GigaOm’s Om Malik has a nice, thoughtful article on mini-notebooks. And it kind of misses the point. Malik says he spent a few hours playing with an HP Mini-Note before giving up on it. Not because it wasn’t fast enough or capable enough. The version he was using ran Windows XP, had a good keyboard, and felt zippy. But he decided it was too heavy, took too long to boot up, and got too hot.
Malik wrote a 10-point wish list, and for the most part, it looks like he was describing an HP Jornada 728, a Windows CE-based handheld clamshell device that’s been out of production for years. It had instant-on features, weighed less than a pound, had a full (albeit tiny) keyboard, and could connect to the internet via Ethernet or a PCMCIA WiFi card. But there was one major problem: It didn’t run the applications you really needed on the go.
While many PC makers are touting this new class of netbook as something other than a computer, part of the reason they’ve caught on is precisely because they are computers. You can run Ubuntu, Windows XP, Windows Vista, even OS X on them. You can run Office, OpenOffice, Firefox, and other software. If you want a tiny computer for making Skype video calls on the go, you’ve got it. Want to do some light digital audio editing? No problem. Want to view and create PowerPoint presentations? Sure, why not. It’s a mistake to think of a 7-10 inch clamshell PC with an Intel, VIA, or AMD chip as a portable web browser, when it’s capable of being so much more.
Not that I wouldn’t love an instant-on machine. But Asus and other PC makers are addressing this by adding “SplashTop” and other feature that let you boot into a Linux-based OS in a matter of seconds and browse the web, use Skype, and do a few other basic tasks. When you need the full operating system, though, it’s nice to know that it’s available.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the JP Jornada, NEC MobilePro, and other old school palmtop devices. But I think the HP Mini-Note, Asus Eee PC, and MSI Wind are completely different. They’re full computers packed into a tiny case and wrapped up with a small price tag.