Mini-Me, the netbook experience

LAS VEGAS — Before Las Vegas and CES I’d onlyheard of netbooks, and at this moment, I’m typing away on one: specifically theSamsung N210 Pearl, having picked one up at a local Las Vegas Best Buy at the closeof CES. But getting one proved not onlyconfusing, but frustrating. Remember that all netbooks are not the same. Let mesave you that trouble.

If you’re not familiar with netbooksor not sure if this is for you, here’s the main concept:

For travellers, whether betweencontinents, cities, sitting on a bus or train, in a restaurant (even with lowlighting), at work or school and home, the netbook is the ultimate inconvenience. It is very much a scaled down laptop (notebook) but identical inlook and basic functions. Its weight is generally between 1.2 and 3lbs., sobesides being very light, it slips into schoolbags, knapsacks, and even yourpurse (while in a sleeve). Its mainadvantages are portability and ease of use, even in cramped spaces.Furthermore, it’s affordable for students and as an additional tool for ownersof laptops or desktops. I wish I’d had it at the conference – blogging on itwould have been a real convenience.

The other great features onthis unit and others include a battery life of up to 11 hrs or more, built inwebcam, WiFI, Bluetooth, a VGA port and 3 USB 2.0 ports. As a student that battery life is criticalwhen I’m stuck at school, often from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and then canstill hang out a Second Cup with friends while doing homework. Travellers willappreciate that ability more so especially with heightened security at airportscreating not only delays, cancelled flights and lengthy lines for a secondsecurity screening but when you inevitably end up missing your flight the waitcan be made less painful. Some 70 people missed our connecting flight on theway to CES (we got in with 20 seconds to spare. The luggage was not so lucky). And I’ve heard my Mother mention morethan once the “almost” fist fights over the rare electrical outlets in manyairports.

A feature that I’ve seen onlyon my best friend’s Mac allows me to use my touch pad to increase my viewingsize of a document with my two fingers. My notebook doesn’t do it and ishelpful when editing in lower light.

Surprisingly, some netbooks Isaw even have a slot for SD cards which means easy insertion of photos andvideo. And on that note….

The screen size didn’t presentany issues. The video card provides very comfortable viewing for typingdocuments or checking messages on the net. While mine is 10.1”, some offer even slightly larger screen sizes (12”).

There is definitely a downside tonetbooks. Among them is the memory (1GB) which limits applications thatrecommend 1GB or betterwith the” or better” a big hint. TheIntel Atom processor, which is not your high-end premium chip, also means thatbetween the two, using intensive applications, something like a multimediadevelopment software, may be too time consuming between tweaking a page andseeing what the end product looks like. That would also tie into the issue of graphics, which while good for thebasics, is limited.

Note to guys. No gamingallowed. This is not your World of Warcraft smack down device.

Bigger No No!

Well, if it’s tiny it has tohave some limitations and this one does bother me: NO DVD drive. Ouch! That means using an external device to beable to watch movies or listening to music (not logical). Option: download(meaning paying to play, like ITunes or Netflix) or loading each movie onto thehard drive one by one (annoying).

But more confusion was yet tocome.

At Best Buy they all came withWindows Starter, a product I hadn’t even heard of, as Microsoft’s web site explainedit’s a U.S. version for netbooks only, and is supposed to speed up the Windows7 experience. The sales person advisedme that I had to upgrade the Starter version or risk not running Office 2007.That simply isn’t true. They practically scare you into believing that youcan’t use the machine until you do so. Luckily I had a more experiencedtechnical person with me and we left the store, but not after actually runningthe installation program so that we were sure it was in good working order.Smart move.

Back at the hotel it has beenworking for almost 24 hours and I love the keyboard design and look. Yes, girlsgo for looks too: just ask the fashion industry. And some vendors (see blog“Designer Tech”) even allow you to design and print your own sleeve cover. This is not unexpected and goes along withthe concept of a coffee mug my friend Marley had done for me with our pictureson it for my birthday. Obviously technology has been behind a whole newindustry of ‘personalized” items that even a college student can afford.

Netbooks also had another keytarget market, the web surfer. Case in point is my cousin who asked me duringthe holidays if a netbook would be a good idea. Michael really wanted to sit infront of the TV with his wife and surf sites but not even check e-mail (he isn’teven on Facebook). It also would travel with them to the cottage and to friends’places where hooking up locally to a network would be extremely easy and,albeit clumsily, they could load their music and videos. In that case, the netbook was absolutely a greatchoice. Even when he did get more active this device was still going to be morethan sufficient. That made me realize that for the older generation this wasalso a smart option. The weight of themachine alone would be a plus and surfing the web and catching up on familyphotos would be simple and the compact size and design would save on space forpeople in small apartments.

On a final note, so much ofwhat we do is going into the cloud, having applications and data that sit onand are accessible from the internet rather than on your desktop or other devicemeans that this little piece of hardware will probably continue its upward waveof popularity for some time to come.

And wait unil Lenovo’s Idea U1hybrid becomes out in the early second half of 2010. It’s neither a laptop,netbook or notebook but it certainly is a whole lot more, very lightweight andmay push the business user (not so fast on the consumer, in my opinion) to drop down the credit card for what will beeven a far more exciting experience.

This blog was written by Genevieve L’Esperance,a 17-year visiting CES for the first time. Make sure to check out her blogs continuing next week.

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