Where did all of the Netbooks go?

I have found out where. The manufacturers took the keyboards off and called them tablets, everybody except for Acer, that is.

A quick look at a Netbook gone by..


This is a Toshiba NB250, one of the better netbooks of the day. It is powered by the Intel Atom N455, runs Windows 7 Starter (32-bit) installed on a 160gb hard drive. Display size is 10.1”, and resolution is 1024 x 600. No, it will NOT run the Windows 8 Modern UI, but it can be upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium if you want to beat the ‘three programs running’ limitation.

Input is courtesy of an ‘86 key’ keyboard which includes 15 function keys, and a wrist rest. The display folds neatly over the keyboard, and when closed is quite a tough package.

It will quite easily fit into a standard Case Logic carrying bag designed for Netbooks, and there is space for a wireless mouse, power cable, Ethernet patch cable, flash drive etc.

In use, the rubber ‘feet’ ensure that it doesn’t slide around on the greater majority of surfaces, and balance is biased towards the base, so it doesn’t rock back and forth.

It is an ideal travelling companion, but the one limitation is does have is that it needs to be placed on a hard surface when in use.

A quick look at what has replaced the Netbook..

Toshiba_WT200This is the Toshiba WT200. It is powered by the Intel Atom N2600, and runs Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit on a 64gb SSD. Display size is 10.1”, resolution is 1366×768 minimum, it is a touch screen and .costs $600.

If you want to connect anything to it, you need a docking station (+ $40-50) and a keyboard (+ $50) which doesn’t have a wrist rest. After-market keyboards are nothing like as good as the NB250, and there is no separated space for them in any 10.1” carry bags.

In use with a keyboard, it still needs a solid, flat space, but it can be used as a tablet of course.

Both of these machines run Windows 7 32-bit, and neither has drivers for Windows 8 which puts it out of reach. I don’t suppose that there are too many computer users who are crying over that.

Where can Netbooks and tablets be used?

All LCD/LED screens have a common enemy, that being a strong light source. If it comes from behind the user, the screens look black. If it comes from the front, the users eyes can’t see the screen because the contrast between the two light sources is too great. Light sources at the side wash out anything on screen. OK, let’s forget working outside.

Inside, now we can see the screen and now we can do real work while:

  • in a waiting room? Not really. Seating is too close, and you may not want your immediate neighbours looking at what you are doing.
  • on a bus? No, the same conditions as per waiting rooms apply
  • in a car? Too bumpy, reading while travelling can bring on travel sickness, and typing on a touch keyboard is next to impossible
  • in a coffee house? This is more like it. Nice hard surfaces, seating away from direct outside light and better spaced to prevent nosiness
  • in any public building? As per coffee house but with less distractions maybe.

Note that the places best suited to tablet use are places where there is absolutely no privacy and way too many distractions. Every other place has the facilities to use a Netbook or regular laptop, and this is what I am seeing daily.

I have yet to see anybody other than kids using tablets in public places where the tasks being done are not subject to keeping it private. Adults use Netbooks and smaller laptops if they want to do real work, and they do it on regular PC’s.

Is this why Microsoft had the sense to release their Surface and RT models with snap-on keyboards? The places where real work can be done all have hard surfaces and seating which is not severely bunched up.

Apple released the iPad and the whole of the industry stared to follow because what Apple does, everybody should always follow, right? Tablets have become the ultimate child pacifier which, apart from initial novelty value, is probably the the best suit.

Tough, portable machines like the NB250, which have everything built in already, have been dumped in favour of what I see as a fad. In time, other people will see if that way too, and when they have gotten over the novelty value and tired of having to buy new every few months to take advantage of the latest developments, they will wake up and wonder where the real computer workhorses have gone.

Blackberry’s CEO has predicted that tablets will be all but gone within five years, and he is probably right. The future for mobile computing where real work is done will be the NETBOOK, but in a more powerful form than originally released.

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