An informed netbook consumer should be aware that some netbooks are sold based on looks rather than specs.
For example, take the posting about the sale on the Asus Eee PC 1002HA that Brad Linder wrote about recently.
The Asus Eee PC 1002HA is sexy, the 1000HE that he compares it to, is not. The 1002HA has a brushed aluminum case, and what Linder called an "overall more professional looking design". In contrast, the 1000HE is a blob of black plastic (my term, not his), bigger and heavier than the 1002HA. If you want sexy, you'll pay about $430 for a machine that Linder says is lucky to get four hours of battery life. If you want specs, you'll pay $388 for a machine whose battery lasts 7 to 9 hours.
If you are shopping for a netbook for a child, I suggest going for Linux.
Like Apple's OS X, Linux is immune to almost all malicious software. But, it's better at self-updating itself than OS X. On a Linux machine, all the software gets automatically updated; on a Mac, Apple only updates their own software. Linux netbooks are much cheaper than Mac laptops and the small keyboards, a disadvantage for an adult, are an advantage to a child. Firefox and Open Office should get any child most of where they need or want to go.
Consumer Reports very much liked the Samsung NC10. I've used one and I agree that it is an excellent machine - among first generation 10 inch netbooks. But the market is ever-changing and Samsung has newer models that are particularly interesting.
The N120 has a full sized keyboard to go along with its 10 inch screen. It might be the first netbook you could comfortably write a term paper on (I haven't tried). If you find the 10 inch screen limiting, Samsung just introduced a netbook with a 12 inch screen, the NC20.
Twelve inch netbooks could very well change the entire laptop landscape in a big way. As a new ThinkPad X series user, I can attest that a 12 inch screen is a huge improvement over 10 inches.
At $550, the Samsung NC20 is expensive for a netbook, but is it really a netbook, or something new? In comparison, the cheapest X series ThinkPad is $1,169 (plus $79 if you want Windows XP). The cheapest 12 inch laptop from Fujitsu is the P8020 at $1,799.
According to DigiTimes Asus will release an Eee PC with an 11.6 inch screen later this month. Acer will soon offer the Aspire One 751, which has an 11.6 inch 1366 x 768 pixel display and a claimed battery life of 8 hours in the UK, for the equivalent of $521. Dell already offers the Mini 12 with a 12.1 inch 1280 x 800 screen.
Makes you wonder if any hard-copy magazine can possibly keep up with a field that changes so quickly.
This story, "Consumer Reports Misses the Mark on Netbooks" was originally published by Computerworld.