Help me pick a netbook
November 18, 2012 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Which netbook/tablet should I get?

I know this question has been asked twenty million times before, and I have tried to read through past questions, but I'm a bit overwhelmed with my options.

Here are my requirements, in order of importance: 1) Low cost. I don't have a lot of extra money right now, and I want to purchase said gizmo as quickly as possible, so I won't have much time to save up. It should cost as little as possible. 2) Rugged. I tend to be a bit hard on things, and I'd like this to last as long as possible. I know I can't expect a cheap laptop to last forever, but I'd like to get as much use out of it as I can. 3) Small/portable. Should be as small and compact as possible. 4) Ease of use. Yet is it should be easy to type on, and with sufficient screen size to watch videos. I definitely prefer a physical keyboard.

Here's what I'll be using it for: 1) Word processing. I'll be writing stuff for up to several hours at a time. 2) Watching netflix, etc. 3) Probably playing silly flash games, unfortunately. 4) General browsing, reading news, catching up on mefi, etc. 5) Managing/storing a medium sized media library (though it's fine if I need an external storage device for this).

Thanks so much for your advice, Metafilter!
posted by quietshout to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You should probably avoid a tablet if you really want to spend time writing. My experiences with text entry on tablets have been pretty terrible.

The new Chromebooks are pretty sweet at their $249 price point. They're much faster than the previous editions; I loved my CR48 until the updates made it dog-slow. The only problem with them is that you end up more or less tied to the Google ecosystem, so you'll be using Google Docs for word processing and GMail (or some other webmail) for email. They also might not be ideal for heavy-duty multimedia use: it looks like they don't really support locally stored videos (although they do support Netflix apparently).

What does "medium sized media library" mean? How big, and what do you have in it?
posted by kdar at 4:01 PM on November 18, 2012

Response by poster: Medium sized media library: I'd like to copy and keep music from a bunch of CDs (Maybe 30ish? Maybe more.), plus subscribe to and store old episodes of about 20ish podcasts. Or so. It's fine if I need an external drive or something to store this stuff on, even if I have to physically plug it into the netbook every time I access said media.

The Chromebook looks pretty good.
posted by quietshout at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2012

Nobody has "extra money." I'd say a refurbished 11" Macbook Air.
posted by rhizome at 4:27 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Acer netbook is a fairly cliche answer. I have found it only passable for word processing use, but it works, and would be way better than a tablet. If you're willing to get one used this would be a super cheap option. I've had quite decent experiences buying used Mac laptops on both eBay and Craigslist - if you're willing to spend a bit more to get something way more functional and a hundred times better for the movies/games/media usage, I'm definitely with rhizome on this one!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:36 PM on November 18, 2012

You do mention tablets, so I'll throw in the iPad mini (base model: 16gb for $329).

I find its size and general form factor to be great. It is perfectly small and portable and it does all the things you listed.

Of course, you have to buy into the iOS/Apple ecosystem (buying word processing apps etc.). Also, you may not like writing on it for hours, though it works great for me.
posted by arhammer at 4:39 PM on November 18, 2012

I do a significant amount of writing with my Google Nexus 7 and an Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Nexus 7 is $200. The Apple keyboard is $69. Add in a good stand case for $10-$15. Throw in a bluetooth mouse and you have an excellent portable workstation. I also watch movies on it all the time. With a usb host adapter, you can use external usb storage to get beyond the builtin 16 or 32gb.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:57 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm using an Acer netbook that I bought a couple of years ago for just $200 (spent another ~$30 to switch RAM from 1GB to 2GB).

Order of importance:
1. Low cost: see above.
2. Rugged: I take mine every where, all the time.
3. Small/portable: don't have a ruler handy, but easily fits beneath an 8.5"x 11" sheet of paper. Very long battery life, too.
4. Keyboard is almost full size.

What you will use it for:
1. As I mentioned, the keyboard is almost full size. Nonetheless, I usually carry a mini-keyboard that is about the size of the netbook, i.e., full-size keys, but without the number pad/extraneous keys. (I don't like laptop keyboards in general and the built-in keyboard/screen distance doesn't work for me.) Also, I don't like the track pad, so I use a wireless mouse.
2. I stream movies and TV all the time. However, I am usually at home, plugged into a full-size monitor when watching.
3. (Don't know - don't play games.)
4. Works fine, but is a bit slow.
5. (Depends on what you need.)

(I'm biased/prejudiced, i.e., the utility of a table it lost on me and I'm not willing to pay the Apple premium.)
posted by she's not there at 5:02 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a Dell network and barely used it. I borrowed my department's EeePc for a trip and OMG I LOVED it. I didn't do any major data analysis, but for Office and surfing, it was a dream.
posted by k8t at 5:10 PM on November 18, 2012

Don't get a tablet if you want to write or browse the internet on websites where you write. I got a tablet and I found typing simple emails to be very hard and web browsing a total pain in the ass. It's great for games that require a touch screen, but did I really need to spend $300 to play Fruit Ninja or Tower Defense when I already have an Android smart phone with a touch screen to play games?

