macbook staying on the coffee table for after-hours use.

    Damn, now I want to go buy one right now…

  31. I use my EeePC 1000H (Win7 + 2GB RAM and 7200 100GB drive) on the go and for school. Super light, good battery, but still powerful enough to run Photoshop CS4, Firefox, and a music player in one run. I have a super powerful desktop, and a portable powerhouse with a footprint that is easy to carry. If I drop it, no biggie, grab the drive and any remaining components that work, back up the files (which are also on my Syncplicity server, just in case), and I can go snag a new one for less than $500. For someone who can be accident prone, or harsh on devices, they're good, solid, and still got the power.

    So, in closing, if you have a good reason to have one, like school, work, or budget, then it's fine. Otherwise, don't worry about it, use something more powerful like a DTR laptop (Pavilion, Alienware, MBP, etc.)

  32. I use my EeePC 1000H (Win7 + 2GB RAM and 7200 100GB drive) on the go and for school. Super light, good battery, but still powerful enough to run Photoshop CS4, Firefox, and a music player in one run. I have a super powerful desktop, and a portable powerhouse with a footprint that is easy to carry. If I drop it, no biggie, grab the drive and any remaining components that work, back up the files (which are also on my Syncplicity server, just in case), and I can go snag a new one for less than $500. For someone who can be accident prone, or harsh on devices, they’re good, solid, and still got the power.

    So, in closing, if you have a good reason to have one, like school, work, or budget, then it’s fine. Otherwise, don’t worry about it, use something more powerful like a DTR laptop (Pavilion, Alienware, MBP, etc.)

  33. I bought an EEEPC 900 pretty early when they came out.

    Thinking back and looking at the current models I probably bought it too early.

    The Intel Atom CPU wasn't out yet and the current models don't seem to produce as much heat as mine, but then again if you want to wait for the latest an greatest you can basically wait forever, especially since Asus was turning out new models on a weekly basis(sort of speaking).

    I didn't use it very much in the beginning but then my full scale laptop gave out on me.

    But since the only reason I bought that infernal 17" pack of trouble was because my school was too cheap to buy descent pc's I instead build myself a pc rather then spending a small fortune on a new laptop.

    And since my school finally managed to put up the money for new pc and with my brand new Quad-core equipped piece of goodness up and running, to one and only thing I really needed out of a mobile computer was what my 900 offered me.

  34. I bought an EEEPC 900 pretty early when they came out.
    Thinking back and looking at the current models I probably bought it too early.
    The Intel Atom CPU wasn’t out yet and the current models don’t seem to produce as much heat as mine, but then again if you want to wait for the latest an greatest you can basically wait forever, especially since Asus was turning out new models on a weekly basis(sort of speaking).
    I didn’t use it very much in the beginning but then my full scale laptop gave out on me.
    But since the only reason I bought that infernal 17″ pack of trouble was because my school was too cheap to buy descent pc’s I instead build myself a pc rather then spending a small fortune on a new laptop.
    And since my school finally managed to put up the money for new pc and with my brand new Quad-core equipped piece of goodness up and running, to one and only thing I really needed out of a mobile computer was what my 900 offered me.