The Next Generation of Netbooks
The term netbook, coined by Intel, conveys little useful information about this category of machines. Sure, they all have wireless networking, but so does every other laptop. Originally what the term helped to identify was a class of small, ultralightweight, cheap-as-dirt mobile PCs. Netbooks are tiny--usually between half and two-thirds the size of a garden-variety laptop--and they typically weigh only about 2 pounds. With their cool, slim designs, they outclass some fancy ultraportables. And best of all, these diminutive laptops start at around $200 (in some cases $100, when purchased as part of a mobile broadband promotional deal).
But as the next generation of mini-notebooks emerges--with some examples illustrating this article--the distinguishing characteristics named above are in flux, spurring debate here at PC World. Is price still a decisive criterion? What about the size of the device, the operating system it runs, or the CPU under its hood? Ultimately all of these things factor into the category; but as new systems with an expanding array of features arrive, our definition of netbook will continue to evolve.
Then there's the blizzard factor: So many netbooks have reached market in the past year--and so many more are on the way--that selecting the right model can be a daunting task. There is no such thing as perfection in a category that is ultimately defined by compromises, but with a little grounding in the basic features of mini-notebooks, you can make an informed buying decision.
For additional information about netbooks, check out these articles:
"Top 5 Netbooks" [chart]
"Top 5 Netbooks in Photos" [slide show]
"Six New and Notable Netbooks" [slide show]