Among the top netbooks, which one is the very best? Leave your comment below.
Choosing the top netbook – that is, the top netbook for you – requires deciding which options are most important to you. In other words, the “best” netbook is the one that best fits your own individual fingers, budget, and desire for workplace or personal style.
Truth is (the netbook makers don’t admit this) most units have pretty similar specs. Today’s mini-laptops exist in a pretty narrow price and performance range. From the snazziest souped-up netbook to the bottom-end netbook, they offer (more or less) the same:
A 10.1-inch screen, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB hard drive, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Windows 7 Starter Edition, 3 USB ports, a Webcam, 1,024 x 600 pixel display and an Intel Atom N450 CPU.
On top of these industry-wide specs are the few distinguishing features. Some netbooks squeeze in a larger screen, say, an 11- or 12-inch, sometimes with High Def 1,366 x 768 resolution. Many units offer Bluetooth, a popular option that allows you to tether a smartphone and hook into mobile broadband.
Probably one of the biggest differences is the feel and layout of the keyboard and touchpad. Because of the cramped nature of netbooks, manufacturers have done all sorts of things with touchpads (odd shapes, built-in mouse buttons) to save space or improve the interface.
Key point: deciding what feels most comfortable for you requires actually laying your hands on the unit. I urge you to go to a store and type on your potential netbook before buying. The keyboards can feel awkward or quite suitable based on what you’re used to.
Obviously price is a big factor. You can pick up a basic netbook for around $300, or you can spend in excess of $500. Do you want a top netbook for professional presentations or merely a unit for coffeeshop browsing? Check them all out, read the reviews, take a look at the physical units, then take the plunge.
And remember, netbooks are fun. They’re light, portable, go-anywhere units, kind of cute, even — dare we say it? — a tad sexy. Have netbook, will travel.
And now, eight leading netbooks on the market today:
1) Asus Eee PC 1005PE
Base price: $365
Product page: ASUS Eee PC
Yes, Asus is amazing. The company is essentially synonymous with “netbook,” having released the pioneering clunky-funky EEC PC back in the prehistoric era of 2007. And they still make the netbooks that can be called the top boxes. The Eee PC 1005 is one of the very best-selling netbooks on the market.
The Eee PC 1005 netbook retails in the middle of the pack – not the cheapest nor most expensive. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is its long-running batteries, which Asus touts is in excess of 10 hours. (Though in the real world it’s unlikely you’ll get that much.) If you need more than that, heck, go home and plug the thing in, would you?
The Asus Eee PC 1005PE includes Intel’s Atom N450 processor, which gives it the edge in efficient power use on netbooks running the last generation’s Atom N270 and N280 chips. When shopping for a netbook, make sure you get one with the newer Atom N450.
Its displays is netbook standard, which is to say, suitable, not excellent. It has a 10.1-inch 1,024 x 600 pixel display, so if you were yearning for the High Def 1,36 x 768 pixel resolution screens found on some upper-end netbooks – good for movies – this isn’t the box for you.
The chiclet keyboard is classic netbook, meaning that the keys are just wide enough, unless your paws are those of a pro football lineman. Since we’ve all grown up with standard-size keyboards, just a dash of extra keyboard space really adds comfort; if that’s important to you, you might opt for an 11-inch netbook. The Asus Eee PC 1005PE’s touchpad is nothing to write home about: it’s functional but smaller than some of the more recent netbook touchpads.
Aesthetically, this netbook is blandly professional. Yes, its shiny pearlescent shell would look just fine at the office, though you wouldn’t impress anyone as a high-end netbook owner.
As a nice touch, the 1005PE comes with stereo speakers, 3 USB 2.0 ports, and a SD card reader. It has no expansion drive. To connect with the Web, it offers 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, along with Bluetooth. Its other specs are the standard 1 GB RAM (upgradeable to 2 GB), 250 GB hard drive, a Webcam and Windows 7 Starter OS.
Bottom line: All in all, a good package at a fair price, from a netbook maker that knows what it’s doing.
The Asus 1005pe netbook (photo courtesy Asus)
2) HP Mini 210
Base price: $294
Product page: HP Mini 210
Yes, this is the kind of netbook that makes full-fledged laptop makers a tad worried: most of a regular-sized laptop’s capabilities for a bargain basement $300. Okay, for this price the unit comes with a small 3-cell battery (while many competitor’s offer a 6-cell), which means it’s not keeping up as netbooks’ batteries run longer and longer.
