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Updated on June 3, 2010

What Are Netbooks

Netbooks, or mistakenly called Sub-Notebooks are small notebooks that are made for ultra portable work. They range from 7" to 12" screen sizes but with the recent lift by Intel on screen size limitations we may expect to see some 13'' models. They often sell for less than full size netbooks and it gives a competitive edge for them on the market of mobile computers.

If you are currently looking for a netbook there are a few things you should know about choosing one.

Asus 1005 Series Keyboard
Asus 1005 Series Keyboard

My Picks

There are a few models I personally like with details on how I decided for them below. I only suggest netbooks that I know are good, or have reputable sources I could rely on when deciding for them. In other words they are netbooks I have or would pay money for.

Asus 1005 Series

I have a bias for these computers I have to admit, but I have a good reason. I personally own and use an Asus 1005HA-M. This netbook comes with

  • Atom N270 Processor at 1.6GHz, just the usual single core Atom
  • 10.1" screen, which is matte. I prefer it to glossy finish
  • Streamlined seashell design that locks without a slide(and stays so)
  • Exceptional keyboard. If you want to type a lot, I suggest this!
  • Good battery life (7 hours if I keep it low profile, 5 hours going bonkers)

It cost me 249 pounds six months ago, around $350 at that time. Now the good news is that you can get the same thing with a 4 hours battery for around $250, and the 14 hour battery (1005PE-P) for $360 if not less when you read it. The build quality is top notch, I've been using mine for over six months now and I have nothing against how it's made. Just imagine what a low-quality Netbook would look like after six months of 10 hours work done and more than an hour spent in a backpack every day. I'm not killing the thing on purpose but I bought it to get stuff done and that calls for extreme measures, right?

HP Mini Keyboard up close
HP Mini Keyboard up close

HP Mini 210 Series

This one is tricky because there are four numbers after the 210 and a dash which define the actual setup of the mini notebook. 1010 for example has only 4 hours of battery life, go for oneat least with 9.75 hours

(note that this is disclosed by the manufacturer itself. I have no hard and cold evidence that I can rely on and say they round it up, so I'll go with the more subtle phrasing of they're being optimistic about the characteristic they think users operate the unit with)


  • 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 (a whisker above N270 in performance)
  • Isle-style Keys on the Keyboard (no trapeze shaped ones, yay!)
  • Over 9 hours of claimed battery life
  • Around $300 price, depending on the actual setup.

HP is a manufacture I'd trust with $300 and they've never let me down on build quality. I don't have this mini laptop unfortunately, but if it was out when I was looking to get mine I would most probably typing this article about netbooks on a HP Mini.

Features of a Good Netbook

A netbook is considered to be the smallest possible variation of an x86 computer, the keyboard would get too small otherwise. Note that netbooks are made to be carried around for the majority of the time, so expecting notebook-like performance will lead to disappointment.

A proper netbook has to have a proper screen and keyboard. While other people may tell you that battery life and other figures will tell you more about what a netbook is worth, in my personal experience you should first and foremost value input and output devices to make sure you'll be able to use it on the long run.

I don't think you should be get down to the Mhz detail when picking the processor, or there is much to choosing the battery, you'll find a model with the right setup from every case design/brand anyway.

The keyboard has to be as comfortable as it gets, because you'll be using it a lot for typing, given that you have need for a netbook at all. This is not to say that most netbooks are junk in this sense, but I've had my fair share of dodgy keyboards when looking around the market, and believe me I spent time coming up with a computer I could use.

Before you do anything, visit a computer store, asks friends who have netbooks to try them for yourself. The keys will be a little smaller than what you're used to on normal notebook, but with a few minutes of getting used to you'll be able to reach your normal typing speed. I now type 70 words per minute on my Asus 1005HA, and a full keyboard feels unnecessarily big.

Second most important feature of a good netbook is the battery life. I know I said you shouldn't be bogged down by it and look at only this value on notes next to netbooks, but nothing is more frustrating than running out of energy in the middle of a sentence. You have to remember that a netbook is NOT a normal size notebook, 2-3 hours of wireless productivity is neither good enough nor the normal.

Pick one that goes for at least 5-8 hours. It doesn't really add to the final bill. There are models from Asus that run for 14 hours according to the factory, I'd stay on the safe side with promising things and say their 1005PE-P does about 11 hours under normal circumstances, quite amazing nonetheless.

Which Is Your Favorite Netbook Maker?

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Other Stuff and Conclusion

Whatever you choose though, a netbook should never cost more than your budget. Okay I know it sounds obvious but here is the point; why would you buy a netbook for $450 when you can get a normal size notebook for that money? There are quite a few models that come with dual core processor and all the bells and whistles that cost that much, I suggest against buying those. They're great computers, will run 1080p HD movies and have great screen @ 1366 by 768 resolution, but for that price you can have better deals. Maybe even from the same retailer and same manufacturer.

Netbooks are incredible little machines, from their introduction in late 2007 they've come a really long way. With most recent Intel Atom processors battery life now exceeds the normal workday, the size lets them fit small women's bags, and the weight at 2.5 pounds often makes me check twice to make sure I didn't leave mine at home. If you come around with the right set of expectations you'll have a truly amazing piece of mobile computing, that doesn't break even the tightest budget.


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