Monday, March 30, 2009

Netbooks: Economical Computing Option or a Waste of Money?

macbook and dell mini 9 side by sideThe Mini 9 beside a 13" MacBook.
Image by InfoMofo via Flickr

"Your computer is so cute!"
This is what a random stranger on the train told me today. It is not the first time.

I wouldn't normally think of computers as cute, but in this case it's an understandable comment because my new computer is a netbook–tiny, functional, inexpensive, and yes, cute.

There are several good netbooks on the market now, but the cheapest one I could find with all the functionality I need is the Dell Mini 9.

It's no longer a big decision whether to take my laptop with me when I leave home because instead of nine pounds of computer and battery pack hogging all the space in my bag and killing my shoulder, it's a barely noticeable 2.38 pounds that takes up no more space than a book–why not bring it? I can do research on the train, take notes at the library, check my e-mail in between classes, chat with a friend if I get stuck in a waiting room somewhere....

By the way, this is not a paid post or a plug for Dell. It's just my own independent review.

Granted, the Mini 9 is no good for running any applications that use up a lot of memory, but when I'm traveling or just out and about, I don't tend to use those anyway. Besides all the standard package applications you'd expect a computer to come with, the Linux version I have comes with OpenOffice (pretty much the same as the MS Office suite), a decent music player, an easy to use browser (just like Firefox) and chat application, and some others that I haven't used yet. Really, that's all I need.

I was worried the keyboard would be too small to type on comfortably, but after a day or two I was completely used to it. I can see how it might be cramped, however, for people with large hands.

The screen is great, no different from my iMac, just smaller, but the touchpad is uber-sensitive and even seems to pick up my finger hovering over it. That might cause some problems, but since I much prefer to use a mouse anyway it's not really an issue for me.

The AC adapter is delightfully small and light, it charges quickly, and the battery holds for about 3-4 hours of steady use (so far). Also, the internal wireless works great–it can pick up a much better signal than my old laptop.

Obviously netbooks, with less memory and less capacity, have significantly less functionality than regular laptops, but as I've said that doesn't much bother me.

The Mini 9 has three USB ports and a multi card reader, as well as a VGA slot, and an Ethernet port, neither of which I'll ever use. The model I have only comes with 1 Gig of memory, so that may be an issue in the future when it starts filling up. But that's where USB jump drives and memory cards come in.

The only thing I've really missed so far is being able to burn to and read from CDs and DVDs (i.e. transferring music isn't easy and there will be no movie-watching on that long plane ride). I haven't tried to plug my iPod in yet, but I'm interested to see if it'll be compatible with the no-name music software.

And of course, the tiny display takes some getting used to. I definitely have to do more scrolling than usual.

Bottom Line
At just over $200 (including a nice sleeve), I think the Mini 9 is a steal. It's the portability that makes it worth it. And it's pretty sleek looking, so that doesn't hurt either. I'm really glad I didn't spend $1200 on a normal-sized notebook I'd only use for internet, music, and writing anyway. I wouldn't recommend it for a main computer–its functionality is too limited–but for travelers and people on the go, it's solid. By the way, guess where I'm blogging from? That's right. Roughly 55 sq. in. of adorable.

If you use a netbook or have considered one, let us know what you think about it. Leave a comment below.

Update: Thanks to Greener Pastures for including this post in The Money Hacks Carnival #59 - The Duct Tape Edition.

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Anonymous said...

The smallest hard drive you can get on the mini is 4 gigs. The 1 gig of memory you have is for RAM, flash drives won't expand RAM.

Wren Caulfield said...

Oh good. 4 then--that's much better.
1 gig of RAM is plenty for what I'm doing--that's no problem.

Liza said...

I've never used the Dell Mini. I have an Asus EEE 1000H (running Windows XP) and love it, though to be honest I don't take it out of the house much! Since I got my iPhone I just use that :D

Comp Vixen

Carnation said...

i have an asus eeepc pink color and it always draws attention whenever i use it in public. i love it and i have the same comments as you have regarding the pros. the cons don't bother me much except that the spacebar is not that good on the left side but i can manage. i'm glad i have it coz i travel lots.

AVCr8teur said...

I just received my Asus EEE PC 900HA running XP and it works great. I already have a full size Dell laptop and hate lugging that heavy thing around especially when I travel with my DSLR camera. Although now, I have to get used to that little netbook with a tiny keyboard. Haha!

mdtrudeau said...

Do you think one-handed typing will replace two-handed typing??

Wren Caulfield said...

For some people it already has... lol.
Seriously, though, I don't think so. It would just be too slow. Although I hear some people are pretty quick at texting and the like. And my dad has perfected the two-handed hunt-and-peck method. Thankfully my Mini hasn't forced me to confront the possibility. What do you think?

Mendacious Being said...

I think eventually most keyboards will be small enough and one-handed typing will be the norm.

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