The ergonomics on this unit are admirable. The 92 percent-sized keys are spaced widely enough for comfortable typing. The function keys are smartly engineered, with the more typical task assigned as the default option. On the touch pad, the mouse buttons are incorporated into the lower right and left corners, which allows for easy use, though some users prefer separate mouse buttons.
Cosmetically, this netbook favors a softer, elegant look, opting for a rounded, curved design for edges and lid. If the silver crystal lid doesn’t excite you, you can pay extra for black, red or blue options. Choose that red option to impress everyone at your local coffee shop. (On the other hand, looks-wise, some users complain about the bulky battery.)
The 10.1-inch screen is glossy, not matte, so if you’re in a brightly lit environment you might get some reflections on your screen. The starter version of the HP Mini 210 comes with the industry-standard: 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450, 802.11b/g wireless, 1GB RAM, 160GB of storage and Windows 7 Starter. The basic unit lacks Bluetooth.
Bottom line: A stylish, economical tool for today’s casual user.
The HP Mini 210 netbook (photo courtesy HP)
3) Toshiba Mini NB305
Base price: $363
Product page: Toshiba Mini NB305
The Toshiba Mini benefits from a highly comfortable layout. Its multitouch touch pad is generously sized, one of the more spacious in the netbook world – a world of cramped user controls. Moreover, the two mouse buttons are clearly separated from the touchpad, which many users like (instead of the built-in mouse buttons).
On the other hand, some have complained that the space bar’s relative smallness isn’t helpful, and the tab keys could be bigger. Hey, it’s a netbook. You want complete comfort, buy a full-size laptop!
Also on the plus side: now that the Toshiba Mini runs the industry-standard N450 Atom processor, it’s more efficient and has greater battery longevity. The Mini boasts a battery life of around 10 hours, though real world conditions may prove less so.
The Toshiba Mini’s appearance is a combination of the professional and the Star Trek. The professional: it’s got a solid build and its serious, straight-forward lines make it a good fit in the workplace. (And the integrated Webcam with Skype will enable video meetings with colleagues.) As for Star Trek: along the bottom front edge are a whopping nine — count ‘em, nine – status indicator lights. As this extensive array lights up, you might feel like you’re monitoring the Starship Enterprise instead of a modest netbook. Beam me up, Scottie.
Toshiba makes a big deal out of its “sleep and charge” USB ports. This enables the USB port to recharge your mobile devices whether your netbook is on, off or in sleep mode. For today’s lifestyle, that’s a good feature.
Other than those design factors, the Toshiba Mini is your classic, highly mobile netbook. It has a 10.1-inch glossy LED-backlit screen with a 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution, 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N450, 1 GB RAM (upgradeable to 2 GB RAM), Windows Starter OS, a Webcam, and a 250 GB hard drive instead of the 160 GB offered by some units. The extra hard drive space doesn’t strike me as a deciding factor, but if you’ve got a lot of video or music it would help. It has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi but not Bluetooth.
Bottom line: A good netbook for work or play. If you can find it at the right price, go for it.
The Toshiba Mini netbook (photo courtesy Toshiba)
4) Dell Inspiron Mini 10
Base price: $309
Product page: Dell Inspiron Mini 10
Dell is the master of customization. As any PC buyer knows, you can go to their Web site and mix and match features until you’ve created your ideal Frankenstein of a computer. The Inspiron Mini is no exception. If you’re willing to spend enough, this unit comes with a built-in GPS, a TV tuner, XP or Windows Starter OS. There’s even an option with T Mobile to pay a monthly fee for 3G service, giving you mobile broadband (which would cost over $1,000 for a year). The $309 base price listed above rises to $349 with a TV tuner, and to $399 with a built-in GPS.
One of the Inspiron Mini’s greatest selling point: this generation with the Atom N450 chip runs efficiently enough to give an impressive 7-9 hours of battery life. A full day on the road without having to plug it in.
The Inspiron has a clean, elegant look, with a rounded, tapered edges that enables it to look good in the conference room or the coffeeshop. It’s not high art but it’s solidly built.
The default shell color is glossy black but – this being Dell – you can also pick blue, white, lime green, red, or pink. In fact, you can pick from more than 200 lid designs (isn’t that enough?) from the Dell studio, with all kinds of freeform and individualistic patterns. Of course these options add to the final price.
