Netbooks vs. notebooks: What's the difference?
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: July 21, 2009
After lugging my big, heavy laptop on several trips, I complained about it to a friend. He said, "You might take a look at netbooks." I'd become accustomed to comparisons between the "notebook" and "laptop." I ended up buying my laptop because there wasn't a lot of price difference for the Centrino 2 processor I wanted and the high-end notebook I'd need for versatility. I figured despite the weight, the laptop would be suitable for travel. I wanted a big screen for multimedia. Above all I wanted speed. But after several months of using the new laptop, I admitted to myself it really wasn't easy to travel with, especially by plane or in a situation where you're doing a lot of walking. The bag strap digging into my shoulder made me feel like King Kong was sitting just above my clavicle. Kay's 'King Kong' laptop!
|Taking my friend's advice, I figured the best way to find out the difference in a notebook and a netbook would be to call a retailer and talk to a computer salesperson.|
The young woman who took my call said, "Memory is the main difference." And she told me the type of processor and upload capabilities I'd need would depend on my purposes. The benefit with a netbook she said is the weight—around 3 lbs. And screens now range as large as 10.1 inches. She talked to me at length about what I do and summed up what a netbook is really meant for: "checking e-mail, quick blog posts, social networking, Web surfing." In addition, there's no CD or DVD drive with a netbook. A netbook is probably the cheapest route if needs are basic.
It occurred to me there are probably some cheap lightweight notebooks and laptops that might do the same thing. After spending a lot of time looking, I came to the conclusion there's a machine to fit every need and every budget. But when I started checking netbook reviews, I found a lot of dissatisfaction with the products. The unhappy customers were not an aberration. An often-cited study by the NPD group that specializes in information about consumer behavior and usage found a major reason for unhappy netbook owners.
For starters, nearly 60 percent of netbook users purchased the machines for portability, but the same percentage say they use it solely in the home. Unless you're using it for the reasons the salesperson gave, you will probably be disappointed if you expect a netbook to perform like a notebook or the normally more powerful laptop. I make that statement with caution because there are pluses with every type of computer, and it's not inconceivable that a high-end notebook would outperform a low-end laptop. It all depends on whose product you're looking at.
I can see purchasing a netbook for my needs because I could use it to keep up with my never-yielding mountain of e-mail, check my Web site stats and publish simple blog posts. The main benefit for me would be removing King Kong from my shoulder. I can select from a number of models for less than $500, substantially less than I paid for my laptop.
There's an excellent primer on this topic at ComputerWorld, probably the best comparison I found. James E. Gaskin wrote, "Do not buy a netbook if you do more serious work than e-mail, Web browsing, and light word processing and spreadsheets. The little boxes just don't have the horsepower of even low end notebooks, and if you want to crunch big spreadsheets or process audio or video, you will be frustrated regularly."
As I surveyed my research, I came across another article that made me smile. I thought I had the differences straight in my head—for lighter weight but less power and capability, a netbook would do for simple tasks. A notebook made little sense for me since I'd need a big one, so I might as well get a laptop and have full functionality including video editing. The laptop keyboard is also more to my liking; the wide screen is too.
Then I read commentary by Lance Whitney, writing for Business Tech at CNET News. Whitney cited the NPD group study that found most dissatisfaction with netbooks stems from lack of understanding and information on the part of the consumer. I felt pretty good at this point—I had educated myself mightily. But then Whitney said, "In general, Netbooks are smaller, cheaper, and less powerful than traditional notebooks, but the line is blurring."
Another CNET writer, Gordon Haff, managed to further muddle my brain by declaring, "Netbooks are notebooks." Haff quoted analyst Michael Gartenberg: "A netbook is merely a laptop with the pivotal axis based on price first and foremost... Sure, my price-oriented definition might sound heretical to those who view the netbook as an ode to cloud computing, ubiquitous usage scenarios, and freedom from Microsoft OS tyranny, but that's not how the market has shaped out."
What's the difference between a netbook and a notebook? I've come up with the conclusion the real differences are in your own needs. So before you buy, take some time to study products and product reviews. Gartenberg is right about the price factor, but if you're planning on using a machine for your work or home office, the price you pay for versatility may be well worth it in the long run.
Choosing between netbooks and notebooks [Computer World]
Netbook or Notebook—a majority of consumers can't tell the two apart
http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/06/23/netbook-or-notebook-a-majority-of-consumers-cant-tell-the-two-apart/ [Christian Science Monitor]
Laptop vs. Notebook [Home Office buddy]
Consumers confused over netbooks vs. notebooks [CNET News]
Netbooks are notebooks [CNET News]
Join us for our next Web Savvy as we tackle going mobile—'Taking your office along for the ride.'
--Published July 21, 2009
Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.