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Tom's Definitive 10.1" Netbook Buyer's Guide: Fall 2010

Update: Due to the timing of Dell's submission, we were unable to include the Inspiron Mini in our group shots. We felt that we should note that it has a color profile similar to the S10-3, but with a brightness scale similar to the Acer AO521.

There are two displays that stick out here: the Asus Eee PC 1001P’s matte LED LCD and HP’s Mini 210 HD’s glass LCD. The main thing you should know is that the matte (anti-glare) version works better in sunlight and very well-lit environments. In theory, the Mini 210 HD’s screen will generate truer blacks and color tones when viewed in dimmer environments. However, this is subject to the quality of the LCD panel.

When you put all of them side by side, it becomes apparent that the truest blacks are actually produced by the Acer AO521 and MSI U160. However, the contrast is a bit exaggerated in these two displays, specifically in the greens and blues, and this shows in up color vividness.

The HP Mini 210 HD and the Lenovo S10-3 seem to produce the most correct colors. The Gateway comes pretty close, but it has an ever-so-slight washout effect due to the higher white balance.

Other than the Asus 1001P, the rest of the displays are glossy. Remember that “glossy displays” are targeted toward those looking for sharpness and color vibrancy when viewing images and movies. In general, these displays may look nicer in the show room because of the dim light and their shiny design. However, they have their pitfalls. They reflect light and have a propensity to show fingerprints. If you plan on taking the netbook into very well-lit environments with overhead lighting, look towards a matte display; otherwise, glossy remains our recommendation due to picture vibrancy.

It may seem like there is brightness washout in the Lenovo S10-3 at max brightness, but this is not the case. In order to get proper focus, the S10-3 appears washed out, but the image is actually quite clear. These pictures are only to give you a sense of the maximum and minimum brightness capabilities of the notebooks when you put them side-by-side. I also want to point out, we do not alter or manipulate color, brightness, or contrast in any way. This is the actual degree of difference you should see between the systems.

It is important to note that viewing angles become more important as you move to larger and larger display sizes because of the distance and angle of the display corners. However, this is still relevant to netbooks in the event you are trying to share the screen with another person, say to watch a movie or show a document to a co-worker on a flight. At maximum brightness, the person sitting next to you on a flight should be able to see your screen without any difficulty. Though, the person one more seat over will largely see distorted images.

As far as sound quality goes, no netbook really stands out here. None of the systems have noticeable deficiencies, but don’t expect outstanding sound quality from speakers this small. With that said, every system here delivers decent sound quality that should keep you pacified, even during movie playback. At minimum, you can at least expect stereo. A year ago, there were a few netbooks floating about that only gave you a single-channel speaker.

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