To improve the keyboard (which is the netbook-standard 92 percent), this generation of the Inspiron Mini now features terraced keys, with the base larger than the top. This helps touch typing on a netbook’s smaller keyboard. I really like the feel of the Inspiron’s keys – they have a solid spring to them that aids touch typing. The touchpad is large, but it has integrated rather than separate mouse buttons (and they’re not that big). For some users, separate, stand-alone mouse buttons makes for a more comfortable experience – if that’s what you’re used to, realize the Inspiron Mini’s layout may take some getting used to.
The basic unit of the Mini 10 is essentially the industry standard netbook: 1GB RAM, 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450, Windows 7 Starter OS, 160 GB HD, a Webcam, a 10.1-inch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, 3 USB ports, and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. Again, that’s just the starter unit; you can add as much as you like.
Bottom line: This netbook will give you whatever features you’d like, as long as your willing to pay more for more goodies.
The Dell Inspiron netbook (photo courtesy Dell)
5) Acer Aspire One 532h
Base price: $309
Product page: Acer Aspire One 532h
Okay, let’s be honest: you want a netbook and you want it cheap. Seriously cheap. Other netbook makers might dangle High Def or Bluetooth in front you, they may lure you with a fancy touchpad or a sexy design. In the end, of course, they’ll jack up the price tag and happily take your money.
If that’s your deal, than go shop with Dell (get one with a TV tuner, or a fancy customized lids for extra bucks) or from ASUS, which offers a cool High Def option. As for good old Acer, they’ll sell you a perfectly working netbook – a netbook, mind you, not a sexy, muscular little portable – for a bargain basement $300 bucks.
And honestly, if you really want jazzy performance, don’t look to a netbook.
In the Acer Aspire One’s favor, it runs the Atom N450 chip, so its battery is impressively long lasting, a good 8-10 hours by some counts, though real world use may offer less.
Some grumble about the Acer’s touchpad. It’s built into the wrist rest. It’s kind of small and the mouse button is on the skinny side. Sure, you can get used to it, and anyway, you’re probably only using this unit for email and quick surfing. On the plus side, the keys are decent-sized, as are the function keys. So the Aspire One will get you by, especially given that you’ll likely get used to its touchpad limitations over time.
What’s not to like? The Aspire One has the standard 10.1-inch wide-screen display with a 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution, 3 USB 2.0 ports, a Webcam, Windows 7 Starter OS, b/g/n Wi-Fi, and – c’mon, this is nice – stereo speakers. It also offers a 250 GB hard drive, which is noteworthy at this price point.
Bottom line: For the price, you can hardly beat it.
The Acer Aspire One netbook (photo courtesy Acer)
6) Samsung N210
Base price: $359
Product page: Samsung N210
You have to give Samsung credit for its netbook effort: for its 2010 model, the company has not only added the Intel Atom N450 processor (which every maker now has) it’s also significantly touched up its design.
It has a stylish, substantial feel to its build, and its marginally larger body gives (sort of) the illusion of a full laptop’s size in a netbook’s small shape. The touchpad is generously sized and the two mouse buttons have a reputation for working smoothly and hassle-free. There’s a tad more real estate beneath the keyboard to help you position your wrists for touch-typing.
One sweet touch, given how small any netbook’s screen is: the Samsung N210 has stand-alone Up and Down buttons, which really helps navigation. And the most essential function keys, like Tab and Shift, are as big as they are on a regular laptop. The keyboard, too, benefits from a spacious layout.
The Samsung N210’s matte screen – which cuts down on screen glare, and is rare in netbooks – is easy on the eyes. If hours (and hours) of screen time tire out your eyes, this model may be your choice. (Of course the colors appear slightly muted, but that’s a necessary trade off.) The 10.1-inch display has the standard 1,024 x 600-pixel default resolution – if you’re hoping for Hi Def, keep shopping.
The all white body (perhaps it’s a poor man’s Macbook?) is complemented by a slender silver border that traces the inner edge of the keyboard tray. The netbook’s cover is topped with a clear plastic cover, adding a modernistic look. Overall some thought went into this unit’s appearance, meaning it’s appropriate to use at home or in a professional situation.
The machine’s specs are the standard 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 GB RAM, 250GB, Webcam, 3-in-1 media reader, 3 USB ports, and Windows Starter OS. It lacks Bluetooth. Samsung claims up to 7 hours from the 6-cell lithium battery.
