EBay Caveats, Netbook Limits: Lessons From 2008

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I learned a lot in 2008: Never underestimate the American voter; never take basic financial security for granted; and never pay money to see Tom Cruise in an eye patch (or to see Tom Cruise, period). But the year was full of other, more practical epiphanies, too. Among them: Selling a laptop on eBay can be an invitation to fraud; netbooks lose their novelty rather quickly while the Apple iPhone's allure only grows; and more.

This week and next, I'll share some lessons learned from 2008 related to mobile technology.

It Can Be Scary to Sell a Laptop on EBay

It's extremely tempting to sell your old laptop on eBay, especially when money's tight. But be forewarned: As I learned from experience, the process can subject you to fraud, especially when you're trying to sell an expensive or highly desired laptop.

Too often, there's an assumption that it's primarily sellers on eBay who are trying to rip off buyers. However, throughout my years as an eBay buyer and seller, the only times I've experienced fraud are when I tried to sell my Sony Vaio ultraportable. In two cases, my auction closed when someone attempted to buy the laptop using hijacked eBay accounts (and credit cards). In one instance, I learned of the fraud only after I'd dropped off the laptop at the post office. Fortunately, after a mad dash back to the post office, I retrieved the Vaio before it had left the building.

If you're planning to sell a laptop or other high-ticket item on eBay, please read my reports (with tips for how to avoid being ripped off): "Selling Your Laptop on eBay" and "More eBay Cautionary Tales." You could avoid losing both your laptop and the money a fraudulent buyer promised to pay you.

Netbooks Quickly Lose Their Novelty...

These days there's a lot of interest in netbooks, those subcompact, stripped-down laptops available from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and other computer makers. I admit I've been taken by them, too, especially the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, which is the best I've tested so far.

But almost as quickly as my ardor for netbooks was aroused, it died. Though I appreciate the compactness of a netbook, it's difficult to get excited about what is, in essence, an intentionally underpowered Windows XP machine. (Some netbooks come with Linux or Windows Vista installed, but many have XP.)

Though Vista isn't the dream OS Microsoft touted it to be, using Windows XP again after I'd switched to Vista felt like a step backward. There were other things about the netbooks I tested that felt retrograde or cheap: the small screens (8.9 inches or 10.2 inches are the usual sizes); the all-too-brief battery life; the loud clacking sounds the mouse buttons make; and so on.

I'm not swearing off netbooks. If a dazzling yet affordable model arrives, I would probably buy it. But until then, I'll stick with my admittedly-too-expensive-but-oh-so-exquisite Apple MacBook Air ultraportable.

...But the iPhone 3G Doesn't

Like many Apple iPhone users, I've experienced dropped calls and sluggish-at-times Web browsing. Even so, six months into my life with an iPhone 3G, the smart phone continues to delight and astound me.

Here's one example: A few days ago, my partner Nick and I emerged from a movie theater in San Francisco. It was nearly 10 p.m. and we hadn't eaten dinner. But there were no restaurants in our immediate vicinity that we (a) both wanted to dine in and (b) were still open.

So I took out my iPhone, opened Google Maps, clicked to affix our location on the map, and searched for nearby restaurants. I found a Mexican cantina that, according to Google Maps, was a 5 minute walk down the street. I clicked the restaurant's name on the map. The iPhone 3G dialed the restaurant. The restaurant's host informed me dinner was served until 11 p.m., and off we went.

The above scenario is just one example of how I use the iPhone 3G every day. Having such a wealth of information available on the go makes life much easier, in ways big and small.

I realize the iPhone 3G isn't the only smart phone that can perform such feats of magic. But given its strengths as a music and video player, too--not to mention all the useful and fun apps available through the Apple App Store--the iPhone 3G is the only smart phone I'm interested in owning.

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Are You an Extreme Commuter?

Do you travel over 90 minutes each way most days to get to work? If so, I'd like to hear from you. Why is your commute so extreme? How do you stay productive and organized, given such a cumbersome commute? What digital tools, services, and accessories do you use to help you stay productive?

Please share your thoughts with me for use in a possible upcoming Mobile Computing blog post. And be sure to tell me your first and last name and your hometown.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Who Offers the Most Reliable Laptops and the Best Service? In our most recent reader survey on service and reliability, Apple was the only laptop maker to earn above average scores for "overall satisfaction with reliability" and "service experience." Browse the laptop chart to see how computer makers fared.

The Ideal Desktop Replacement: What should the ultimate desktop replacement laptop look like? We think it should merge some of the best tech from Apple, Intel, Lenovo, and others. For starters, we'd like our desktop replacement to offer twin sliding screens and dual HD-quality Webcams. Read Danny Allen in Geek Tech for his take on the ultimate laptop.

Laptops for Business Travelers: In "Great Laptops for the Savvy Business Traveler," we showcase the best laptops for savvy travelers, including the Lenovo ThinkPad X200, HP Compaq 6530b, and Sony VGN-Z598U.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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