Opinion: Why Netbooks Are Doomed

My wife is a good girl. She goes to church, dresses conservatively, and monitors what comes out of our kids’ mouths like a Communist press censor. So the first inkling I had that the death of netbooks draws nigh was when she appeared in my office doorway one night, face and neck aglow like she’d just finished a tanning session in Hell. Her fists were clenched. Her lips moved, but her jaws didn’t.


“Get...” she whispered with absolute clarity, “...me...a @##$%ING notebook...that @##$%ING WORKS!


I thought about correcting her with an “Um, honey, it’s actually a netbook, not a notebook,” but 13 years of marital bliss have taught me when to remain silent and motionless.

This is our second netbook. We keep it on the ottoman in the living room. I’m going to withhold vendor names to protect the semi-innocent, mostly because I don’t want a flawed product category to impugn the reputation of otherwise good companies. Suffice it to say that between our units, other netbooks I’ve examined, and many discussions with various netbook-related vendors, both on and off the record, I feel like I’ve got a fair grasp on the current state of these devices, even without my wife’s sage input.


What was my wife’s beef? Well, in this particular instance it was the location of one or two keys. It seems that she would perpetually get 90+ percent through filling out a Web form or Web-mail message when she would accidentally hit these stray keys and erase every thing she’d just done, forcing her to start over. I’d remapped the most likely offenders, but this seemed to make no difference. Perhaps it was a problem specific to Firefox, which we had to run because Internet Explorer refused to work on this machine.


Mind you, this is the same woman who, upon getting her first netbook, declared, “It’s so cute! I could put it in my purse—I love it!”


I agreed with her. In fact, I agreed so much that I immediately commandeered it and took the little system out for pizza that night. Between the two of us, I did most of the eating, but the netbook demonstrated a very clear display and excellent battery life. This was the first of several dates between the netbook and me, and I confess my wife was getting a bit jealous. Alas, the first blush of interest was quickly tempered by reality.

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  • rantsky
    Lazarus Form Recovery. I never use firefox without it.
  • williamvw
    rantskyLazarus Form Recovery. I never use firefox without it.

    This is AWESOME! I never knew this existed. Thanks so much, rantsky.
  • Anonymous
    Is it really possible that someone who writes for the computer trade press can't get IE running on XP? This guy's right, he should get rid of the netbook. And his desktop and laptop out with it. He can probably get a typewriter down at the Goodwill pretty cheap.
  • Anonymous
    User error. And stop comparing $300 and less products with real computers. They are not comparable products.
  • liquidsnake718
    Donkey HotayIs it really possible that someone who writes for the computer trade press can't get IE running on XP? This guy's right, he should get rid of the netbook. And his desktop and laptop out with it. He can probably get a typewriter down at the Goodwill pretty cheap.


    I have a suggestion for you netbook hater... Stick to your blackberry, Iphone, cel phones, and notebooks that are huge. I bet your PC isnt even half of my build. Much less you probably speak for the 'layman' in terms of tech. You see, a true PC person would actually appreciate something that a netbook has given consumers and PC users alike, a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th option. I have One old P4 PC, A Gaming(decent still) PC, An old IBM(Yes still IBM t42) laptop, and My Netbook. I think my netbook is just fine and suits me well. Not to mention a PS3 and 2 celphones, one normal and one smart.

    So you speak from a few lousy experiances and seems to me you wouldnt have brought this up if only it was for your wifes behalf. Oh well I guess you are an industry 'hater'. I cant really explain your situation.

    I guess those modern typewriters will suit your needs more when you eat pizza next time or some 10+pound notebook you would like to lug around.
  • Anonymous
    Epic Fail.

    I still use my 701, however, I will concede that a 10-11 inch form factor is better both for screen real estate and keyboard. Anything bigger compromises weight, and the whole point of a 'netbook'

    The whole point of a 'netbook' - I don't like this term myself - is to have a small form factor terminal, that lets you do simple things and _NOT_ heavy lifting, being highly portable and easily networked.

    I do not know about you but >50% of my time is just email and web browsing, simple word processing/sheets or watching multimedia that my Eee handles just fine. The other portion is spent with long compile jobs or other batch jobs that I have to do on other machines.

    WHICH by the way I can supervise quite simply by ssh. I can even tunnel X if I want a fancy doodah GUI.

    A netbook as it stands (with probably about the same grunt as a PIII 600MHz laptop from yesteryear but with MORE RAM and FASTER/MORE STORAGE, runs COOLER and has usually BETTER BATTERY LIFE) is more than adequate for these needs.

    And... before you've gone and said it, I can run XP fine on these things too, if you must have your windoze. 2gigs RAM, RTF-internet and optimize it.

