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And they shrunk the laptop

And they shrunk the laptop
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First Published: Wed, Mar 18 2009. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Fri, May 08 2009. 03 35 PM IST
Looks and build
The verdict is still out there but Lenovo S10 and HP Mini 1109TU netbooks look the best in this bunch. Tilting the scale at around 1.2kg on an average, these are well-built and have a solid feel about them. The matte finish of Asus EEE PC 1002HA (and some Lenovo models) makes it less prone to messy fingerprint smudges.
Apart from the HP and Acer Aspire One D150 models, which have high-gloss displays, the rest feature non-reflective, matte-finished screens. With ClearType enabled, the screens of these models are capable of displaying eminently readable and sharp, crisp text even in small point sizes. There’s no doubt, however, that their 9- or 10-plus-inch screen size will feel constricting—especially to people who work with spreadsheets.
Processing power
All these devices are driven by the low power consuming Intel Atom N270 processor which is built for portable computing. There is no denying that you will miss the might of a Core2Duo that powers most laptops today. Screen size limitations aside, you can’t think of running real heavy-duty graphics or gaming applications on these modestly powered gadgets. However, since they run Windows XP and not the resource-hungry Vista, most netbooks fare well when it comes to meeting most of your day-to-day computational needs—email, word processing, Web browsing, basic number crunching and personal entertainment. Yes, these also boot up and shut down much faster. So if your requirements are limited, a netbook can serve as your primary and only computer too.
Also Read How They Stack Up (PDF)
Keyboard and trackpad
One big complaint most users have against netbooks is cramped keyboards. In this lot, the HP Mini, with its near-regular size keytops, stands out as the most comfortable and least restrictive.
But these “expansive” keys come at the cost of no dedicated PgUP/PgDn keys and trackpad buttons that are located on either side of the pad to save space, not at its base. It is the same with Acer’s trackpad buttons. Yet, when it comes to netbook trackpads, it is more a matter of getting used to them.
Except for the Asus, which has a near-average size trackpad, all the other netbooks here feature rather small trackpads.
Lenovo, in fact, even lacks a caps lock indicator light, managing instead with an on-screen pop-up.
Also See PDF
HP Mini, Samsung and Asus deliver the clearest and cleanest audio in this group of five devices. The HP and Samsung produce the fullest and least tinny sound.
Interestingly, HP’s speakers are placed ingeniously on the device’s lengthy hinge. The output of others is rather muted or sharp in comparison. If you want to watch a movie or listen to music, you may need to install external speakers or headphones for sound clarity.
To lug around a device that is less than half the weight of an average laptop, is able to perform the tasks most of us expect from a computer, and yet has better battery life than normal laptops is undoubtedly a major benefit that netbooks offer. Samsung, with its 5-hour-plus battery life (with always on, maximum performance and brightness), is by far the most impressive. Lenovo (when coupled with an extended battery) and Asus run for at least 4 hours on a single charge.
Windows XP and either Norton or McAfee antivirus (limited period) software are pre-loaded on these netbooks. Among the five, Asus is the only netbook here that comes literally “ready for work”: It is pre-loaded with Microsoft Works, the complete StarOffice applications suite, Skype, Windows Live and Adobe Reader. Acer has a 60-day trial version of Microsoft Office 2007 as well as Adobe Reader. Samsung comes only with the latter.
Ports and accessories
All five devices boast Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and in-built memory card readers (Acer has two of these). While Samsung, Acer and Asus tout three USB 2.0 ports, HP and Lenovo have only two. HP’s RJ-45 connector is neatly concealed and easy to miss. Samsung, Acer and Asus thoughtfully include a protective carrying sleeve/cover with their netbooks; HP and Lenovo do not.
The verdict
The HP Mini offers a winsome combo of an excellent keyboard, good sound and solid construction. However, its smaller hard disk (80GB), relatively stingier 3-cell lithium polymer battery (2.5 hours) and no VGA port may be a downer for many. If these last three parameters are not very crucial for you, the HP is worth considering. But if battery life is a vital factor in your netbook purchase decision, there is nothing better than Samsung.
If you want to scrimp on cost and need real value for money, go for Lenovo. It’s a solidly built, handsome netbook, and the only one offering an onsite warranty. All angles considered, Asus pips the other netbooks to the winning post as a complete package. In terms of looks, overall hardware specifications, accompanying software and general usability comfort, this bundle is the hardest to resist.
Sony’s new Cyber-shot HX1 ($500) has few features that might appeal even to semi-professionals. It takes up to 10 pictures per second of 9-megapixel each, and can take video at 1,080 pixel resolution. It also has a large 20X optical zoom lens and a 3-inch LCD. To improve shooting time, the HX1 has a mechanical shutter such as those found in digital single-lens reflex cameras. It also spruces up vacation photos with a 224-degree panoramic stitching feature that lets you take wide, semicircular horizon shots.
For those tight on space at home, Vizio has created the VSB210WS ($350) sound bar with wireless subwoofer. Its compact speaker combo features four 3-inch high-efficiency midbass drivers and two 3-quarter-inch-high performance tweeters. The subwoofer, at 15.5 pounds, is wireless and provides a bass response from 35-80 hertz. It also incorporates SRS Labs’ TruVolume, which helps prevent volume extremes when channel surfing or watching commercials. It analyses the signal and adjusts the volume.
Tired of squinting at tiny type on the screen all day? In Windows Vista, you can bump up the font size— right click on the desktop, select Personalize and click on “Adjust font size”. Once the “DPI Scaling” window comes up (probably after a Vista security alert), select the larger “120 DPI” setting and click OK. On a Mac OS X Leopard system, you can increase the size of type on desktop icons by going to the View menu to Show View Options. Mac users can zoom in on the screen by pressing the Option-Command-plus (+) keys; pressing Command-Option-minus (-) zooms out. Pressing the Command key and either the plus or minus keys increases the size of the text in certain Mac programmes.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Mar 18 2009. 01 15 AM IST