Netbooks: Popular but will you buy a Netbook next time?

Are netbooks usable by power users or are the just for n00bs?

I've carried an ultraportable Sony VAIO laptop with me now for two years and so far I've resisted all temptations to buy a netbook. I carry my VAIO laptop with me everywhere, .. I mean everywhere.., so much so that my laptop backpack is starting to look a personal version of Quasimodo's hump. Some wonder if it is joined to my body, I have it with me so often. But I won't carry a netbook because my laptop is there for more than email and basic web surfing. It's my mobile office. I can sit down anywhere, at my office desk, a table at Starbucks, in a waiting room lobby, an airplane, a conference, and even in a car (not driving) to get access to files, documents, applications, email and the web. I also have my iPhone for more frequent email access, music, twittering and convenient web surfing when needed.

My prediction today is I won't buy a netbook, both because they aren't powerful enough (by current sub-$400 definitions) and when they are, laptops will offer better price-performance, bringing ultraportable prices within range more and more every day. Lower cost and mid-range laptops are already starting to blur the lines between netbooks and laptops. I've had people tell me they love their netbook, only to find out they are using an $800 laptop but calling it a netbook. Netbook is one of those phrases like millennial; the definition is so fuzzy that there really isn't an an effective, useful definition. Now, I'm discounting one important "feature" of netbooks: 8 hour battery life. That's something that we may see from laptops but unless I'm on a three hour airplane ride, it's not an issue for me.

My prediction is most who buy netbooks today will find their big limitations just that, big limitations, and will opt to spend a little more money for a more powerful small or medium sized laptop next time. Business users are finding just that, netbooks won't run the apps they often need. There's also the iPhone factor. My iPhone does what a netbook is supposed to do for you; email and web surfing, and it does lots, lots more. See this slideshow about the increasingly useful apps for mobile devices like iPhones and Blackberries.

Whenever I see a netbook user, which happens more frequently but not that often, I try to ask them about how they like their netbook. My informal and unscientific survey nets about a 50% or less satisfaction rate with netbook users, and a positive rating seems directly proportional to the newness the device. No doubt some will still like their netbooks many months after its purchase but whenever I inquire about netbooks at Best Buy, they are still extremely cautious to even suggest a netbook to a user like myself who uses a computer every day, frequently recommending an iPhone (which I already have) instead of a netbook. It gives the impression that netbooks are for computer n00bs or people with $300-$400 burning in their pockets, not computer users.

I recall having two or three Sharp Wizard PDAs that landed in the scrap heap, never looking back once the Palm came out. A powerful smartphone like the iPhone and a good, lightweight portable laptop with 2+ hours of battery time, make netbooks seem about as useful as those old Sharp Wizard PDAs today.

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