    Frankly, I am surprised an article like this (opinion as it may be) can appear on tomshardware. Shameful.
  • randomizer
    The HP Mininote actually has a VERY GOOD keyboard, much better than other netbooks. However, it has odd positioning of the touchpad buttons and the HDD is slow as hell. For typists who need low weight it's perfect though. I certainly agree with the other points about cramped designs though, but some people prefer that for portability's sake. Unfortunately you can't shrink your hands so if you want portability it can't come without compromises.

    And yes, the screen resolution is shocking for long periods of use, but I still use Visual Studio 2005 on my 1024x600 display.
  • michaelahess
    The touch screen I put in my dell mini makes it much easier to use than a normal network for "personal" use. The screen still limits a lot of work related stuff, but it's still very usable if I forget to bring my laptop along.

    Netbooks have their place, people are just too damn greedy to realize a $300 system won't work like an $800 one. User stupidity is no reason to rag on a good product.
  • El_Capitan
    Good article. I don't understand the purpose of netbooks. $350 for a portable device to mainly use Office Word?

    1. I'm no coffee, tea, or latte person who hangs out at the cafe to work. I'm usually hanging out while waiting for somebody. Maybe if I was writing something a netbook might be useful, but all my quality writing's done in my home office. My ideas, I can write with a pen on a napkin. I'll write when I get home.

    2. So the $300 also comes with web surfing. What, do you guys still use a brick for a cell phone?

    3. Entertainment? I can see myself waiting for the train with my earphones plugged into my netbook sticking out of my pocket - I mean manpurse - boy, I look so cool. Maybe that's why that cute chick is looking at me. Wait, I can watch movies that I downloaded on the hard drive, too! I can also play games - I am a Solitaire God!

    Ipod Touch or Zune HD > netbook.

    4. Honestly, someone give me a good reason to buy a $350 netbook, I need a good laugh.
  • radguy
    here is the thing summer of 08 I wanted an MSI wind u100 one of the first 10 inch netbooks had ok keyboard at the time and was better than anything else price 499 for 3 cell and 549 for the 6 cell on newegg. In Febuary I bought one for $320. Yes the atom sucks, the screen res sucks, the keyboard did sucks but it was 3lbs and easy to carry around and perfect for email and quick surfing the net but it was a 30 min device thats it.
    Last month I picked up an acer 1410 to replace my msi wind it was 449 and can now be found for 430. Its a little bigger but is a complete upgrade in spects in every way from todays so called netbooks. Everyone calls it an ultraportable but I look at the specs and its a small little cheap laptop with reduced spects under 500 dollars and its not a netbook I don't get it.
    A 1.4ghz core 2 solo
    2 gigs of ram
    11.6inch 1366x768
    All in all its still not perfect but it has become much more my primary mobile machine. It may not technically be a netbook but as time goes on little laptops ultraportables or whatever you want to call them are here to stay. And your experience on them will get a lot better as atoms get better and CULVs get cheaper. 11.6 Culvs in the 400-500 range is about to take off so yes maybe the fairwell of the lousy first gen netbooks is great but these small devices are here to stay.
  • Anonymous
    This guy is a complete idiot...

    Netbooks have a niche market. I'm a student and I have a desktop which is more powerful than anyone needs... but that doesn't do me any good when I need to take notes in class. Hence the purchase of an Asus Eee.

    Clearly netbooks are targetting very specific buyers... anyone trying to call them a cheap solution or trying to apply them in that way is a complete idiot.

    First and foremost they are;

    CHEAP -- yes... college students (like myself) gobble them up because who the hell wants to spend $1000 for a weak desktop replacement when my desktop is still going to be 3x more powerful...

    EFFECIENT -- I have class from 8-5 most days.. I need something that can last all day withou ta wall charger... hello netbooks... good luck doing that on ANYTHING else.

    The only downsides of netbooks are things he highlighted, slightly smaller keyboard. 95% of a normal keyboard is more than comfortable. The only time it would become ridiculous is if you're mentally handicapped and possess no motor skills at all. You just have to know what to look for... full size shift key, ctrl key and fnct keys in the right spots... stuff like that

    Of course performance is a downside... you're using a computer that's intended to last 8-10 hours on only a 6 cell battery... a battery of the same capacity would only last 1 hour in most laptops. If you're smart you won't load the operating system up with junk and it will handle things just fine.

    Overall, take it for face-value. Realize it's a lightweight, effecient, and under-performing machine. It is built with specific uses in mind. Take the price into consideration and realize that you have something that you'd literally have to spend $2,000 for to rival... "Ultra-portable" laptops... you know the super thin, super expensive things running core 2 duos... that still don't have the matching battery life.

