Archive for the 'Netbook' Category

Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Which netbook now?

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Just over 6 months ago I posted Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Netbooks. I’ve been meaning to revisit this post for some time. Not only has the market moved on in terms of the range of netbooks available, but on reflection my advice was some what biased leaning towards a device for me and not the average student. This post hopes to readdresses this balance identifying what I would be looking for in a netbook if I was a student.

Operating system – go for Windows

I would still recommend going for Windows. A development worth keeping an eye on is the new Windows 7 operating system due out later in the year. Originally I would have recommended sticking with Windows XP, Vista being too resource intensive for less powerful netbooks. Having loaded a beta version of Windows 7 on a netbook I was impressed with the speedy performance. So avoid Vista, get XP and if you are reading this post in a couple of months look out for ‘7’.

Connectivity - wireless + Bluetooth

I wouldn’t change much of my advice here. In fact it very hard to find a netbook without both a wired and wireless connection. Again bluetooth is useful and becoming a standard feature.

Screen resolution - at least 1024×600 (with 10” screen)

I would still recommend 1024×600 as a minimum resolution. For comfort of viewing I would also recommend a 10” screen (don’t forget to play around with toolbars to get maximum space. For example in Firefox use the Compact Classic theme and Glazoom zoom extension.

Storage - 8Gb SSD 160GB HDD

I would recommend getting a decent sized hard drive. There’s nothing more frustrating than running out of space particularly if you have lots of media like photos and video to keep. Unfortunately solid state drives, which have the benefit of no moving parts are still too expensive for this sort of size and you’ll have to nurture a traditional spinning disk hard drive.

Size - keep it compact (225×165mm 260x180mm)

As an every day device a decent sized keyboard will be essential for comfort of use and productivity. This size of the keyboard impacts the minimum size of the netbook so use 260x180mm as a guidance.

Battery Life 6 hours+

A big oversight of my original post was to include criteria for battery life. New processors (namely the Intel Atom chip) mean it is possible to get a lot more usage between charges. It is now possible to get netbooks which easily go for 6 hours while still not adding too much weight.

Cost - less than £250 £300

Unfortunately the global recession and weakness of the pound is impacting how far you money can go. I would also recommend upping the budget slightly to get a device which is hopefully suitable and robust enough for every day use.

Which Netbook would I buy (now if I was a student)?

In my original post I mentioned retiring my original netbook, which I’ve never quite got around too (although the soon to be released ASUS T91 is getting my interest). In the intervening months I have however purchased a new netbook to replace a laptop which got drowned in gin. The criteria I used for selecting a replacement potentially maps closely for what a student might be looking for (everyday use, portable, decent battery life). The device I went for was the Samsung NC-10. This device regularly gets praised for it excellent keyboard and solid build quality. For me the NC-10’s specification strikes a very good balance between being portable and suitable for everyday use and with it easily getting 6-7 hours solid use you don’t have to constantly sit next to a power socket.

Here’s a list of 5 possible contenders compiled on PriceGrabber which broadly fit the specification outlined above (click here to view latest prices):

Lenovo S10 Netbook
from £259.99
(5 sellers)
Compare Prices »
MSI Wind U100-220UK Black Netbook
from £259.99
(5 sellers)
Compare Prices »
Asus Eee PC 1000H Netbook
from £272.01
(6 sellers)
Compare Prices »
Samsung NC10 Blue Netbook
from £297.80
(8 sellers)
Compare Prices »
MSI Wind U100-221UK Black Netbook
from £298.69
(7 sellers)
Compare Prices »

Which netbook? Ultra Mobile Computing Buyers Guide

In September I wrote about netbooks (Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks) and in particular what I be looking for when buying. This is one of my most popular (I’m guessing drawing in Googler’s looking for advice).

Following the recent hiatus with almost a weekly announcement of a new netbook, things seemed to have settled a bit. It could be a good time to take the plunge and get your 1st netbook. If you would like a more detailed advice the UMPC Portal have put together the 28 page Ultra Mobile Computing Buyers Guide 2008.

I don’t need your network, I’ve got Mobile Broadband

Mobile Broadband Logo 3G mobile operators are experiencing boom time. Having spent billions on a network which was heavily under utilised they are finally witnessing strong growth in traffic. This growth is largely down to the emergence of the new mobile broadband market. Formerly the domain of the business exec and pro-user, mobile broadband is now being marketed to general consumers as an alternative to fixed line connections. This has been achieved by a big marketing push in USB dongles, a recent Ofcom report recording almost a doubling in sales. Up until now operators have tried to entice customers by bundling a ‘free’ laptop or netbook when they sign up for mobile broadband contracts. Its probably not surprising that with these synergistic relationships between operators and manufacturers that a consortium of companies have got together to promote and develop 3G technology integrated inside laptops and netbooks. This move is backed by a $1 billion war chest which will put a new Mobile Broadband logo on a range of devices appearing for Christmas. 

The implications of this are that more students will not be reliant on the network provision provided by their university. They will not be limited by an institution’s Internet filtering, port blocking or other constraints imposed by the institution. It is inevitable that some may abuse this privilege exposing an institution to the risk of students accessing inappropriate material while on university premises but it is hard to see how an institution might prevent this, instead policy will have to  robust enough to define acceptable behaviour and the processes for dealing with any abuses. 

