4 Things to Remember When Netbook Shopping

Netbooks — small, light and inexpensive portable computers — have become very popular in the past year, and come in enough flavors that many web workers may want to consider getting one. I use an Asus Eee PC netbook as a secondary machine for mobile work, when I don’t want to carry a heavier notebook. Netbooks guarantee compromises, though, and there are a few key areas where you should closely study compromises you may have to make, before you buy.

Here are four significant examples.

A Comfortable Keyboard. JKOnTheRun has a good piece up today on the netbooks that readers of the Smarterware blog are using, and why. The majority of them — almost half — use Asus Eee PC systems.  Still, if you look at some of the user comments from netbook owners in the post, you’ll see some of the Eee PC users complaining about the small keyboards they have. The keyboards on the Acer Aspire One netbooks, and other models, are larger, and if you have big hands, this may be an important consideration.

Solid Battery Life. Small and light as they are, netbooks are very convenient to carry around for mobile work, such as writing on the go. In the past year, when I’ve needed to write from a remote location such as a conference, I’ve frequently chosen to carry my Asus Eee PC netbook instead of my bulkier ThinkPad X40 sub-notebook. You can really shoot yourself in the foot, though, if you don’t get a netbook with strong battery life. This varies widely, and some of the netbooks have extraordinary battery life. This CNET story from a few months ago, for example, shows Acer Aspire One netbooks (very popular models) getting two hours, while the Asus EeePC 1000 got more than five hours.  Look for reviews on models that you are considering.

Wireless Broadband Options. Easy and affordable wireless broadband solutions are available for use with many netbooks, and even if you aren’t going to go this route to begin with, consider your options before you buy. Netbooks are defined by their limited connectivity, and there is such a thing as too limited. Many people just want to hang a netbook off the Wi-Fi network in their homes, but you may end up wanting to use ubiquitous wireless broadband plans if you fall in love with the light weight and convenient size of your netbook. Check your options up front.

Affordable External Storage. Some people shy away from netbooks altogether because they often have very limited local storage, but if this is a sticking point for you, consider good, available workarounds. I carry a USB thumb drive around with 64GB of capacity, and it works great with my Asus Eee PC. I mostly write on it, and the files I want to store and back up aren’t huge, so the thumb drive solves the storage problem for me. These are very cheap right now, too. Alternatively, you can choose from the many free, online storage sites, such as ADrive, which I wrote about here.  It gives you 50GB of capacity for free.