Netbooks are not dead and they are not notebooks

Peter's ASUS eee Linux PC - Image803
Creative Commons License photo credit: roland

In the tech world there are many debates. Mac vs. PC, FireWire vs. USB, Dell vs. HP. The list could go on.

One argument has been declared over by too many people. CNET, TechCrunch and others have declared that the netbook is dead as an independent platform. As notebooks have grown smaller and more powerful and features have been added, many tech writers have decided that there is no real difference between the netbook and the notebook.

Netbooks still have a place. The problem is that netbooks are dying because companies who make them have forgotten why they caught on in the first place.

The appeal of the original netbook was not the grand set of features or the speed. Netbooks were wonderful because they fit a niche.

The criteria for what makes a netbook a netbook:

1. Size – a true netbook features a keyboard that can be used with two hands and a screen that can fit a 1024 web page. The keyboard should be full but “full size” was not a requirement.

2. Instant on (or as close as you can get) – Netbooks were not a replacement for notebooks nor are they a replacement for smartphones. People don’t want to take out their notebooks and wait for them to boot up just to use Twitter and check their Facebook. They also don’t want to spend 20 minutes typing out emails on a smartphone.

3. Web apps are all you need – True netbooks don’t need CD-ROM drives, 160GB hard drives etc. If you need a device that will store all your photos, edit video and play games, you need a notebook. A netbook needs a web browser, a webcam, a microphone and a few USB ports. The netbook is  a portal to Web 2.0 and The Cloud, 8 or 16GB should be plenty of storage space. You shouldn’t need Microsoft Office when Google Docs or Zoho will do the job even better.

4. OS is a utility not a platform – Whether a netbook runs on Linux, Windows, Android or BeOS shouldn’t matter in the least. As long as it runs a Webkit or Firefox browser that supports Flash, Java and other web platforms, that should be all you need.

5. Battery life – a true netbook will sacrifice most other features for longer battery life. Screen brightness is great, but most people turn their screen brightness down in public places to conserve battery and keep people from snooping over their shoulder. Solitaire runs great on a Pentium II and the Internet never even pushes the dual core capabilities of any system. A small processor, low powered screen and lack of moving motors give a netbook a longer battery life. Adding these features cuts down battery life. Netbooks need battery. If you have to sit next to an outlet to use your computer for more than an hour, you might as well get a true notebook.

A netbook is a supplemental computer. It is not intended to replace a notebook or smartphone. It is designed to be used for for stretches of an hour or two at the most, but to go long stretches without needed recharged. You should be able to keep it in a portable bag or purse so that it is always handy if you find yourself needing to kill time in a hotspot. It should be small enough not to annoy those around you but large enough to use comfortably.

Before buying a netbook, we suggest you go with a notebook instead if any of the following apply:

1. You want to use it to store or edit photos

2. You want it for World of Warcraft (or any other 3D game) on the go; bejeweled, solitaire and Zuma will work fine on most netbooks.

3. You want to store your music on it.

4. You need to run Microsoft Office, Photoshop or any other specific application to get your work done. If web apps won’t do the job, go with a notebook.

5. You expect it to replace your notebook or your smartphone. If you expect it to replace any device you currently use, you will be disappointed. Netbooks are a device in an of themselves. They will do jobs that you can do with both notebooks and smartphones can do, but they will do them better given the right circumstances.

About The Author

Adam Cochran

Adam Cochran - computer guy, social media enthusiast, college instructor, former radio DJ, radio talkshow host, podcaster, photographer, writer, and capitalist.

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7 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    I agree with you completely. My grandmother had been fighting her old dinosaur of a desktop for years and wanted something more portable to check her email (and now Facebook, thanks to my cousins…) She has no need for anything incredibly powerful, she’s just checking her email and browsing the internet. She had been talking about getting a laptop (or notebook) for some time but I told her she should check out a netbook before making a decision. I had been worried at first that maybe the screen would be too small for her to read, or the keyboard difficult for her to type on, but after trying out a few at local retailers she really liked them. We ended up getting here a Dell Mini 10v. It follows your definition for a netbook, minus the 160g HDD that she’ll never use.

    When it arrived and I got it all set up I was really quite impressed with how convenient this little mobile web browser was. I have a monster of a laptop that I use for my media editing/gaming, and an iPod Touch that I can use for quick web browsing and email over wifi. After playing with her netbook a little, I’m actually considering getting one of my own. It may not be as small and convenient as my iPod, but it’s as quick as my laptop, without being 14 pounds and the size of a briefcase.

    Netbooks are most certainly not intended to be notebooks by any means. They are merely a more convenient way to access the internet for those who do not have a smart phone, and/or don’t want to lug around a large notebook.

    (I’m sorry for leaving a comment as long as your blog post. If I keep this up it may be time to revive my blog.)

  2. Tiffany #

    Thanks for this write-up. I have been trying to decide what I want and this will help me to do my Pros vs Cons list! Thanks for your write-up.

  3. Dale Kaup #

    How could u forget price? Price is my overriding consideration. A 12 inch netbook for $250 or a 10 inch Compaq for $180 — now that’s the real appeal for me. I actually did buy the Compaq for my daughter and it’s extremely nice.

  4. Will #

    I agree with you in principle, but your last five points are absurd. For the last year I have happily used my 160gb-equipped netbook to store all of my photos and music, and plenty of videos as well. The ONLY thing about netbooks that would ever limit these uses are hard drive space, and if a 160gb hard drive is small and cheap, why shouldn’t netbooks have them? Even iPods have huge hard drives these days. Also, MS word works just fine for me, I have written countless papers comfortably on my aspire one. If netbooks are able to do something cool while still remaining true to their basics (small, cheap, and long battery life), it seems silly to hold them back simply because it challenges Adam Cochran’s conception of what a netbook should be.

  5. 5

    What idiot let this cretinous retard post his imbecile drivel on this apparently terrible blog? You should both be taken out behind the shed and shot, so that this valuable web real estate can be better used for penis enlargement advertisements.

    In short, you have no f***ing clue how to computer, don’t try.

  6. Alex #

    I bought a netbook for the reasons described above, but once I threw an extra gig of ram in, its multi-tasking blew my notebook out of the water. I never ever ever use my notebook other than as an oversized alarm-clock…EEE PC 1000HA with 2 GB Ram, 160 GB Harddrive, 6-8 hours of battery life with stock battery….

  7. Spuffler #

    Posting from an EeePC900A netbook: I agree with a lot of the sentiment here, but I post on Feb 9, 2011: the dawn of 4G on mobile devices is here; the sex appeal of tablets has the markets focus. It is but a small leap to say it: the netbook is now but a mere footnote.

    P.S.: I upgraded my netbook to a larger solid state disk drive – I like to listen to MP3s with it.


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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work by adamc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.