Column: Netbooks - Netbooks or Tools?

by Uli Ries 11.24.2009

A lot has already been ascribed to them: From the revolution of the notebook market up to rescuing the entire PC market – Netbooks are the saviors of the IT branch. But why, actually? Are they convenience items for impulsive buyers? Or can they really be used astutely?

Savior of the IT branch?
Savior of the IT branch?

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Thanks, netbook: The PC branch would be writing even poorer figures without you than they do anyway, in the times of the global economic recession. You have really sold yourself fast. You're also really cheap in comparison to your bigger siblings. Your success is so great that vast alternatives are on the market in the meantime: Nokia has gotten involved, Microsoft is engaged everywhere anyway, Google wants to and Apple is, as always, to be mentioned when a new trend product is whizzing around. Merely the Linux fraction comes last to terms: The customer's reception was to low and the dusty Window XP was suddenly affordable for netbook manufacturers.

Could it be that you were simply taken along by customers, dear netbook, at a visit in the nearest "Ich-bin-doch-nicht-blöd-Geiz-ist-geil" Market? [N.B.: "Ich bin doch nicht blöd" (I'm not daft) and "Geiz ist geil" (cheap is cool) are the best known advertising slogans for two electronic markets in Germany.] And that the high retail figures have been created therewith?

I find it flabbergasting that many buy you without complaint, although you haven't got much power under your hood. Everyone only wanted higher-faster-further for years on end; the gigahertz ecstasy was romping and was accompanied by the gigabyte appetite right away. And suddenly speed junkies are satisfied with your comparatively weak Atom CPUs. Or weren't they? Did the rude sobering follow for many impulsive buyers as they were confronted with ugly jolts as they played an HD video on You Tube for the first time? That would mean that many would only buy you once, turn their back on you in disappointment and take a full-grown notebook the next time. There are enough bargains for them in the meantime, too.

I've been asking myself for a long time, what you really are: A tool or a toy?  A notebook substitute for frequent travelers and the savings-furious, or just something to tinker with for technical freaks? You're keyboard is rather small and typing longer texts isn't exactly effortless. Your displays are – typically – tiny and due to the high resolution despite that, only difficult to use for people with a sight impairment.

You are quite suitable as a luxury surf-board, and thanks to the integrated UMTS module in a wide range. But careful, iPhones, Blackberry Storm & Co are also capable of that. They are also favored for surfing in-between because a) they don't have to boot b) have pretty & practical touchscreens and c) they do really fit in everyone's pockets. You can only make use of your advantages of the keyboard and bigger display when your user is in the internet for a longer time and wants to write a text.

What should I do with you, as you're neither fish nor fowl? I bought you, but have barely used you. I rarely see you and your brothers outside. Do all of you live on the sofas, in the kitchens or in the bedrooms of your users' homes? Maybe other people who have bought one of your family members can answer these questions – best here in the (German) forum?

But one thing is for sure: You really don't deserve articles such as this one here. Because who would ever think of putting you through a benchmark, such as the 3DMark06 in order to determine your maximum battery life? Of course, the mentioned Mobile Mark 2007 in the article, or rather its info diagram, isn't the non-plus-ultra. But to put such a delicate flower like you to such a hardware intensive benchmark, like the 3DMark, borders on ignorance. I just can't believe that the quoted AMD marketing top act, Patrick Moorhead, seriously recommended 3DMark as an alternative.

It seems to me that there are authors out there that confront you with even less understanding than I do...

Eee PC & Co - Tool or Toy?
Eee PC & Co - Tool or Toy?
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Uli Ries, 2009-11-25 (Update: 2012-05-26)