Get netbook or keep the laptop?
September 19, 2009 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I think I want a netbook instead of a laptop. If so, what kind/brand to get?

Currently using a 13 Macbook and it's nice and all, but it's somewhat big and requires a wireless connection which is fine at home, but not so fine when I'm out in the world. I want something lighter, less expensive, yet sturdy, that gives me internet access.

My main goal here is to have internet access at work which the higher ups can't monitor and to have internet access anywhere I go. I want the ability to put financial spreadsheets and typed documents on a highly portable platform. Other than documents, spreadsheets and being able to surf the web normally (i.e. works with Facebook, Flash and 99% of the web).

Any suggestions?
posted by lynnshaze to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's not entirely clear from your question so I'll just ask: You do know that netbook doesn't necessarily mean it has "internet access anywhere", right? Most are just smaller laptops that have the same ethernet/wireless internet requirements of your macbook, and therefore could be used with the same wireless broadband dongles that are available for any laptop from the major cell providers.

But if you mean netbooks that specifically have 3g radios built-in and are bundled with service: AT&T has a bundle with the Acer One Aspire. Like a cell phone, it's cheaper because you're buying into an extended contract. I believe Verizon has its own bundle based upon an HP Mini netbook.

You might consider going the broadband dongle route, so you could use it with whichever netbook you prefer and switch it to your macbook if you desire.

I don't have a lot of experience with wireless broadband service/ dongles but the blog JkOnTheRun often talks about this stuff.
posted by sharkfu at 8:10 AM on September 19, 2009

two great resources would be:

laptop mag
posted by refractal at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2009

I have an MBP-13 which I love, but even though it's quite small it's still too big and, well, expensive to drag around to the coffee shop and such.

Since there's no Mac Netbook yet (Steve? Please?) I picked up an HP Mini 1000 last week when I walked into it on sale for $199 at the Best Buy. I've installed OS X (Leopard) on it on the advice of agentmunroe in this thread, and it's quite a cute little baby Mac now. I like it a lot as sort of a middle ground between my iPhone and MacBook. I don't really need it, but... well, $199! Who could resist? It's fun to play with, and even if I step on it or drop it, I won't cry much.

Also per that thread's advice, though: the biggest human factor will be the keyboard, so you might want to touch/try several in the store until you find one you like. I like this HP keyboard all right, but it's definitely no MacBook. I have also noticed that the Acer Aspire has a pretty reasonable KB, and that the EeePCs I have touched have awful ones. Maybe the latest are better.

How will you have unmonitored internet access? Will you add a 3G modem stick? Because if you're using your office network you can't assume privacy.
posted by rokusan at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2009

Best answer: Most of the current generation of netbooks are pretty similar in spec. 9" or 10" screen (most 10 now), Intel Atom processor, 120GB hard drive or optional smaller solid state hard drive, etc. The differences are in the look and feel. Keyboards are the part that most people notice when they try a new netbook. Get your hand on as many different ones as you can a see how you like the keyboards.

Personally, he biggest factor for me was the size. The newest generation of netbooks is larger than the first gen. They have upped the display size and the size of the bezel around the display, making the netbooks 1"-2" wider and slightly taller when opened/deeper when closed. They did this largely to accommodate the larger keyboards. I wanted the smallest form factor I could get that had a 9" screen and had a solid state hard drive so I went with an eeepc 900a. The keyboard was not a big issue to me, which is good because compared to the newest gen, the keyboard sucks. is a great resource for netbook info. They've been around longer than the term netbook has.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:20 AM on September 19, 2009

I had a netbook for a while, but it was stolen. Now that I have an iPhone it pretty much replaces any need for a netbook. An iPhone + MacBook + tethering would beat out getting a netbook (especially since you have the MacBook already). I'm not sure if AT&T tethering is working yet, as I am in Canada, but imagine it is close.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2009

How I chose my netbook: I went to the store and typed for a few minutes on each of them, since for me I need it for writing and not much else. Depending on your needs, there are a few machines that really shine in specific areas (battery life, etc.).

Since you're planning on using it for financial work, I'd recommend that you install something like TrueCrypt to protect a portion of your drive, in case your machine gets stolen.

