Today I’m taking the opposite point of view — that a netbook is not all that useful. Ironically, I am typing this on my Psion PDA, and I notice that the space bar key is no longer working that well. Whatever Psion replacement I will eventually settle on, it better be soon.
A netbook may be convenient in the sense that it provides mobile computing and even Internet access, but it may not be the best way to achieve that. If you’re vacationing and need a place to dump the photos off the camera, fine — but on the daily commute, it is still rather big and heavy. After all, even the lightest ones weigh just over a kilogram.
Since UMTS is not built-in and immediately ready, the routine of plugging in the USB modem and starting the connection is reminiscent of ye olde days of the analog modem. Even the time it takes to get online is the same, slow process. Admittedly, once the netbook is online the connection is really broadband, but you have to prepare for going offline again in time, because just hanging up the line before unplugging the modem takes some time.
I want a device that is even smaller than a netbook, or at least smaller than the one I am testing at the moment. But an even smaller laptop would no longer be useful and if today’s market is anything to go by, it may not even support UMTS.
What I need is that my trusty old Psion Series 5mx suddenly grows an antenna and discovers the Internet. It already has the right size screen, a very useful keyboard, and great battery life. It just needs Internet as well.
There does not seem to be such devices on the market. There are Blackberrys with their poor keyboards and small screens; these are good for checking business emails and today’s agenda, but not much more. There are the Nokia flagships, and they might work, but they have very small screens and they are not touch screens, so there is a lot of keyboard navigation required. By coincidence, a man next to me on the train was just now using his Nokia E90 and I talked to him a bit. He was very pleased with the device but thought that writing longer texts (like this post) is still difficult.
So what am I to do? I could keep the netbook just because it’s convenient to not be bound to the desk, for travelling, and so on — but not use it for the commute because it’s not practical for that — and this fills a need I don’t really have at the moment. The fact remains that I am not convinced that a netbook is the solution to my need because, as I described in the beginning, even the small netbooks are still too big and heavy, and an Internet connection is not completely straightforward.
Size, weight, Internet-ability. These are the major criterias I keep mentioning, and netbooks just don’t win. The problem is that the next-smaller devices are smartphones like Nokias and iPhones, and such devices fulfil those three criterias but fail others that are just as important — having useful applications and input methods. I want something in between, something that is pocketable but works. And I haven’t found that grail yet, so I must continue looking. Perhaps I can take a Nokia for a test-drive.