Bottom line: A well designed netbook that focuses on the hardware’s user interface. Not the cheapest unit on the market, but a good one.
The Samsung n210 netbook (photo courtesy Samsung)
7) Lenovo IdeaPad S10
Base price: $349
Product page: Lenovo IdeaPad S10
Netbooks travel in many worlds, both business and personal, yet the Lenovo IdeaPad is distinctly comfortable in the professional workplace. The unit is priced in the middle of the pack and generally offers middle of the pack hardware. But what it does offer is well worth the money for certain time-pressured individuals who need to perform when it counts: a comfortable user interface that works well, and requires little adjustment from our more frequent full-size machine habits.
The multitouch touchpad is relatively large. Some users find it particularly easy to use, with a neat function: to click, you simply push down lightly on the lower left or right corners; no separate “thumb tap” required. Others users, preferring the more standard layout of separate click buttons, don’t see this an advantage. The relatively spacious keyboard has a top reputation as offering solid, touch type-helpful finger response, more or less like a full-size keyboard. And really, what aspect of a machine aids user comfort than a great keyboard?
The netbook’s lid features a high reflective surface, and the inside manages to look upscale metallic even though it’s actually plastic. You could look sharp pulling out the IdeaPad at a sales meeting.
Obviously targeting the professional user, the IdeaPad bundles a futuristic security tool. Using the VeriFace facial recognition security app, you can scan your face, then log in using the Webcam. (Cool, but wouldn’t you rather just type your password?)
Still more for the business user: The unit also comes with OneKey Recovery, which creates a disk image to restore your files in case of terrible mishap; and DirectShare, which lets your swap files with co-workers across your network.
Other than that, the Lenovo IdeaPad pretty much just keeps up with the pack. It has the 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450, 1GB RAM, 160 GB hard drive, a 10.1-inch screen with standard 1024 x 600 resolution, 3 USB ports, 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth, 3G, a battery good for about 7 hours, and Windows Starter OS. One truly nice touch: Dolby-powered speakers, clearly a step above the netbook standard.
Also note: the Ideapad S10-3t, which starts at $549, has a swiveling touch screen; it’s essentially an iPad competitor.
Bottom line: Priced in about the middle of the pack, a comfortable netbook that offers an easy transition from a full-size unit.
The Lenovo Ideapad netbook (photo courtesy Lenovo)
8) MSI Wind U 160
Base price: $379
Product page: MSI Wind U 160
The MSI Wind has been a competitor in the netbook market since about the time when the Asus first appeared on the scene to herald the Age of the Netbook (circa 2007). And while the MSI Wind has never been at the front of the pack, it doesn’t bring up the rear, either.
Since this generation sports the more efficient Atom N450 chip, the MSI Wind’s battery runs longer. And indeed, the MSI Wind’s battery is reputed to chug along for about 7 hours, though of course your usage pattern will influence this. (And you’ll notice the hefty battery bulging out of the unit’s body – but if you like a long battery life this is a negligible downside.)
Netbook designers are always trying to get around cramped space, and the MSI Wind gets points for a somewhat innovative solution to this problem. The touchpad has a scrolling tool (up or down) built into the bottom and top corners. So it’s easy to zip around a long Web page. Oh, wait, you say you hardly notice the touchpad? Well, actually, you’re right – it’s just a slender strip in the wrist rest. That’s not necessarily a problem (and certainly can be adjusted to) yet some people prefer the more distinct, rectangular stand-alone touchpad.
The keys are flat, with a comparatively comfortable amount of space between them to alleviate netbook-induced finger cramp.
Aesthetically, the MSI Wind has a neutral look. Sure, you could bring it into the office, quite comfortably in fact. Yet its appearance is not so business-like that you’d be scorned at the hipster’s coffee shop. Call it comfortable blandness, if such a thing exists.
The specs are pretty much right down the middle of the road: A 10.1-inch screen, 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution, 1 GB RAM, 250 GB HD, three USB ports, an SD card slot, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, stereo speakers, and Windows 7 Starter OS. Plus: it comes with Bluetooth.
Bottom Line: A perfectly decent netbook with a respectable battery life. Look for a version with a rebate to save $30 (available recently on Amazon).
The MSI Wind netbook (photo courtesy MSI)