Digital Gear: Essential Accessories for Netbooks

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Residual effects of the 2008 netbook craze are now popping up, with users complaining of cramped keyboards, missing DVD drives and limited functionality. Those are just some of trade-offs for a laptop that is dirt cheap and small in size. Some small accessories designed with netbooks in mind can ease those discomforts. The devices, which include portable keyboards, external storage devices and DVD drives, are small and draw less power. However, some devices can be pricey, so watch your wallet.

Apricorn's external hard drive

It's easy to dig a netbook's small size, but the limited storage capacities could pose a problem. Apricorn's Aegis Mini external portable hard drive offers good storage in a small size. The 1.8-inch portable drive is the size of a deck of cards and offers 240GB of storage. The device is light at about 3.7 ounces (104 grams) and connects to a netbook via a USB port. The drive'"shock-mount" case uses material similar to protect laptops from falls.

The drive draws power from laptops, and a shorter cable helps preserve battery life, said Mike McCandless, vice president of sales and marketing at Apricorn.

The device is pricey at $269, which is close to starting prices of some netbooks. But the light device can stretch netbook battery life, McCandless said. The device is also for mainstream laptops and works with Windows and Mac OS operating systems.

External Blu-ray/DVD drives

Netbooks don't usually include DVD or other optical drives, but efforts are under way by vendors like Asus to fill that void. Meanwhile, NUI Digital sells the external $229 Slim BD Combo Drive EBC100 that can burn DVDs and play Blu-ray movies. Also offered is the NU Slim USB External SuperMulti Drive DVD Burner ESW860 through for $69.99, which burns and records DVDs and CDs. The drives pull power and connect to a laptop via USB, and a power adaptor can be purchased separately. Some netbook makers also sell external DVD accessories through their Web sites.

Locks, power adapters and sleeves

Kensington has rolled out accessories designed for netbooks. The $49.99 Power Adapter for Netbooks can power up netbooks from top vendors including Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, MSI and Samsung. Also on offer from Kensington is a $24.99 Security Lock for netbooks, and a $14.99 Reversible Sleeve with a neoprene cushion for netbooks with 7-inch to 9-inch screens.

Folding keyboards

Touch typists like me hate cramped netbook keyboards, also lovingly called "chiclet" keyboards. I'm thinking of an alternative in folding keyboards that are small and easy to carry. The $50 Folding USB Keyboard from TabletKiosk is small and light and folds to around half its size, making it suitable for travel. However, it doesn't have the function keys -- like F1 or F2 -- which are important for features like help in software.

A more substantial folding keyboard is the Matias Folding Keyboard. It weighs 433 grams and is bigger than the TabletKiosk keyboard, but it folds into half and offers all keys. The keyboard is pricey at $69.95, but it could be a decent investment for touch typists who plan to travel a lot with their netbooks.

The keyboards connect to PCs via USB ports. The Matias keyboard is also available in a Bluetooth version for wireless connectivity to a PC.

Turn netbooks into TVs

TV seems to be the next big frontier in netbook development. Dell has built a TV tuner card to the Mini 10 for users to watch TV on the go. An external alternative is Pinnacle Systems' PCTV HD Pro Stick, a USB stick that plays TV programs from standard or high-definition signals. It comes with the antenna to receive on-air HD signals, and a TV cable can be plugged directly into the stick. It also comes with a small remote control.

Software bundled with the TV stick can turn a netbook into a digital video recorder, allowing users to record, stop or replay programs. However, that function requires a minimum of 20GB of storage space, which is asking for a lot out of tiny netbooks. Pricing for the product wasn't available on Pinnacle's Web site, but Google Shopping listed it starting at $66.

Add USB hubs

Have you got too many external accessories and not enough USB ports to connect them to a netbook? Belkin's inexpensive 4-Port Ultra Mini Hub converts a single USB port into 4 separate ports. At $15, the device fits into the pocket, and could be handy for general use in laptops and desktops. It is available on Belkin's Web site.

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