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There’s been a lot of talk over the last few days about the word “netbook.” I think it’s silly that Psion is starting to protect its trademark a year after people started using the word netbook widely. But at the same time, I’ve never been a huge fan of the word. Because it implies that mini-laptops are only good as dumb terminals for accesing the internet. And that’s just not true. You can use them to watch movies, edit documents, play video games, or do pretty much anything else you would expect a 2-3 year old computer with a single core CPU to do.

But you’d never know that if you watched this Flash presentation from Best Buy. The company implies that netbooks are only good as companions to your primary computer. And while I typically recommend that people purchase netbooks for their mobility and larger computers for processing power, the truth is that many people can and do use netbooks or low power nettop computers as their primary PCs.

Of course, Best Buy, like Intel (the company that started pushing the term netbook to describe computers with its low power Atom CPU) has a vested interest in convincing you to buy two computers intead of one. You know, cause they make more money that way. And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Best Buy claim that a netbook isn’t really a full fledged computer. What’s interesting is that Best Buy claims that netbooks are all Atom-powered, which isn’t true. I can only guess that the company has been influenced not just by the word netbook but by Intel.

Anyway, I’ll continue to use the word netbook interchangeably with “mini-laptop” and other terms, because it’s now the widely accepted term and because you can only type “mini-laptop” so many times. But this Best Buy presentation serves as a reminder of why the word is problematic.

via GottaBeMobile

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24 replies on “Best Buy reminds me why I don’t love the word “netbook””

  1. I wonder when we’ll see 5″ pocket devices like the pandora, that device is neat, with great quantity of the mini laptops capabilities and they fit on a pocket.

    Also, I’ve seen on other blog what could have been Apple’s ‘response’ to netbooks, and it seems to be a giant-sized iPod touch with a 7″-9″ screen. That means no much different than a tablet pc, while they not make it too much ‘innovative’.

    1. OK… but, since “netbook” is established, we could call them “4P netbooks” for six months or so to get the two terms associated. There would naturally be some use of “4P computers” and “4P PCs,” and these would at times be shortened to simply “4Ps.”

      If a Taiwanese motherboard company can get the whole world talking about EEE PCs, pronounced “EPC,” then anything is possible 🙂 Hey, maybe we should call them PPPPs, pronounced “P” 😉

  2. Brad:

    I couldn’t agree with your point about “netbooks” more. So my question is why don’t we start calling these little notebooks “notebooks” instead of “netbooks”?

    The small notebooks labeled “netbooks” are simply notebooks. At this point, all the defining characteristics of netbooks are fairly amorphous. Is it the price that defines the “netbook” line? Should the S101 be included? Is it the screen size? Should the Sony TT series be included? Is a truncated keyboard part of the deal? Should the HP Mini 1000 be included? With so much uncertainty surrounding the term “netbook”, it’s probably best to leave it by the wayside.

    It seems like the word “netbook” has become associated with the idea of a small computer that is really portable and cheap, but can’t handle the daily grind of what a real laptop could do. That’s patently false and it truly disturbs me that B&M stores are advertising these “netbooks” to be inferior and other websites claim that “netbooks” are security risks. So regardless of whether how one feels about whether Psion should be able to enforce its property rights or not, it seems like the term “netbook” should be phased out in favor an old term: notebook.

    The term “notebook” conjures a far more accurate image of what these computer can do. As is well-documented on this site (and others), little notebooks work just as hard – if not harder – than normal-sized notebooks, they work longer than normal notebooks, and they cost less while having a smaller environmental footprint. Conversely, some folks (e.g., salespeople and uninformed commentators) employ the term “netbook” to conjure images of crippled midget computers that don’t work well because of their shortcomings and, as such, need to lean on bigger, “real” notebooks.

    Please. Let’s just toss the category and call them what they are – notebooks.

    1. That’s what I’ve trying to say. The term ‘netbook’ is nothing but a market technique to sell those machines as inferior devices and segment the market. I’ll call netbooks to those that are selled as a service such as the LG X110 or anyone with 3G/WiMax connectivity or low-price contracts, similar to what operators do with low-middle end phones: make them cheaper by offering those with 2-year contracts, they don’t sell you the hardware, they sell you the services.

      I’ll start to call 7″-10″ mini laptops that aren’t being sold as inferior devices.

  3. As a best buy employee I like the term netbook. When i say it to a customer it kind of helps make the point that these are different. For what most people will do they are fine. However most people don’t have external DVD drives or storage devices so I always want to make sure they know what they need or don’t need to get. You would be surprised how many returns/exchanges(for laptops) we get on these things because it didn’t do what they wanted. Customers expect these things to compete with full size laptops for speed and versatility but we know unlike them that there is a difference. IMO a desktop is a regular pc, a laptop is a portable version of a desktop, and a mini laptop is 13″ or smaller WITH a hard drive and an optical drive. I like the word netbook because they don’t have all the features of a laptop and customers don’t realize that. Try explaining to your grandma why her mini-laptop won’t read the cd with pictures on it her daughter sent her…”You mean they make laptops without a cd drive?” As a side note I wish we carried more like the MSI or Dell netbooks. I also wish we carried devices leopard could run on instead of what we currently have. As someone who runs the PC dept at a store I can tell you there is no strategy to use the word “companion” to convince people to buy 2 laptops. Only reason we ever use that word is to explain that they may need to buy some components to make it the same as a laptop or will need another pc to do other things. Also all the netbooks we sell in most stores are Atom-powered and that may be why the best buy ad states that. Oh and if you EVER hear a Best Buy associate giving out wrong information, ask if their supervisor is around and tell the sup what you heard. Or pull the associate aside and let them know. A lot of what we learn is from other employees/customers. We also have things like intel/amd training sites but all we hear are the talking points for each so if a customer can give us more info it is GREATLY appreciated. Great site btw!