Scare stories aside it looks like more students will be bringing the Internet with them when they come to college or university, and sure if anything institutions will be embracing it. I’m just waiting for the first laptop purchasing programme offered to students by an institution in collaboration with a mobile operator and computer manufacturer.

Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks

I’m returning to university and wonder if you could recommend a gadget for note taking? I’d like to use my MacBook - typing would be easier than writing - but I’m not sure it would be practical. Is there a device designed for note taking?

Guardian Gadget Clinic, 23rd August 2008

This question appeared in the Guardian Gadget Clinic recently and the recommendation by Bobbie Johnson was to stick with the MacBook because of it’s larger keyboard and screen or alternatively go for a low cost PDA or a smartphone. An alternative family of devices not mentioned in the article are Netbooks.

These devices are defined by Wikipedia as “small-sized, low-cost, light weight, lean function subnotebooks optimized for Internet access and core computing functions (e.g. word processing)”. The first modern Netbook* hit the UK market in November 2007 was the ASUS eeePC 701. I was fortunate to be one of the first to hand over £230 and get my hands on a 701 and it has been close to my side ever since. So 10 months on if I was looking for a Netbook what would I be looking for?

Operating system - go for Windows

The majority of Netbooks have the option of Linux or Windows operating systems. When I got the 701 the only option was Linux which for me was a great opportunity to learn a new operating system. I’ve found that Linux does need a lot of behind the scenes tweaking to get it to work with some wireless networks and Bluetooth devices.  My advice would be either to buy with Windows or go for the cheaper Linux version and install Windows (if your campus agreement allows it).

Connectivity - wireless + Bluetooth

There are a number of manufacturers making very small Bluetooth adapters

The majority of Netbooks come with your standard wireless 801.1b/g connection. Having a Ethernet connection has come in handy when in the office. Built-in Bluetooth is a bonus but if it doesn’t come as standard you can get a small plug-in dongle for less than £10. For a data connection when your in a wireless blackspot you can use a USB modem dongle. The latest Netbooks are now including built-in sim cards to give you a data connection over 3G networks. Personally, I don’t like the idea of been locked into a contract  and the monthly tariffs still seem very high. My solution is to share the data connection on my mobile phone. Windows Mobile 6 is particularly good at sharing an Internet connection via Bluetooth. Here are other ways to connect to the Internet via a mobile phone (I personally use a PAYG account with the ’3′ network who have a £5/month fair-use Internet add-on).

Screen resolution - at least 1024×600

As the majority of web pages are designed for a screen width of 1024 pixels I would recommend that this is the minimum resolution you should go for (Note: there is a difference between screen resolution and viewable image size. It’s possible to have a small screen with a high resolution, so check the devices specification). Screen height is often an issue with Netbooks because of the widescreen format. Space can also be quickly eaten up by toolbars and drop down menus. In Firefox this can be overcome with carefully selected themes and add-ons. I recommend Compact Classic theme and Glazoom zoom extension.

Storage - 8Gb SSD

If you are prepared to do some windows maintenance, removing temporary files, 8Gb is enough to install windows and office applications. I would recommend going for a solid state drive (SSD) because it has no moving parts which should make it more reliable.

Size - keep it compact (225x165mm)

If you have nimble typing fingers I find a width of 225mm is the most you need for a decent size keyboard. I recently got a chance to see some of the new Netbooks from HP and Acer and felt that there portability was compromised by a larger keyboard.

Cost - less than £250

I don’t see a Netbook as a replacement for my home PC or laptop, but as a device I’m happy to chuck in my bag for when I’m out and about. Consequently, its a device I don’t want to spend too much money on. My original attraction to the ASUS eeePC 701 was its portability but it was it’s price which made it a justifiable purchase.

Which Netbook would I buy?

So if I was going to buy a Netbook today which one would I buy (new Netbooks are being announced regulatly so the list will quickly become obsolete).

  • ASUS eeePC 701 - Screen too small and not enough disk space.
  • ASUS eeePC 900 - Enough screen resolution, disk space and a similar compact form of the 701. At around £260 I might be tempted but the batery life is supposed to be poor.
  • ASUS eeePC 901 - Again similar compact form of the 701 and 900. More performance from the Intel Atom processor and integrated Bluetooth. This issue for me with the 901 is price.
  • Acer Aspire One - This ticks all the boxes and with a Linux version with 12Gb SSD you can pick one up for £200. I was almost tempted to buy as a replacement to my 701 but when I went to see it in the shop it immedaitely looked too bulky for me.
  • MSI Wind - It has a 10″ screen but the maximum resolution is only 1024×600. The bigger screen just adds bulk and drains the battery quicker.
  • HP Mininote - While having a 8.9″ screen it boasts a screen resolution of 1280 X 768. At 1.3kg its too heavy and bulky for me. Your also paying a premium for the HP branding.
  • Elonex One - Hmm, at £100 the price makes it very appealing but the screen is too small and the spec reflects the price. One of the worst keybaords I’ve ever used. Not for me.
  • Dell Inspiron Mini - Released 2 days ago. Currently Dell are only offering the higher spec Windows XP version with 1Gb RAM at £300. Potentially this device has everting I want but the price isn’t right yet.

In summary my ideal Netbook isn’t available for the right price yet but I’m sure with such a competive market I may be retiring my 701 soon (possibly for the Dell Mini).


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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