Help me buy a netbook, camera, and bike.
October 3, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me buy a netbook, a low-end digital camera, and a bike.

These are all admittedly disjunct requests, but I'm looking to get these at around the same time when I make the excursion to the local mall (Iowa City isn't so great when it comes to these, but I'd rather buy this sort of item in person.)

Netbook: I'd like to get a small and sturdy netbook. It doesn't need to have an amazing amount of storage; battery life and sturdiness are the high priorities. I'm looking to spend no more than $400, and preferably far less, before taxes. What brands/models do you recommend, and is there anything else I should know?

Camera: I'm not looking for anything much, just a digital device to take photos with. The only photo-taking feature I'd make a decision on is the ability to set exposure length, which I know some cameras don't have. Again, though, sturdiness is the top priority.

Bike: It's probably harder to recommend bikes over the internet, but I'd like to know what to even look for in a bike. I'm looking to use it to make both short excursions and to travel between Iowa City and Chicago when classes are out of session. I used to own a bike, and can still ride one competently, but I can't remember what features it had.
posted by LSK to Shopping (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I hope you won't take offense when, having read that you (1) intend to buy it at a mall and (2) can't remember anything about your previous bike, I suggest that you go to an actually bike shop, not a department or sporting goods store, to buy a bike. It's unfortunate that both products are called "bicycles" because they are really different. Bike shop bicycles are made by reputable manufacturers, cost a bit more, but are safe and reliable and will last for years and years if properly maintained. Department stores sell what are often called "bike-shaped objects" that are designed to sell for the lowest possible cost. Period. They're often so badly made that many only get ridden a very short time before falling into disrepair and disuse. Plus, they're often assembled badly. I saw a kid riding one of these things around my neighborhood recently with the front fork installed BACKWARDS. That's just incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. Spend a bit for something with a bit of quality and you won't regret it.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:27 PM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: LasftOfHisKind: I did a bit of research and learned that Iowa City has a dedicated bike shop, so that's where I'll get the bike. Thanks.
posted by LSK at 12:32 PM on October 3, 2009

Best answer: If you're going to make a lot of bike trips, you might as well get a good one. I recommend you go to the bike shops on S. Gilbert St (there are two at least below Burlington, one is called World of Bikes, I think). They're nice and helpful. The Broken Spoke is in the same area but it's for serious bikers. You can order the other two things online (and save a lot) and just make one trip to downtown IC. Buy local, starve CoralRidge.

On preview: excellent idea!!
posted by parkerjackson at 12:35 PM on October 3, 2009

Best answer: I'm using my netbook right now and highly recommend the Acer Aspire One. Mine is the ZG5 model, I'm not sure they make it anymore. It is an 8.9 screen which I find plenty adequate and the keyboard is about 90% size and is easy to type on. I got mine on the cheap when Amazon ran a one day special for $49 bucks with a 3 G plan with At&T. It has both 3G and wireless g, comes with a 3cell battery which I upgraded to a huge 9 cell that gives me 8hours battery life and only cost me about $50. It comes with Windows XP which I love, has 1gig RAM which I upgraded to 1.5 which is the max. It runs fast enough. I have an external DVD writer, a Samsung slimline which costs another $50. You can get this model of netbook probably for around $299-$349 depending on which special you can catch. It does everything a netbook should. It has a bright crisp display, good response, built in numeric keypad, and appears sturdy to me. I haven't thrown it around a lot, but my dog has pulled it off into the floor without ill consequences. The buttons on the keypad are a little stiff, but I use a USB mouse most of the time which I prefer. I have been using my netbook for about 6 months and almost prefer it to my larger laptop. I can recommend the Acer Aspire One line without reservation.
posted by Rudianne12 at 12:37 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you want to ride fast, or in comfort? How hilly are the bike rides you'd like to take? Iowa City and Chicago are 223 miles apart according to Google Maps. If you want to ride a significant fraction of that distance in one day, get a road bike (the kind with curled-over handlebars and skinny tires). Any new road bike at a bike shop will be of good quality; get what you can afford. Avoid high-tech materials like titanium and carbon fiber. They are expensive and fragile. The weight trade-off is not worth it unless you are racing. Even aluminum is of questionable utility for a road bike frame.

"Cruiser" bikes are comfortable because you sit more upright, but they are heavy, and that same upright stance will make you less aerodynamic. Mountain bikes are also more comfortable, but their knobby tires cause needless resistance on roads, and their suspensions sap power and add weight. If you don't mind an arched-back type of riding position, a true road bike will allow you to go faster and further. If you want a compromise, check out hybrid bikes. However, I would seriously advise against a mountain bike unless you want to go off-road.

