Netbooks are PCs just like your current desktop or laptop computer, only it is a lot smaller and lighter than you would normally expect. They have become very popular over the last two years since the ASUS Eee came onto the scene and made a laptop that was really small and very cheap (Less than £200!), and since then lots of other big names have got into the netbook scene such as the Samsung NC10, the MSI Wind and the Acer Aspire.
At first glance a netbook and a laptop look very similar and in essence they are as they are both portable PCs that you can take anywhere and do all your work or play on the go. When you finally get hold of one though, you will find that the netbook is much smaller than a laptop and you'll be surprised when you see that they are sometimes no bigger than a book. On average they have a screen size of about 10.2' and weigh less than 1.5kg, which is even small enough to comfortably fit into a handbag!
As the name suggests, netbooks are great tools for browsing the internet on. They are small and light and they all have good connectivity options such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so it shouldn't be a problem to connect to a network somewhere on the go. If you aren't near a network you can always buy a 3G dongle from a network provider such as Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile or 3. You can also easily do your normal day to day tasks such as checking emails, writing documents and listening to music.
Netbooks were designed to be as simple as possible to use and they generally function as any other PC or laptop would do. When the first netbook was released, the ASUS Eee, it was based on the Linux Lite platform which made it very easy for people to use the main netbook functionalities, but as demand grew for a more advanced operating system the trend moved towards using Windows XP, which a lot of people are more familiar with and prefer using.
In general there are no extra costs with netbooks except from your initial outlay. That said there are a few things to take into consideration. If you plan to use your netbook on the go a lot, then it would be worth investing in a 3G dongle and getting a mobile broadband package from a network provider such as Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile or 3. These tend to cost between £10 for a 1Gb download limit to £20 for 10GB a month, but when you are just browsing the internet these download limits should be more than adequate. Other things to consider are the operating system, where XP is quite expensive compared to the free OS Linux, and the size of battery, which will obviously cost more for a bigger one but will lead to more usage time between charging.
As the size of netbooks is so small, there are generally no restrictions as to where you use it. They are light enough to pull out on the train on the way to work, small enough to carry around the house and even sexy enough to get out in the park on a bright sunny day without being labelled a geek. If it is web browsing that you want to be doing, just find yourself a free network (coffee shops are great for these) or get mobile broadband and you are sorted.
Choosing a netbook can be a pretty daunting task as there are a lot out there and like all expensive purchases, it is always a good idea to get a well informed opinion as to what you should get. It is important to get one that suits your needs, for instance, if you need one that is cheap, the ASUS Eee could be your best bet, while if you need one that has great performance then the Samsung NC10 could be for you. But don't just take our word for it, here at Review Centre we have lots of netbook reviews of all the netbooks out there so why not take a look and see what other users have to say and if you already have one, then tell us what you think.
As netbooks are so small, light and cheap they do have to make some sacrifices as compared to regular laptops. Although they have adopted the super efficient laptop Intel Atom Processors, they still cannot match the speeds of your standard laptop, and because they are small they often have to sacrifice a gigabyte of RAM. This means that if you want to watch movies they will struggle and playing games is pretty much out of the question. Online Flash games should work and YouTube videos will be fine, but don't expect any High Definition movies just yet.
Things to consider when choosing a netbook vary depending on what you want from them. There are lots of different options to choose from and they all have an impact on performance and price. If you are looking for a computer with lots of space then you should go for a large hard drive (about 120GB), but if speed and energy efficiency are your goals then a Solid State Drive (SSD) is the answer, although these have considerably less storage space and are more expensive. Be sure to look and see if it has a webcam if you are going to use programs such as Skype or MSN messenger and the operating system is often a big consideration dependant on whether you want to use Windows XP at a cost or use a free but more basic OS (unless you are a pro Linux user). Also look out for the number of USB ports if you want to add a dongle or an external peripheral, whether it has a memory card slot for uploading digital camera photos and battery size, the larger meaning more time between charges.
As with your regular laptop, there are some specifications that are easy to get to grips with and others that can go straight over the head of most users, but here is a basic list of what you should look for on a netbook:
Screen size - 10.2' is the standard netbook screen size, although there are some smaller but they can be difficult to read properly.
Weight - 1.5Kg is the average weight of a Netbook. Anything more than this is starting to get too heavy to comfortably carry around with you.
Processor - Old models used the Intel Celerom M processor but this has made way for the considerably more powerful and energy efficient Intel Atom processor. This is basically your computer's brain; the higher the number, the faster it works.
RAM - Most netbooks will come with 1GB of RAM and it is generally not advisable to go any lower. To cut a long story short, RAM dictates how many programs you can have open at once and seeing as netbooks aren't anywhere as powerful as your gaming rig at home, it's best not to scrimp here.
Hard drive - There are two types of hard drives in netbooks, SSD and HDD. Hard Disk Drives are your traditional drives and they are cheap and spacious, but the cost is that they draw more energy and are slower so you can expect to see your battery drain quicker. Solid State Drives are a lot smaller and more expensive but are considerably more energy efficient. If you want to store a lot of images and music on your netbook or price is a major factor it's best to go for the HDD, but for most other uses the SSD will be fine.
OS - The OS, or Operating System is the main program that you use to run you netbook. Most people will be familiar with Windows XP, which is often installed but it does add a significant amount to the cost of your computer. The other alternative is an Ubuntu Netbook, which is based on the Linux platform. This is free so it adds no extra cost but you are more restricted with the limited netbook friendly version, and the regular version can be a bit technical for the average user. You won't be able to find a netbook with Windows Vista on yet because the demand on computer resources Vista requires is much greater than any netbook can provide. This may change when Windows 7 is released but until then it's XP for the Windows fan.
Battery size - Batteries generally come in three sizes, 3-,6- and 9-cell lithium ion batteries, and on average these will give you about 3, 5 and 8 hours usage time respectively. The bigger the cell size, the bigger the battery and this will have an effect on the overall size and weight of the netbook so it's better to go for a 3- or 6-cell battery unless you expect long distances between you and a power point.