  4. The word “netbook” is ok – it’s short, easy to remember, and it’s no more misleading than “notebook” or “laptop”.

    With a notebook you can do more than just take notes, same as you can do more with a netbook than connect to the internet.

    And just look at all the monstrosities which are sold as “laptops” nowadays – ever tried to work with one of those 18″, 8 pound, gorillas on your *lap*? Not to mention that I also don’t carry such huge and heavy paper-*notebooks* with me – if you can even carry these “luggables” more than a few meters.

    The word netbook is as good a compromise as any other, and it is already well established, so let’s get over this naming discussion.

  5. This video is misleading, but the Acer Aspire One display at Wal-mart was even worse, depicting it as a computer for children, a child’s first computer. The sales girl explained to me that you can’t do much with them, but if that’s all you want, they’re OK.

    What really bugs me is when self-appointed pundits explain in magazines how netbooks are just for cloud computing. Doh, then why do some of them have 160GB hard drives? Never mind that far punier computers put man on the moon and operate many of our military’s present day aircraft.

  6. Regardless of their motives, I think that presentation does help the average consumer understand that a netbook isn’t going to be as powerful as most full-sized laptops. I love my Aspire One, but I would never consider it a replacement for my MacBook Pro.

    I agree that the presentation is a bit limiting in its representation of what a netbook can do, but then again, many of the netbooks depicted in that presentation were early models with 7″ screens. Those devices were under-powered, and the screen resolution alone makes them much more limited than a model with a 9″ or 10″ 1024 x 600 screen.

    As this market evolves, I think it will become much more difficult to keep these products separate items from full-sized laptops. If nVidia is successful with its ION platform, and Intel moves forward with dual-core Atoms, the capabilities of future netbooks and nettops will surely increase significantly!

  7. Looks to me like Intel made that ad, not Best Buy. I’m no fan of Best Buy, but I do think Intel gets the blame for this one.

  8. The computer manufacturer’s positioning reminds me of old shampoo commercials, which always told you to “lather twice” when washing your hair. Why? Use twice as much shampoo…

  9. It’s not like Best Buy is a center of technical excellence.

    Hey, can my Sloop run Frigix?

  10. I actually like the term netbook, and once people have one or see one they won’t think it is a dumb terminal for long.

    What would be the best new designation?
    1) Abacus (Austere Backup Computer User System)
    2) Handbook
    3) Litebook
    4) NOTbook
    5) Frigate (It is about time we had a modern usage for this great word)

    I vote for Frigate, and then subdivide this segment of computers into classes
    – 11″ screen Constitution Class
    – 10.2″ screen Corvette Class
    – 9.2″ screen Cutter Class
    – 7″ or less screen Sloop Class

    1. I kind of like the idea of telling people I have a “Frigate, Sloop”.

    2. Sorry, Abacus is taken.
      There is (or was) a company by that name,
      they made my wrist watch PDA which runs PalmOS.

  11. I would call netbooks to devices specially designed to websurfing and cloud computing, more probable to being sold with data plans and liliputers to cheap, 12/14″ laptops will focus on power, so they would be like desktop computers that can be transported from a location to another.

  12. Netbook or Mini-Laptop either or, these little computers are great. I myself own a Acer Aspire One I am a I.T project manager and have been in the I.T. business for over 10 years so I think that might qualify me as somewhat of an expert in some areas of technology. Netbooks or mini-laptops can be used for all basic computing needs as well as some advanced usage, this means that yes! It can replace a main computer if the person does not have an issue with typing on a smaller platform which is really not a bad trade-off for the ease of mobility. I ran into a guy last night at the local Starbuck’s and he was a programmer for a local company and he was writing code on his EeePC 901 so don’t tell me these are not real computers. If Psion wants to behave like “the kid who takes his ball just because he was not pick to play”, over the use of the word “Netbook” then let them. We can all start calling them what they really deserve to be call and the “Ultra portable laptops” by using a different name for these wonderful devices will not add to Psion profit share. Now on to Best Buy, I have on several occasion been browsing around in the computer section of my local BB and have overheard sales associates providing customers with incorrect information about products in the store. I usually allow the sales person to complete there spill and often pull the customer to the side and provide them with the proper information need, so it does not surprise me to see a marketing scheme like this from BB. Not only is it untrue they it ridiculous. There is no supporting information that supports the claim BB is presenting. As a matter of fact most of the I.T. professionals that are truly professionals think that netbooks are GREAT especially for everyday use. I myself would believe someone who has been in the I.T field for 10 plus years over some marketing group who stands to benefit from the misinformation.

  13. Well, if the term “notebook” computer was coined to describe the smaller-than-a-laptop computer that was basically the size of a “notebook”, then wouldn’t the term “paperback-novel” computer or “two-dvd-cases-stacked” computer be better?

    Well, maybe not.

  14. I watched that, not a sign of Pison or (R) anywhere –
    If Pison (legal reps) are going after ‘for-profit’ use – send them that link. 😉

  15. Personally I don’t mind the term netbook. Sure they can do most things a full laptop can do, but I have yet to hear a term that adequately describes them that rolls off the tongue like “netbook”. Sorry Brad but while “liliputer” is more accurate in it’s description, it is a bit cumbersome to say.

    1. Hehe, I never really meant for liliputer to be a term for
      mini-laptops. I just liked the ring of the name for a web site. Still,
      I do get a chuckle every time I see another web site use the term with
      or without a link back to this site. The Guardian seems to be rather
      fond of the term.

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