The Netbook craze has died down a bit, but that’s hardly surprising. Netbooks were something of a revelation, and when they first started to become available their popularity exploded. This is now starting to level out – having taken about 20% of the mobile PC market – and they are also starting to mature significantly.
Make no mistake. Netbooks are still very anemic machines in terms of overall processor power. However, Netbooks have a lot of things going for them. The displays, for example, are surprisingly good – you’ll often find that your netbook’s display has viewing angles that are as good or better than a $800 dollar laptop. The keyboards and trackpads have grown, making frequent use more pleasurable, and battery life has swelled to an average of around seven hours.
While today’s netbooks are the best ever made, there are still some clear winners and losers. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the five best netbooks you can purchase today.
HP Mini 5102
Most netbooks are built for consumers. They’re made to be good looking, but not hugely durable. The HP Mini 5102, however, is different. If you navigate HP’s home website you will find that the HP Mini 5102 can’t be found. That is because the Mini 5102 is built with business users in mind, so you’ll only find it available on HP’s business website.
In the world of mobile PCs, the word “business” actually translates to boring aesthetics with excellent build quality. The HP Mini 5102 is no different. You can have it any color you’d like so long as it is black, and the netbook has a generally tough, industrial look to its design.
The tough appearance is no joke. The Mini 5102 has a anodized aluminum top and a magnesium alloy bottom, making it much more robust than your run-of-the-mill netbook. However, the Mini 5102 still weighs under three pounds with the six cell battery.
You’ll probably want the six cell because you can actually reach around ten hours of battery life with the six cell installed. That is amazing battery life even for a netbook. The speakers are also much better than you’ll usually find in a machine of this size. The only downside is the price, which starts at around $415 – a lot for a netbook. Still those who demand a premium product even when buying a netbook will find the HP Mini 5102 a good choice.
ASUS Eee PC 1005PE
ASUS has long been the king when it comes to netbooks. They offer a huge variety of products across a broad range of prices and capabilities. Right smack in the middle of ASUS’s dizzying array of products you’ll find the Eee PC 1005PE, a mid-range netbook which has a lot going for it.
The battery life of the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE is exceptional. Most reviews are able to achieve just over ten hours of battery life with the six cell battery, which is well above average. The six cell battery is also essentially standard, which is in contrast to some other netbooks which make a six cell battery available, but only on the most expensive models. The Eee PC 1005PE also features an impressive keyboard.
Besides the battery life, there is nothing surprising about the Eee PC 1005PE. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is an extremely well rounded netbook, and a good choice for anyone who wants great battery life but otherwise isn’t picky about particular features. The price of the Eee PC 1005PE also makes it easy to consider, as most models are between $340 and $360.
Toshiba Mini NB305-N410
Toshiba’s approach to netbook design has always been admirable. While most manufacturers have ten or twenty models, Toshiba just has two. The NB305-N410 is the more expensive and better built variant, and it is one knock-out netbook.
The most attractive features of the NB305-N410 are the keyboard and the trackpad. Netbooks usually have somewhat cramped keyboards and trackpads simply because they are small devices. Toshiba has managed to conquer this problem by delivering a well-space edge-to-edge keyboard which makes the NB305-N410 feel more like a 12″ or 13″ laptop. The same goes for the trackpad, which is huge by netbook standards. If you do a great deal of typing (like me) you’ll find that the Toshiba Mini N305-N410 is a solid choice as one of the best netbooks on the market.
The NB305-N410 is no slouch in other areas, either. Battery life is around eight hours, which is above average, and performance is on par with other netbooks of around the same price. Speaking of which, the Toshiba Mini NB305-N410 will usually set you back around $325, making this netbook a good value as well.
HP Mini 311
The HP Mini 311 is a netbook on steroids. While every other netbook found in this guide has a display size of 10.1 inches, the HP Mini 311 has a display size of 11.6 inches. This makes it large for a netbook, but while the larger size might make it a tad bit more difficult to fit into a bag, this is still a slim and trim machine which is substantially lighter and more portable than your typical laptop.
The hardware of the HP Mini 311 is also a bit more powerful than what you’d normally expect. The Mini 311 still uses an Atom processor, but it is backed up by Nvidia’s ION platform, which includes a variant of Nvidia’s 9400M integrated graphics. This gives the Mini 311 the chops required to play HD video and some 3D games. The Mini 311 even includes an HDMI port so that you can display video on an external display such as a HDTV.
The extra power does hurt battery life, so you can expect about five hours away from a power socket. Depending on your needs, this is a trade-off which may be very smart to make. The HP Mini 311 isn’t too expensive, either, as the base model will set you back around $400.
Lenovo Thinkpad X100e
Lenovo’s Thinkpad line of laptops has always been known as something of a premium brand, but everyone was a bit surprised when Lenovo announced a Thinkpad branded netbook. The resulting product has, however, proven to be a nice addition to the Thinkpad line, and a good choice for those who need a netbook with more power than battery life.
The X100e is very different from most other netbooks. It features an 11.6 inch display, like the HP Mini 311, but unlike every other netbook in this guide the X100e uses an AMD processor instead of the Intel Atom. This results in a clear trade-off. The X100e is much quicker than most netbooks in processor benchmarks, but battery life is a paltry four hours. You’ll also find ATI Radeon HD 3200 mobile graphics on the Thinkpad X100e, which makes it possible watch HD video without issue.
The keyboard on the X100e is worthy of the Thinkpad name. You’ll also find a nice, large trackpad and a pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard. If you are a road warrior in need of an inexpensive , lightweight PC, the X100e is an outstanding choice. The X100e is expensive, however, with prices starting at $449.
All of the netbooks here are here for a reason, but with that said, there is a clear division. Those who want a quality netbook, but doesn’t necessarily need the most durable machine, will be best with the Eee PC 1005PE or Toshiba NB305-410NR. Road warriors will prefer the Lenovo ThinkpadX100e or the HP Mini 5102. And finally, multi-media users on a budget will prefer the HP Mini 311.