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Netbook Or Notebook?

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

During the shopping experience, it is easy to get lose the idea of “intended purpose.” Netbooks are not to be used as a primary computer, which is often the very reason they take flak. On the flip side, desktop replacements (DTR) are not meant to be highly mobile. So, when people complain about having a heavy DTR (usually with a 15.6” or larger LCD), it is more a lack of forethought than a poor product. This is a more common problem that you might think. Believe us--we've read the complaints in the many mobile-related forums.

Netbooks, though, are actually a more recent development of the ultraportable form factor. Pioneered by Asus with its Eee PC, these small, lightweight, and relatively cheap notebooks are great companion devices. They are excellent complements for those who need high mobility and the large computation power provided by an existing desktop or DTR.

The two extremes--high mobility/low power computation and low mobility/high power computation--work better together than one might think. It's a lot like the benefits of buying an awesome camera and an awesome cell phone. A camera phone certainly would be easier to deal with, but for the same budget, it won’t take pictures quite as well as the camera or have the small profile of a non-camera phone. In a similar manner, the workhorse is going to be the “other computer,” while the netbook is going to be the device you bring out into the world to make edits to Word docs, check Web sites, and watch Flash videos on the flight.

Aside from being a companion device, there are a couple other situations where you might consider a netbook.

  • If you need a cheap desktop for Internet browsing, email, and watching Flash video (Hulu or YouTube), netbooks provide a cheap computer that can do dual-duty. Just hook up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Unplug and you can still bring your work with you.
  • If you need a cheap computer for a child, a netbook is certainly something to consider. If it breaks, it’s less of a loss. Plus, this means little Timmy isn’t hogging the computer when he wants to watch Hulu and you need to work.

Our netbook roundup focuses on the smallest of the small and lightest of the light, which is why this selection is limited to netbooks with a 10.1” screen. Each system has its own quirks and we’ll try to outline each system’s advantages and pitfalls.

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