Coby to offer cheap netbooks in the US?

Coby is a consumer electronics maker known for making cheap, if not incredibly reliable products. For the past two years the company has been toying with the netbook space, showing off a line of budget mini-laptops with 7 to 12 inch displays at CES in 2009 and 2010. A few models even showed up in limited quantities at some retailers last year. But AMD hasn’t really ramped up production or distribution yet.

Now Liliputing reader MonkeyKing has spotted a new section on the Coby web site with 7 different mini-laptops, including an 8 inch model, one with an 8.9 inch display, 4 netbooks with 10 inch displays, and a 12 inch notebook with an AMD Sempron processor.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that while each of these 7 laptop product pages features a “Buy online” button, there are currently no vendors listed, which means you still can’t actually purchase these models. You also can’t check the prices.

When I spoke with Coby representatives earlier this year, I got the sense that part of what’s been holding the company back is the fact that the profit margins on netbooks is already quite low. Typically Coby can produce cheap items such as MP3 players or portable DVD players and undercut competitors’ prices by doing the manufacturing in-house. But with netbooks from major PC makers already selling at rock bottom prices, there’s not really much room for Coby to produce something significantly cheaper.

So if and when these netbooks do manage to hit the streets, I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to fill the $100 laptop niche… at least not unless Coby drops the Intel Atom and AMD Sempron processors and Windows operating systems for ARM or VIA-based chips and Linux, Windows CE, or Google Android operating systems. You know, kind of like that Sylvania netbook which CVS is expected to start offering for $100 soon.