September 7, 2009

Beat your Blackberry (or iPhone) with a Netbook

I never wanted a Blackberry or iPhone. Don't get me wrong. I'd be lost without my Blackberry. My aging 8703e is very reliable and solid. Convenient size. Crisp screen. The battery lasts all day. However, I'm in no rush to upgrade because smartphones have severe limitations.

A smartphone works best as a phone and calendar. Dialing is effortless when you select a contact from a list and without your calendar, how do keep track of your appointments? Synchronization with your network protects you if your device breaks or disappears.

Problems with a Smartphone
Needs evolve. Even the latest "gee-whiz" smartphones like the Palm Pre or iPhone 3GS compromise with tiny screens and tiny keyboards.

Reading an email that runs more than a few lines is an ordeal. You can't see highlighting or comments typed in italics or a different colour. Forget about file attachments. Browsing the web is a pain after the novelty wears off. Composing multiparagraph emails isn't much fun either.

A smartphone is too dumb and a notebook computer is cumbersome. How about something in-between?

The Netbook Advantage
You can buy a netbook, a tiny notebook computer, with wireless access and long battery life for $300-400 (and falling). Compare that with the price of an unlocked smartphone. You get a 10" screen with 1024x600 resolution, a 160 GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM and a single-core 1.6 GHz processor and Windows XP. The keyboard is only slightly smaller than on your notebook computer. The netbook weighs less than three pounds and fits easily into your bag or onto an airline tray.
A price exception: Nokia's first computer, the Booklet 3G costs a staggering $820 US.
Get Bluetooth to make unlimited phone calls for only $2.95 US a month with Skype to any phone in the US or Canada. Compare that with the System Access Fee on your smartphone.

You won't find much difference in netbooks among brands, which makes buying easier. Manufacturers don't like netbooks because they make about $6 on a $300 unit. These margins have kept Apple out and Toshiba just entered recently. Retailers don't make much either. Microsoft loses $50 US of potential revenue when Windows goes on a netbook instead of a notebook. What choice do they have Linux is free? Intel loses $250 US of potential revenue compared with a high end chip in a notebook.

All this translates into value for you.

What You Can Do
At first, a netbook looks like an expensive toy. Indeed, a netbook makes a great computer for a student. Or for portable web surfing around the house. Road warrior Mitch Joel opened my eyes to business uses.

Perceptions mislead. You can run Office 2007 in a pinch. If you're using the Internet, you'll find performance is fine. If your current computer is several years old, you may find the netbook runs faster.

Here's where a netbook shines over a smartphone for email, web surfing and cheap phone calls. There's no learning curve because you already know how to use a computer and can install the same core applications.

The Positioning
A netbook does more than a smartphone but less than a full-featured computer. And that's just perfect.

This week, I'm starting to use my netbook for presentations. I'm also investigating mobile broadband for places WiFi isn't available. I'll share the findings.


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