Netbooks are starting to look like ultraportable laptops, while some ultraportables are beginning to resemble netbooks. In a tight economy, the question arises: Should you keep costs low by buying an inexpensive netbook, or spend a few hundred dollars more to get a full-featured lightweight laptop?
Here's a quick rundown of three recent product introductions, along with some guidance on which direction to take--laptop or netbook?
But First, the Back Story
A netbook is a small portable computer, usually with a screen between 7 and 10 inches in size, compared to the 12-inch to 17-inch screens on most laptops.
Netbooks are often just a bit bigger than a standard hardcover books, but noticeably smaller than most laptops. A netbook keyboard is often 92 percent the size of a standard laptop keyboard.
These mini notebooks aren't meant to be a primary computer, the way a laptop can be. They run on less powerful processors than laptops; lack an internal optical drive; and are primarily designed with Web browsing, e-mail, and basic office productivity tasks in mind.
Most netbooks currently run on Windows XP, though some netbooks use versions of Linux and a few insist on booting from Windows Vista. (Vista isn't recommended for netbooks, given that netbooks usually have anemic processors).
In general, netbooks typically cost $250 to $500 and up, while most laptops begin around $400 to 500.
HP Pavilion dv2: Ultraportable or Netbook?
Hewlett-Packard's new HP Pavilion DV2 blurs the lines between netbook and ultraportable more than most portable computers.
For $749, you get a 3.8-pound ultraportable with a 12.1-inch display, a 320GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a discrete ATI Radeon HD 3410 graphics processor with 512MB of video memory. That's just $120 more than a high-end HP Mini 2140 netbook, which can't compare to the dv2's more robust specs.
The Samsung NC20, which wasn't available in the U.S. as of this writing, is big for a netbook. It's got a 12.1-inch screen, and the keyboard is nearly full sized. It will sell for about $550 in the U.S., a little high for the average netbook. The Korean version that we tested had a 120GB hard drive, slightly under 1GB of memory, a 1.3-GHz VIA Nano U2250 processor, and an integrated graphics processor (S3 VIA Chrome9 HC3).