Small laptops vs. netbooks

By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, January 28, 2009 At 11:51 AM

Michael (who took a second day off) and I spent some time at Microcenter yesterday afternoon. We went there to get a portable hard drive for picture storage, and while we were there I browsed their small laptops and mini netbooks. And this time I even got some pictures!

A while back I posted on the feasibility of mini netbooks for writers. I hadn't seen the Dell version yet, so that wasn't in my post last time. Here it is:

Dell Mini (with my hand on the keyboard for size comparison)The first thing I noticed about the Dell Inspirion Mini 9 is that it is ridiculously small and light — comparable with the smallest Asus. Dell tried to compensate with larger keys (the similar to the smooth keyboard that I didn't like on the HP version in my other post), but it is still difficult to type on this netbook. I think Dell has a slightly larger netbook now, but I haven't seen that one yet.

Personally, if I were going to get a computer this small, I would go for one of the less expensive ones. The Dell costs about $450, and you can get the Asus and Acer models for at least $100 less.

LenovoI also took a look at several regular sized computers. This Lenovo IdeaPad really caught my eye, because it weighed only about 2 ½ pounds, because it was a widescreen, and because it was really pretty (the top isn't just red, but has a pretty pattern etched into it). The drawbacks are the price (ouch!), the smooth keyboard, Windows Vista, and the external CD/DVD drive.

LenovoUnfortunately, the smooth keyboard isn't just a drawback — it's a dealbreaker. Since I spend the majority of my time on the keyboard, it has to be one I am comfortable using. I personally like having the key definition (and the clicky feeling) of the traditional keyboard, so that I can tell better by touch where I'm at on the keyboard. However, while typing on the computers today I discovered another problem with the smooth keyboard: Since they have straight up-and-down edges, your fingers can trip up quite easily when going from a key you've just pressed to a neighboring key you plan to press next.

Lenovo ThinkPad laptop with docking stationI also looked at another Lenovo, a ThinkPad. This one had some really great characteristics. First of all, it had a docking station, where the DVD drive was at. Since I rarely ever need that drive when I'm out and about, this seemed like a good tradeoff to me for a small, light computer.

But the best feature of the ThinkPad was that the battery lasted for upwards of 8 hours. I mean, good grief! Can you imagine how heavenly that would be for a writer — especially a writer who likes to work at coffee shops, bookstores, and the barn at every chance I get??!!

The ThinkPad also had Windows XP, which I really like, even though it fairly screams "old model!" I've heard of a lot of peripheral compatibility problems with Windows Vista, and I just don't feel like dealing with that. The laptop also has a traditional keyboard — no fancy styling. Yay!

Unfortunately, the ThinkPad does have some drawbacks too, the biggest one being that it doesn't have a widescreen. I just don't know if I could deal with that after using a widescreen computer for more than three years! It's such a shame because honestly, if the ThinkPad had a widescreen and was that small and had an 8-hour battery, I probably would have gone home with a new computer today.

ToshibaAfter these computers, the next smallest was a discontinued Toshiba Portege with a 12-inch widescreen. There was no weight rating on this one, but with the battery I'd estimate it to end up being around 4 pounds, which is heavier than I am looking for. (My current computer weighs just over 3 pounds, and I am spoiled!) This laptop also comes with Vista, so I dismissed it as not being worth considering.

Well, if you have been following my netbooks reviews, here are some more things for you to think about. I'll blog in a future post about why I've been doing this research, and what I think I've decided to do.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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