If you are going to a bike shop, all the bikes will have good quality components. More importantly, they will be set up correctly. Pick a bike that feels good to ride.
posted by scose at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2009

Netbook: I've heard that the Dell and Samsung models are a little hardier than most

Digital Camera: Canon SD1200IS is reportedly pretty sturdy and takes great pictures.

Bike: Get either a road bike or trekking-bike style in any well-respected brand. Make sure it doesn't have the lowest grade gear (Shimano road parts are, from lowest to highest: 2200, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra 6700, Ultegra SL, DuraAce Track, DuraAce/Di2) I'd recommend getting the Tiagra or 105 components. It'll save you wasted energy and repair time in the long run.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:19 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why would you be buying electronic goods "in person"? Perhaps if you can clarify on that we can help more. In general, you're much better off buying online. I also think you're going to have to be more specific in your requirements to get any meaningful recommendations. For what it's worth, the Samsung NC10 is pretty unanimously regarded as the best budget netbook.
posted by turkeyphant at 2:39 PM on October 3, 2009

About the netbook, since you mentioned battery life as an important factor, get one with a 9-cells battery (as Rudianne12 suggested). The 3-cells batteries will give you only 2 hours of autonomy.

I also own an Acer Aspire One (D250) and it's great!
posted by jgwong at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2009

I've been very happy with my Dell Mini 10v. It's base price on the Dell Outlet is under 300 bucks, and they frequently post 15% off coupons here:

I recommend finding one with the 6-cell battery. I get over 5 hours of life without even trying. If I went low-brightness, no wireless, etc, it'd probably be closer to 6.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:11 PM on October 3, 2009

Netbook: The problem with netbooks is that they're cheap. Especially in the construction department. I know it's way outside your price range, but a Macbook Pro is built like a tank and has something like 7 hrs battery life.

Camera: Canon Elph. There are actually a few variations on these, but they all have a good rep.

Bike: My guess is that you want a touring bike. I don't know Iowa City, but I do know Chicago, and it has a number of very good bike shops. Turin, Lickton's, etc.
posted by adamrice at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2009

Acer Apire One, 9 volt battery will last 6 hours. Quick, and the keyboard is fairly cool.
posted by Mickelstiff at 3:22 PM on October 3, 2009

Absolutely test out keyboards on a netbook if you're thinking about doing any real amount of writing on it - especially if you have large hands, but even if you don't you want to be sure that you're not fighting against the keyboard. The Samsung n120 has a 97% keyboard that I find a joy to use - and the rest of it is fairly decently specced as well. It's not latest generation, so you should be able to find it reasonably priced. Don't forgt to check out online reviews for any model you do consider.
posted by Sparx at 5:34 PM on October 3, 2009

For the netbook department, you might also check out the Sony Vaio W series. It's a 10.1" screen, but with 1366x768 resolution which is a huge improvement over most netbooks' 1024x600.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:54 PM on October 3, 2009

If you're planning to ride from Chicago to Iowa City, or vice-versa, you're planning a short bike tour--unless you're planning to do it in one day, in which case you've entered randonneuring territory. Before you buy your bike, I recommend that you look at Raymond Bridge's Sierra Club guide to Bike Touring, in particular the chapter on what kind of bike to buy.

I would recommend the Surly Long Haul Trucker, but you would also do well with a Jamis Aurora, Trek 520, or similar touring bike.

You'll get good advice from a decent local bike shop (LBS), but you'll get better advice if you know what you want when you go there and can explain your needs using the right terms.

As for digital cameras: unless you need an optical viewfinder, I'd recommend the Panasonic Lumix series. But it's hard to go wrong these days. is a good resource.

Good luck!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:53 PM on October 3, 2009

I love my Canon Elph SD1200IS. I've dropped it about 20 times on pavement and it still operates just fine. The images are clear and vivid, it's easy to use, and it takes up very little space in my bag.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

2nd-ing brianogilvie's bike recommendations. Those are nice solid bikes that are well built but not too heavy. REI has a nice bike called the Randonee which is worth a look (no REI store in Iowa City, but Chicago has one).

I don't know these guys, but they seem like nice people, and they specialize in bike commuting. I bet they'd be good to talk to.

Good luck, have fun, and let us know what you choose - in all three of your categories!
posted by altcountryman at 8:38 AM on October 4, 2009

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