Lessons from two weeks with a netbook

Two weeks ago I received a netbook from my father, and I’ve noted a few factors that make a difference. The most obvious observation is that it’s very nice to have a netbook and be able to surf the web during the daily commute. But if I am to buy a netbook for myself, what factors are important to consider? I’ll summarize my thoughts here.

Really long battery life is important. In fact I think that is probably the most important factor to look for. Most laptops and netbooks can run for 2½-3 hours, but that means you’ll need to recharge it at least (twice?) daily, especially as the battery becomes older. The netbook I’m testing easily runs for 7 hours on a charge (yes, seven hours). Not worrying about recharging lets you concentrate on getting something done, so get the netbook with the longest battery life.

Size matters. Get the smallest, lightest netbook you can afford (with a good battery!). If it’s too big or too heavy, you’ll end up not bringing it along after all. I’d set the limit at one kilogram (not counting the charger which you shouldn’t need anyway).

Online is better than offline. If you can’t be online all the time, then make sure your most important things work well offline. I use Google Calendar, which does not yet work offline — bummer! Built-in UMTS is rare and expensive, but my USB UMTS stick works very well. The driver software is smart enough to avoid using UMTS whenever it recognizes a working WLAN connection.

Your fingers are not too big. Most netbook reviews are dissing the small keyboards, but that is undeserved. You can type well on any size keyboard — believe me, I’ve used the Psion PDA and can type as fast on that as on a normal keyboard even though it is almost half as big. The reason is that the keyboard must be well constructed, not made of simple buttons like those on a cell phone.

A large touchpad is practical. Surfing means a lot of pointing and scrolling, so get a netbook with a large touchpad. If it’s too small, you’ll need several sliding motions to move the cursor across the screen, so a bigger touchpad brings more comfort of use. The touchpad must also allow scrolling; those that understand gestures are most practical. By the way, I prefer the mouse buttons to be next to each other in front of the touchpad, rather than on either side. Too bad that touch screens are so rare.

The display can be too good. The netbook I’m using has a 10-inch, 1280×768 display, and the excellent resolution of the small screen means that the fonts become hard to read. A resolution of 1024×600 or so is much easier on the eyes. And the display must be glare-free, otherwise it’s just an expensive mirror.

Attention. Fellow commuters don’t stare nearly as much as I would have expected – but they sure did when my wife took the netbook to work. Sexism? Anyway, realize that mobile computing is not yet quite common.

If you find a netbook with 8 hours battery life, weighing 800 grams, and with a touch screen — please let me know.

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2 Responses to Lessons from two weeks with a netbook

  1. torbengb says:

    This was a Fujitsu Lifebook P7xxx Series. The model I used had a second battery inserted in the CD slot. I never brought the CD drive with me and never missed it.

    Here’s the manufacturer’s product page:

  2. John Brennan says:

    can i ask, what netbook do you have? seven hours battery life is impressive. thanks

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