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Namaste netbooks!

Portable computing has never been smaller.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: November 16, 2008

ACER ASPIRE ONE
ACER ASPIRE ONE
A‘Netbook’, so dubbed by the technology gurus in the US media, is essentially a small laptop powered by an energy-efficient processor, which is invariably the Intel Atom. Not quite beefy enough to handle heavy applications, these small and cheap machines are perfect for the 80 per cent of computer users who essentially waste most of their computing power by usually just surfing the Net, checking social networking sites and playing silly Flash games.

ACER ASPIRE ONE
+
High glamour factor, easily the cheapest Windows netbook
- Battery life poor, keyboard slightly cramped
Price: Rs 22,000

Netbooks are so-called because their main purpose is as an Internet surfing device. All the netbooks we tested had decent Wi-Fi reception and if you plugged in a USB data card, they did rather well, too. Sure, it doesn’t have an optical disc-drive, but that did not stop people from not buying the MacBook Air. The extended-life battery on the Asus and the HP machines boosted the price a fair bit, but also significantly improved battery performance. And most importantly, these are extremely easy to cart around, because nothing speaks corporate drudgery as much as a laptop bag does. These weigh similar to a typical notepad.

HP MININOTE 2133
HP MININOTE 2133
But what led to the sudden development of these pygmy laptops? We have Nicolas Negroponte to thank for these, indirectly at least. His One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, with its open-source operating system and low-power processor, led to computer makers, and, crucially, Intel, to revamp their strategies—low price and low power in a small form factor became the mantra. While the OLPC project has stuttered around, ‘netbooks’ are today the fastestselling computer segment across the world.

HP MININOTE 2133
+ Amazing battery life, brilliant build quality and finish, excellent display, best keyboard on a netbook
- Windows XP version with six-cell battery far too expensive, Via C-7M processor feels sluggish
Price: Rs 37,000

ASUS EEEPC 1000H
ASUS EEEPC 1000H
The problem is that neither Negroponte nor the legion of other manufacturers has managed to hit the really low-price target. The OLPC wanted a laptop at $100 (Rs 4,900) but that is still some way off. Loading these machines with Windows, as even the OLPC does nowadays, adds a bit to the price. But prices are coming down, not as sharply as some might wish them to drop, but they are falling. And after the failure of the Simputer, e-kiosk and even the limited success of the “distributed computing” model, the netbook, or, rather, the netbook of tomorrow at a nicer price-point, could be a great solution to India’s dismal computer penetration numbers.

Until then, while we will still love them in this column, they will just be toys—the second or third computers in a house full of computing power.

ASUS EEEPC 1000H
+
Big screen, decent battery life, good performance, picks up 802.11n signals, very light charger, 1.3 megapixel web-camera
- Trackpad response and keys could be better, and is not cheap
Price: Rs 26,000

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