On the other hand, I've had a tiny netbook since long before netbooks were cool and it's very ideal. I got mine cheap, for $200. The model, Dell Mini 9, is discontinued, but you can find something similar and similarly cheap. You don't need a lot of RAM for these since you'll be doing one thing at a time on it and basic stuff - typing docs, browsing, watching stuff. Best thing is if you want to watch movies or TV shows, a laptop is perfect - fold it open and the screen is right in front of you. With a tablet, you would either need to awkwardly rest it in your hands/lap or buy a special stand.

I would look at Asus and Acer netbooks. Chromebooks are cheap, but I didn't like the idea of no actual operating system. You'll have to do some research on your own. iPads are a complete rip off. If you do go the tablet route, at least save yourself a few hundred dollars and get a non-Apple one. Kindle Fire HD is a good cheap starter tablet. If you love it and find you use it all the time, you can graduate to a Samsung or Asus or something for $600.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:01 PM on November 18, 2012

I'm an unabashed Microsoft/Windows guy but I have an 11" Air and it's the best writing machine I've ever owned. If writing is your priority (and it sounds like it is), and you can afford $1000, that's the way to go.

An iPad2 with some sort of keyboard case (e.g.) is half the price ($500), has better battery life, lighter, nicer for air travel and better for gaming (IMO), but will not play Flash games. If you just mean casual games, there are plenty available for iOS.

A bluetooth keyboard for iPad is an option but carrying around two separate pieces is a pain in the ass. Neither Scrivener nor Word are available for iPad (my writing software choices), but both are coming soon.

The iPad also doesn't have a proper file system which is mostly OK but occasionally a royal pain in the ass, especially if it's your primary machine.

The iPad mini only saves you $70 and you're giving up a lot of screen space for writing and the option of a keyboard case.

I've never seen a netbook with a decent keyboard.
posted by zanni at 6:07 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband has had two Asus Eee PCs, and loved them both. They are very rugged - After 1-2 years of daily use (and being carried in a shoulder bag everywhere), he only replaced his to get extra processing power, and my mother is still using his old one.

It has a decent keyboard - he's a touch typist and does a lot of writing on his Eee PC. Basically, Asus invented the Netbook, and they are still the best I've seen for small and durable. They have great case design, on netbooks or full size laptops.

For good prices in Canada or the US, we go to
posted by jb at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2012

I'll second rhizome's recommendation of a refurbished or used Macbook Air. They are very portable, reasonably rugged, and are better than a tablet + external keyboard for text-intensive tasks.
posted by pguertin at 8:05 PM on November 18, 2012

I've been looking for more or less the same thing. Both the Asus Vivo Tab and the Microsoft Surface seem like string contenders, though I really want to try them out in person before I commit to eather of them. If they don't cut it then I may be taking a long hard look at the Air - I'm not a big OS X fan, and it's pricey, but it seems the lower end of the netbook market is largely being abandoned, and at the higher end everything else seems to be a less good imitation of the Air at the same or higher price.
posted by Artw at 10:04 PM on November 18, 2012

3) Probably playing silly flash games

No one else has really touched on this yet, but current tablets more or less cannot play flash. The iPad can't at all, and Flash is poorly supported now on Android. The alternative is to play "casual" games from the respective app stores. In most cases, this will mean playing a buck or two each.

If you really want to be able to play flash games, you still need a laptop.
posted by bonehead at 11:12 PM on November 18, 2012

I'd like to copy and keep music from a bunch of CDs

You will also need to use a PC or Mac for this step, but most tablets can handle largish media libraries. We have about 200 MB of music on a network drive that I use from my android tablet all the time. Mapping network drives on Android is dead simple.
posted by bonehead at 11:17 PM on November 18, 2012

No one else has really touched on this yet, but current tablets more or less cannot play flash.

The Microsoft Surface has Flash. The Surface definitely feels like a step more "techno savvy" (for better and worse) than the iPad -- it has onboard connections for external USB disks and video monitors, for instance -- and they seem to be aiming it at people whose need for "laptop computer"-type features has kept them away from previous tablets. It's neither cheap nor small, though, which makes it a poor choice for the OP.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:30 AM on November 19, 2012

If I didn't need MS Word (or certain other specific programs) I would get a Chromebook no question. Since I did, I got a refurbished 2010 MacBook Air. Love it.

For me portability/weight and avoiding Windows were priorities. YMMV.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:47 AM on November 19, 2012

If you don't mind Ubuntu and Libroffice maybe the Chromebook is a contendor after all. Not sure how easy that install would be though, or how likely Flash would be to work well.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, guys. I got a Chromebook (the cheaper Acer version), and it seems like it will work pretty well for my purposes for the time being. Maybe I'll upgrade to a Macbook Air eventually, but this works for now.
posted by quietshout at 2:51 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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