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With so many netbooks on the market, how do writers choose the best one?
When netbooks first hit the scene a few years ago they seemed the answer to all my prayers as a writer: small and light/portable enough to carry with me at all times; a full OS and not just a basic word processor so that both writing and editing can happen; relatively inexpensive. There had been many laptops that fulfilled one or more of those requirements before, but they were usually insanely expensive.
Now a few years into the craze, netbooks are no longer the newest, shiniest toys on the block, but writers still love them because they're still perfect for writing on the go. But with so many on the market, how can you choose the best one for you?
There are four key factors to consider:
Keyboard -- Obviously this is the most important aspect of any laptop for writers, but on netbooks it's even more of a consideration. You don't want cramped, tiny keys that don't feel good to type on. It is possible to find a nearly full-sized keyboard with excellent tactile feedback.
Display -- Most netbooks have 10.1-inch screens, which doesn't offer a lot of room. Still, with a resolution of 1024 x 600 you'll be able to fit plenty of words on the screen. If you crave even more screen real-estate, a few models have a higher resolution of 1366 x 768. Also, go for a matte display instead of glossy, then you can write outside or in proper sunlight.
Performance -- By nature, netbooks aren't as speedy as full-sized laptops (one of the reasons they're less expensive). If your goal is to concentrate on writing alone without having too many programs open, a model with a single-core processor is fine. But if you're the type to switch between a word processor, a browser with multiple tabs for research, and a few other necessary programs, go for a dual-core system.
Battery -- What's the point in carrying around a small, light laptop if you also have to carry a cord and power brick? Six hours is the bare minimum of accepted battery life under normal usage conditions, but seven and above is much better. It will allow you plenty of writing time and last all day if you just hope to snatch moments here and there. At Laptop Magazine, we use this test to measure battery life.
Samsung NF310 -- $399
This laptop has the benefit of looking good and scoring high marks in all three of my requirements. It has an island-style keyboard that is comfortable to type on. The only con here is that the space bar is a little undersized. The display is matte, has the higher 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, and offers deep, rich colors. The dual-core processor inside means it performs well, so you won't have to restrict the number of open applications too much. The NF310 lasted a respectable 6 and a half hours on the Laptop Battery Test. Plus, the wave design is sharp -- you'll never be ashamed to whip this out in the café, even when you're surrounded by MacBooks.
Due to the processor, the price is on the higher end of netbooks, but you can get it for a little less at some online retailers right now. Read my full review of the Samsung NF310 on LaptopMag.com.
ASUS Eee PC 1001P -- $299
Even though this netbook is more than a year old and has a single-core processor, it's still one of my favorites for it's great design and ultra-long battery life. Plus, it's inexpensive. The 1001P has a comfortable, responsive keyboard and a decent display (1024 x 600 pixel resolution, glossy). For a single-core system, it performs well. The tested battery life is over eight hours. All this, plus a slim and attractive design. ASUS netbooks also come with the benefit of some good built-in software, cloud storage, and an instant-on environment.
When shopping for this model, you'll see several listed with model names like 1001PXD or 1001P-MU17 or whatever. These are the same model, but with slight differences or meant for different stores. Just be sure to find one that has a rated battery life of 8.5 hours, not one rated lower. [Read a full review of the ASUS Eee PC 1001P.]
Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3 -- $320 and up
Another netbook from last year, the IdeaPad S10-3 comes in two versions: regular netbook and tablet netbook (S10-3t). I don't recommend the tablet version, not least because it's much more expensive (and not worth it). This IdeaPad has the best keyboard of almost every netbook I've ever used -- no big surprise coming from Lenovo, the keyboard experts. The glossy, 1024 x 600 display isn't distracting, at least, and the netbook's single-core performance won't wow you. The battery lasted almost seven hours in testing.
Because this netbook is older you're more likely to actually see it in stores so you can try the keyboard yourself. It's also dropped well below the initial $369 asking price and can be had for around $320 at some retailers. [Read a full review of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3.]
HP Mini 1103 -- $299
Designed for the education market, the Mini 1103 isn't very flashy but also doesn't look like a toy. The keyboard is top-notch, with terraced keys that offer good tactile feedback. The anti-glare display has a resolution of 1024 x 600 and lays completely flat, if you're into that kind of thing. The single-core processor performs even better than the Eee PC or the IdeaPad above. Plus, it lasted almost 8 and a half hours on the Laptop Battery Test.
Since the Mini 1103 is technically for the bulk education market, you won't find it on the consumer side of HP's website; you'll have to scoot over to the business part (though consumers can still purchase it there). No customizations here, unlike consumer netbooks. But it's still worth it. [Read my full review of the HP Mini 1103.]
K. T. Bradford is a technology journalist living in New York City. She specializes in mobile tech and loves her Android phone almost as much as her netbook. For the past three years she's been with Laptop Magazine and has also graced the pages of Black Enterprise, Android Central, and MSNBC. In addition to writing about tech she also writes fantasy and science fiction. For more geeking out about gadgets, please visit her website: ktbradford.com
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