Having lived with a netbook for almost two months and watched their gradual evolution for much longer, I’ve formed some strong impressions about this category of minimalist portables.
Foremost: Netbooks are not be-all, end-all, solutions to portable computing. Anyone who that tries to judge these new machines by past portable standards is probably headed for a big disappointment.
If you’re able to look at netbooks, however, as ultra portables that help you execute one or more critical tasks, you’ll appreciate their light weight as much as their ability to get you through a work day.
There are at least three significant criteria for most netbooks: Battery life, usability and a stellar 802.11 implementation are all critical to a good netbook design. First off, it’s hard for me to believe that a netbook with a battery life of less than six hours is anything more than a badly rushed first attempt in a new category.
One of the glaring shortfalls in many current netbooks is their 802.11 implementation. If you’ve ever used a netbook to try and read email in a crowded environment while 300-500 other people are sucking the life-forces from an 802.11 network, you’ll quickly come to understand that a well thought out, brawny, 802.11 transceiver could be a make or break technology for netbooks. Many of the netbooks I’ve looked at in retail (or which I’ve seen in use at conferences or in campus settings) seem to have difficulty connecting and staying attached to 802.11 networks whose access points are less than 70 feet away.
Performance will become a gating factor in future netbooks, and could become the wedge that separates Intel’s dominance in portable computing in future designs. While Intel’s Atom processor sits in the processor socket of most netbooks, the emerging demand for increased horsepower in netbooks could result in partial wins for AMD’s new Zeos or Qualcomm’s SnapDragon families (while Intel and AMD are focusing on traditional speeds and feeds, Qualcomm appears to focusing on chips designed for the holy grail of portable computing-- instant-on and persistent wireless connectivity).
Processor performance, however, is just one of the factors shaping how users will perceive future netbooks. Disk and bus speeds also contribute to the equation.
The Acer netbook I carry everyday, --an Acer OneNote D150-- has a moderately fast 160GB hard disk drive that meets all of my needs, and is fast enough to meet most needs and has the capacity to let me keep important data locally.
To improve baseline performance and its impact on the overall netbook user experience, hardware makers may need to adopt an –in-their face attitude with operating system developers to provide products that load quickly, run efficiently but, most of all, are not loaded with unneeded features. But one feature that netbooks desperately need is “instant-on” (introduced and on Hewlett Packard’s Omnibook 300, which was introduced in 1992 and also supported in the subsequent 500, and 800 models of that pioneering ultra portable notebook line).
One of the giant paradoxes of netbooks is meeting users’ demands without busting this form factor’s seams. Battery life in current netbooks is a good example. Although Users want six hours or more of battery life, appropriate power packs add weight and increased depth and back end height, interfering with design aesthetics.
Battery life in current netbooks is a good example. Although Users want six hours or more of battery life, appropriate power packs add weight and increased depth and back end height, interfering with design aesthetics.
The evolution of netbook computers promises to be one of the most interesting tales coming down the technology toll road now. Some of the first generation netbooks I’ve seen are among the most rugged portables ever built. Other machines now in the development phase promise to expand the category exponentially, not only meeting existing requirements with room to spare, but also resetting the bar by adding designed in cell network connectivity (I’m pretty sure cell network co branding is imminent ) and full support of touch screen interfaces.—Jim Forbes/04/30/20098