Sep 5 2011 - Netbooks (also called subnotebooks or mini-laptops) have lost there luster to the new tablets but they still serve a purpose for many. They make excellent secondary computers for those who travel but need to stay connected or as system for those just starting out and needing to learn. Performance between them is very similar because they share many of the same base features. Because of this, I look at how certain netbooks are best suited to certain tasks or features that consumers might be looking for. Here are my various selections for the best current netbooks for the various tasks or features.
Right around $300 is where the average budget class netbook is priced. Gateway's LT2805u typically retails for $270 but it can be found for under $250 making it one of the most affordable around. Surprisingly, it doesn't sacrifice performance by using older parts as it comes with the new Intel Atom N570 dual core processor that gives it a slight edge in performance. It also has some very nice audio for such as small system. The downside is the battery pack is a smaller 3-cell that offers less than half the running time of many models. Still, pretty much everything else is typical including 1GB DDR3 memory, 250GB hard drive, 10.1-inch screen, 802.11b/g/n wireless and Windows 7 Starter. A good alternative for a low cost netbook with long battery life is the HP Mini 1103 priced just under $300.
Battery life in netbooks has been able to be stretched out to 10 hours but the average has slowly been going downward due to shrinking batteries and more power demanding components. HP's Mini 1103 does a good job of providing a long overall running time with its 6-cell 55WHr battery pack. Video playback achieves over seven hours making more typical usage to get over eight hours pretty easily. Performance is a bit modest with an Atom N455 single core processor but it is made up somewhat by a 7200rpm speed 250GB hard drive. Other nice features include Bluetooth support and an anti-glare coated display. All of this for a price just under $300. An alternative with close battery life but better performance is the ASUS Eee PC 1015 and since it is slightly older can be found for under $300.
Netbooks are extremely compact which means they have limited space for keyboards. Those looking to use them for extended periods of time will want to look carefully at the keyboard and trackpad design. Toshiba's NB305 offers one of the best overall keyboards with spacious layout with its isolated key design. This comfort does come with a higher price of $350. The trackpad is also one of the larger on the market making it much easier to use. It uses the dual-core Atom N550 processor and GMA 3150 but has more mediocre battery life of under six hours of streaming video. Those looking for a more affordable option with a nice keyboard is the ASUS Eee PC 1015 but it does have some smaller keys which make it not as nice.
One of the biggest problems with netbooks is the incredibly small displays with limited resolution. There are a number of options now with larger displays including the very affordable Acer Aspire One 733-BZ454. It features an 11.6-inch display with a high 1366x768 resolution that gives it a much less cramped feeling for applications. Graphics are also greatly improved over traditional netbooks thanks to the AMD Fusion C-50 processor that includes an AMD Radeon HD 6250 graphics making it suitable for use with HD video. With 2GB of memory and Windows 7 Home Premium, it will feel more like a laptop even if the performance is more on par with Atom netbooks. Pricing is also great between $300 and $330. For those wanting a bit larger screen, the ASUS Eee PC 1215B-MU17 uses a 12-inch display but has just 1GB RAM.
Business travelers are looking for a solid system that has a good all around performance and features. The HP Mini 5103 is very different from the rest of the netbooks on the market thanks to its metal alloy exterior that makes it one of the most durable on the market. Add to this a very large and comfortable keyboard and some of the best networking features on the market and this is something that any business traveler who wants a small system will definitely want. Custom options from HP also allow higher resolution display, dual core processor, touchscreens and built-in WWAN adapter. Prices start around $425 but rise quickly with many of the custom options. Those looking for a more affordable business class netbook can check out the HP Mini 1103 that is priced around $300 but dops many of the best features of the 5103.