Like the poster above, I have an HP Mini 1000, which now that it's a tad out of date is very, very inexpensive.
posted by glider at 8:40 AM on September 19, 2009

I'm typing this with my unusually large hands on an Acer Aspire One right now. It was cheap as chips, and is comfortable to use. Linux and WinXP versions are available, but the disto on the Linux version (Linpus?) is god-awful. Replacing it with xubuntu was, however, remarkably simple. Heartily recommended (especially with the optional larger battery).
posted by Dysk at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2009

ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-PU1X-BU 10.1-Inch netbook. And have a look at the CaseLogic XNTM-3 for a neat carry case.
posted by cyniczny at 8:47 AM on September 19, 2009

I have an Acer Aspire 1410. Got it for about $420 with an online discount. It is now my only computer. Its processor runs Hulu smoothly, it has an 11.6 screen (perfect size to my eyes), comfortable keyboard, good trackpad, 320g storage, 4g ram, long battery life, free Win7 upgrade, and weighs only 3 lbs. And it's cheap.

THAT SAID, please go back and re-read what sharkfu said-- you can have unfettered Internet access on your MBP. In fact, if I had had the cash, I would have just purchased an MBP.
posted by samthemander at 9:24 AM on September 19, 2009

Best answer: To echo the above advice, I'd get a USB 3G/CDMA aircard for the MBP. Nobody's mentioned the associated costs, though -- be prepared to spend ~$60/month for the service, no matter which provider you choose. That cost would exist for any mobile broadband, though (if you get a netbook, you'll be paying the same monthly fee)

Also, I may be an outlier, but I use my 15" MBP in bed, coffee shops,etc. (I don't have an aircard, but if I did, I'd get an ExpressCard model; don't think the 13" has an ExpressCard slot though?). I think the 13" would be acceptably portable, and with the money you save by not buying a new netbook, you've just paid two months of mobile broadband.
posted by Alterscape at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2009

Best answer: I thought I should point out: If you want to use the internet without people knowing what you're looking up, you can setup a VPN to your home network. People will only know that you're connected to the internet, but they won't what websites you're looking at, let alone the content. That would be pretty technical though.

The next thing to do before getting cellular internet would be to look at the coverage maps and make your have 3g available in your area. I have a sweet smart phone but only have CDMA access in my home town and web browsing is painful. If you have coverage in your area, it might be practical to give up your wired internet and go with cellphone internet only. But, like regular cellphones a cellular modem is tied to a provider - you buy it from the phone company. You can get external USB cellular modems, but you have to stick them on the side of your laptop all the time. That could get kind of annoying on a tiny netbook.

There are also a couple of deals now for netbooks at a reduced price from Verizon, and maybe other phone companies. It might be a good idea to call around and ask to see what the prices are.

There are also ordinary laptops with internal cellular modems now. Like the cellphones, you can only use cellular internet with one phone company. But obviously you could still use wifi or Ethernet just like a regular computer.

here is an example of a netbook with an internal cellular modem Verizon is selling it for a subsidized price, $199. So if you want to switch to Verizon, or if you already have service with them, it would be a good deal. It's also an HP which I think are the best looking netbooks out there right now. (just my personal opinion)

There are also some full size laptops, I think. But I'm just finding references to these netbooks when I search. You could probably find some by asking around.

Another interesting would be something like this It's called a "MiFi" And basically it's a tiny wifi hub you can carry around with you, and you can connect any ordinary PC to it. So you just carry that around and then use your mac without need a separate dongle (but the mifi needs to be plugged in to charge, but anyway). You can also get a cellphone that allows "tethering" But most (all?) cellphones require some kind of hacking to get tethering working. An iPhone can do it if you 'jailbreak' it. If you buy a Google 'developer' version of the G1, etc.

Also, keep in mind that most cellular data plans have caps. A friend was using Verizon in SF and it turned out the cap was 5gb/mo.
posted by delmoi at 10:46 AM on September 19, 2009

Similarly, check out the responses to this other netbook question.
posted by chrchr at 10:54 AM on September 19, 2009

I'm another happy HP Mini 1000 owner. I chose the HP because it is even thinner and lighter than most of the competing models and has a very nice keyboard. HP has since expanded their offerings with some nice-looking new models. They also have a very nice line of "professional" netbooks that are more expensive ($500 and up) but feature very sturdy all-metal cases and higher-resolution screens. I don't think you'd go wrong with any of them.

But if size and weight aren't your main concern, I'd follow the advice above and get a MiFi, a 3G dongle, or a tethered phone for your Macbook.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:35 PM on September 19, 2009

As others have noted, netbooks don't necessarily have anything special for internet access, though there are some that get bundled with 3G cellular access.

I wanted to point out though that there might be a good reason your employer doesn't want you to have financial spreadsheets etc on a machine with unrestricted, unmonitored internet access, and whether you agree with it or not, working around it could get you into hot water.
posted by Good Brain at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2009

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