    So, don't try and make them into something they're not... any person that bitches and moans about being able to play video games on their netbook is a complete idiot who doesn't understand the target market or function of the device.
  • butcher
    11.6" is hardly a netbook

    when netbooks first came out at 7" with linux i had a little chuckle to myself about how annoying they would be to use
  • butcher
    11.6" is hardly a netbook

    when netbooks first came out at 7" with linux i had a little chuckle to myself about how annoying they would be to use and how it would just be a fad

    netbooks have been slowly getting larger and larger and have pretty much just turned into a cheap alternative to the expensive 12" notebooks

    now i have to admit that small notebooks will always have their place but the true "netbook" will all but die off

    how many people still buy 7" linux netbooks any more?
  • vespaman
    I have not used the current netbooks, but I have since 2004 had a JVC MPXP-731, which is the same format (9" display, but a Celeron 1G and Centrino instead). Sure, the keyboard size is awkward, the screen a tad small as many has pointed out.
    But:- This computer has never left my side when travelling, be it vacations or business, which is very convenient.

    Maybe there is a difference between this computer, which cost about 2k € when I purchased it, but I think only in performance?

    It died this summer, and I am missing it. I replaced it with a 2€ Thinkpad, which is superb of course, but not at all as mobile, being 13". I don't think that I'd bring this new one if I go on a beach vacation this winter..

    Things that I would like to see in a nettop, is getting rid of the less used keys (windows keys, caps lock etc) (or moved above the normal typing area) and use the area for larger enter/alt/ctrl/backspace keys etc.
  • rdrummond
    Very good article, sound and fany to read.

    Using a Netbook is like wearing a T shirt 2 sizes smaller than your size.
    It may be cheap, you may even get used to it, but is unconfortable almost all time.

    In order to do productive work one should not be constantly annoyed by its surrounding
    environment and be able to focus on the work alone.

    If you add up to the small screen real state, to few pixels and applicattions that in such Netbook
    environment take up half of the available space with toolbars, your work object only uses half
    of the limited screen space!

    Some applications like program development studios may really need all those tools bars and
    are off limits of Netbooks ... But, others like Word takes so much space with useless buttons
    that completely defies its purpose on a Netbook.

    I agree with the article and belive the Netbooks as they are today will soon die.
    It will be replaced (or evolve) into a little larger screens and keybords (or touch screens without
    phisical KB, in which you type on the screen on a keyboard that shows on/off the screen on top
    of the text with variable transparency).
  • Luscious
    I think rather than bash netbooks you should have taken your bad-mouth !@#$%^ wife down to the !@#$%^ Best Buy/Fry's and have her try out the !@#$%^ keyboards on some !@#$%^ models before buying. True, very few netbooks have ergonomic keyboards, but from my experience the Toshiba NB205 and HP mini come pretty darn close.

    As for performance, they are indeed capable. Web browsing in full screen, 3G built-in, office, multimedia... If what you're trying to do won't work on a netbook, you can still get a 13" with power to spare. Netbooks are not meant to fill every need, but for many folks netbooks do make a good productivity tool.

    The truth is, you bought the wrong model, and now you're using your lack of research/knowledge to knock every netbook out there just because it didn't work out for you.

    It's lame biased opinions like yours that turn me off Tom's Guide.
  • JohnnyLucky
    Personally I found the article to be somewhat amusing.
  • Anonymous
    Oh come on. Nobody gets a netbook for gaming or multimedia-intensive operations. Use it for what it's designed for and it's perfect. I bought a Samsung NC-10 when it first came out and haven't regretted it for a second. It's thin, light, and has phenomenal battery life. I just rip a bunch of dvd's to the hard drive and use Daemon Tools to watch movies if I'm on a long trip. And the Atom has plenty of power, you just have to remember the old saying, "Use the right tool for the job." You wouldn't try to drag race with a Smart ForTwo, would you?
  • El_Capitan
    So, the only valid reason I've heard to get a $350 netbook is for taking notes in college. That's it? A college-ruled notebook and pen isn't good enough anymore? Plus, you're taking classes from 8-5 every day in college without a break? You can't charge your laptop in-between classes, I take it.

    If you're going to use a netbook only for that purpose, for $450 you can buy a laptop with a Dual Core Pentium with twice as much frequency, double the hard drive, 3 GB memory, a full-sized keyboard, a 15" - 16" screen, and a DVD drive. If you're only going to write notes on it (turn the monitor brightness down and WiFi search off), the battery will last 4-5 hours.

    Anyways, all I hear from netbook lovers is that you're stupid if you don't get the netbook. Netbooks are specified for target audiences. Who are these target audiences? Idiots?
  • Anonymous
    I've used an MSI Wind for a while. The absolutely, front-and-center, #1 problem with it is that the touchpad is so sensitive, I end up losing my typing position all the time; often wiping out large swaths of text in the process.

    The crunchy mouse button, the bad position of the control key, and the rest don't really matter as much. When I do web browsing, e-mail reading and PowerPoint, it's actually an acceptable machine. I think it helps that the first thing I did was wipe the Windows XP and install Windows 7 RTM (from my MSDN subscription).

    And the netbook actually manages to run Wizard 101 at playable frame rates!