Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christmas 2010 10.1" Netbook Buyer's Guide

Netbooks have two of the most desirable attributes in a mobile device: they are light and have a long battery life. As a bonus, they are inexpensive. The early netbooks came in a variety of sizes and configurations including some with small SSD drives. One year after their release, the netbook design settled down to a basic configuration of a 10.1" 1024 x 600 (WSVGA) pixel resolution screen, powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, outfitted with 1GB of RAM and carried a 80GB to 160GB hard drive for storage. Equipped with 6-cell batteries, these small computers weighed in at a light 2.6 to 3.2 lbs., which brought as much as 9 hours of battery life. The real penalty for having a netbook was having keyboards which were 89% to 92% of the size of a full sized laptop and tiny touchpads.

Toshiba Mini NB305

In a world of generic netbooks, the Toshiba Mini NB205 and its successor, the NB305, have earned Editor's Choice award after award. With several notebooks with a battery life of over eight hours, the Toshiba NB205's full sized metal island keyboard and largest in class 3.1 x 1.6 inch touchpad makes it a cut above the rest. With a sleeker body and better designed battery placement, the Toshiba Mini NB305 took over from where its sibling left off.

In the Philippines, the Toshiba Mini NB205 did not really take off. Brought into the country with a 3-cell battery rather than a 6-cell battery and at a price of Php29,990.00, it had a hard time competing against other netbooks which cost 30% less and had double the battery life. The current Toshiba Mini NB305 offered for sale here since the first quarter of 2010 was offered at a more competitive price of Php25,990 and was outfitted with a 6-cell battery. Although it did cost 10% to 20% more than its competitors. Still, it was the netbook I recommended to friends.

The generic netbook market has gotten more interesting as of late, and in this new field, is the Toshiba Mini NB305 still king?

Toshiba Mini NB305. The Toshiba Mini NB305 currently retails at Php25,990. It is powered by a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N455 Processor with 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and sold with Windows 7 Starter installed.  The Toshiba Mini NB305's dimensions are 10.5 x 7.6 x 1.2 inches and it weighs in at 2.8 lbs. 

Its keyboard and touchpad are still best in class, but at its premium price, it is getting harder to justify this recommendation. Let's see what the competition has to offer.

1. More grunt less cash - Asus Eee PC 1005PEM. The Asus Eee PC 1005PEM released last September 2010 priced at Php21,995 is almost 4K cheaper than the Toshiba Mini NB305. Despite the lower price, the Asus Eee PC 1005PEM sports the new Intel Atom N550 dual core processor which provides 20% more power than the N455 unit found in the Toshiba and still provide 8 hours of battery life. The Asus Eee PC 1005PEM also comes with a larger 250GB hard drive. At 10.3 x 7.1 x 1.4 inches and 2.8 lbs it is approximately the same size and weight as the Toshiba.

Asus Eee PC 1005PEM

Another advantage, though this is subjective, is that the Asus Eee PC 1005PEM comes with a matte screen normally found in business notebooks. This makes it a lot easier to read outdoors.  

Ergonomics is still not as good as the Toshiba Mini NB305. The new chiclet keyboard is close to that of the Toshiba, but not quite as good. Although the 2.5 x 1.5 inch touchpad found in previous 1005 models, has grown to 3.0 x 1.6 inch, which substantially closes the gap in ergonomics. With more power under the hood, more storage and a lower price, the Asus Eee PC 1005PEM is a better option at the present time.

2. Thinner and lighter - Acer Aspire AOD255. The Acer Aspire AOD255 has the same specifications as the Asus Eee PC 1005PEM and the same battery life. It has one advantage over its Asus rival-- It is smaller and lighter. At 10.17 x 7.28 x 0.95 inches it is smaller and thinner than the 10.3 x 7.1 x 1.4 inch Asus Eee PC 1005PEM. The Acer Aspire AOD255 tips the scale at 2.4 lbs., which is 0.4 lbs. less than the Asus.

Acer Aspire AOD255

The Acer Aspire AOD255 retails for Php23,900, almost 2K more than the Asus. We think the lighter weight and slimmer case which slides easier to drop into a suitcase or handbag may be worth the additional 2K.

3. High Resolution - Samsung NF310. If you are going to spend over 25K on a netbook, the Samsung NF310 is the one to get. The Samsung NF310 is also powered by the same Dual Core Atom N550 found in the Asus and Acer models we just looked at. What justifies its higher Php25,995 price is that it has 2GB of RAM, double the amount of RAM as compared to the Toshiba, Acer and Asus and a larger 320GB hard drive. It also comes with a high resolution 1366 x 768 pixel resolution screen. Very few netbooks offer this feature. The Samsung NF310's keyboard and touchpad are fine. While a bit bigger than the others, it still weighs in at just 2.8 lbs. There really is nothing wrong with the Samsung NF310.

Samsung NF310

Despite being 4K more than the Asus, this is another good buy option. The additional costs are justified by the higher specifications. The new "Shark" design is something that takes getting used to though. 

4. Best Budget Netbook - There is nothing special about eMachines' eMD350. It is pretty much an Acer 523H netbook with a matte finish case. While visually less pleasing, the glossy case of the Acer 435H is actually more practical since it is less resistant to fingerprints. It is run by a single core N450 Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. These were the specifications of a top of the line netbook a year ago.

The only thing to be excited about is the price*: Php11,990 with Linux installed and Php13,990 with Windows 7 Starter. There are other netbooks for sale at this price range, but the eMachines eMD350 is the best designed and more importantly comes with a decent 6-cell (4400 mAH) battery, unlike most its low cost competitors, with a 3-cell battery.

*Prices are for Christmas 2010: The regular price for the eMD350 is Php2,000 higher.

Verdict. Depending on your priorities, all the netbooks we looked at here are good choices. Ergonomically we still like the Toshiba Mini NB305, but it is not a value for money option. More importantly, it does not have the new Dual Core Atom processor. Netbooks are a bit slow, the 20% increase in speed is much welcomed.

Bottom line, the Asus Eee PC 1005PEM at Php21,995 is a great deal. If you want the big dog  in the bunch, then go for the Samsung NF310. If instead the smallest and the lightest appeals to you, we recommend the Acer Aspire AOD255. On a tight budget, eMachines eMD350 isn't as much of a compromise as you might think. Bang for the buck, it cannot be beat.

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