Michael Arrington, the driving force behind the popular tech blog TechCrunch has a thought provoking article today, entitled “Three Reasons Why Netbooks Just Aren’t Good Enough.” In a nutshell, he says they’re underpowered and that the keyboards and screens are too small.
Fair enough, but you’ll notice he doesn’t say exactly what they’re not good enough for in the title. If you want a computer with a large screen, big keyboard, and powerful processor, then a netbook is absolutely not the right machine for you. But good luck finding a 2.6 pound computer that will let you access the internet, run MS Office or OpenOffice.org and perform other basic tasks for under $400 that meets all of Arrington’s demands.
Arrington also gets at least 6 things wrong about netbooks in his article, which tells me that his ideas aren’t exactly backed up by serious research:
- Arrington says a typical netbook has a 7 inch screen. While some netbooks certainly have a 7 inch display, most netbooks released since April have had 8.9 inch or larger screens with 1024 x 600 pixel display resolutions. While April might not seem like a long time ago, let me put it this way. Most netbooks have been released since April.
- He claims that a typical netbook has an Intel Celeron, Intel Atom, or VIA Nano CPU, all of which are low power x86 compatible processors, but which are slower than the chips you’ll find in most modern desktop or laptop systems. He’s right about the capabilities of these chips, but I have yet to see a single system that actually uses a VIA Nano processor. I think he meant to say VIA C7-M processor.
- Most netbooks run Windows XP or Vista, according to Arrington, with a few running some variant of Linux. I’m aware of only two netbooks that run Windows Vista, the HP 2133 Mini-Note, and the Dell Inspiron Mini 12. I’m still reluctant to call the Mini 12 a netbook, so let’s make that just a single unit. Most netbooks actually run Windows XP or Linux out of the box, with a tiny number running Vista. But since they’re full fledged, if slightly underpowered computers, you can really install just about any OS you like on a netbook, including OS X.
- At best, Arrington says netbooks have 1GB of RAM. This is generally true, but it misses the point. First, you won’t really notice much of a performance boost on most netbooks running Windows XP or many Linux distributions if you upgraded to 2GB. But second, almost every netbook on the market has upgradeable RAM. If you’re not happy with the 512MB or 1GB of RAM that comes with your system, just buy some more.
- Arrington claims that the 1024 x 600 pixel screen resolution on most netbooks is not good enough for viewing web pages. As an example, he points out that you can only read the first 8 lines of an article on his web site when using a netbook, while you can see the first 22 lines using the iPhone web browser. But you know what? The iPhone doesn’t have a higher resolution display than a netbook, it just has a different web browser. This is a software issue, not a hardware issue. Want to see more text on your screen when using Firefox? Hit F11 or change the font size.
- Finally, Arrington complains that he can’t touch type on a screen that’s 80-90% the size of a regular screen. But what’s his solution? A portable device with no keyboard at all. Baby? Have you seen the bathwater?
Look, I understand that netbooks aren’t for everyone. Some people are going to find them too small or too slow to be useable. So no, I don’t think they’re poised to conquer the world and replace traditional notebooks. I suspect that most people who pick up a netbook will use it as a secondary computer, one that’s easier to travel with than their larger laptop. But you know what? It seems to appear that there’s a market for that. And some people will certainly find that it meets all their needs.