How to Choose a Netbook Laptop Computer

What makes a netbook a netbook and not a laptop? The most obvious difference is the size. Most netbooks have considerably smaller screens, ranging from 8.1 to 11.6 inches, diagonally. Also, netbooks generally do not come with an optical (CD or DVD) drive. The keyboards are usually smaller or more limited as well. Finally, and not as obvious at first glance, the processor or CPU in a netbook will be an Intel Atom, which has less processing power than its dual or quad core cousins. How do you choose the right netbook for you?

The first thing to consider when selecting a netbook is how you plan to use it. Netbooks are not overly powerful computers, so graphic design, video editing and graphic intensive gaming will not be possible. On the other hand, if you want to take notes in class, write articles, surf the Internet or talk via a program like Skype, a netbook will fit the bill. If your expectations for performance are too high, a netbook may disappoint you, but if you're looking for a convenient, portable computer for simple tasks, a netbook is a great choice.

The monitor on a netbook will be much smaller than that of a laptop or desktop PC. Some users may find this to be a drawback, but if portability matters, a smaller screen may be something you can live with. Carefully consider how large the screen is, and what specifications it offers. Glossy screens with good backlighting are imperative. You may find that reducing the backlighting on your netbook will increase its battery life. Keep in mind that the default font size on a netbook can be increased to prevent eyestrain.

The keyboard is Acer Aspire One by Rico Shen (Wikimedia Commons)a crucial if you will be typing a lot on your netbook. Most netbooks have keyboards that are smaller than a typical laptop computer. There are better keyboards though that will not cause you to have to squish your hands together while typing. Some are even 100% sized, meaning they have all of the keys of a normal laptop, minus the 10-key pad. Look carefully to see if buttons like the shift key, backspace and delete keys are well positioned, and sized comfortably. If you are a touch typist and the keys are in the wrong position (even slightly off), you may have difficulty getting up to your normal speed until you acclimate to the new keyboard. Lastly, try out the keyboard if possible. See whether you can type comfortably, and if the keys have enough depth to them or if depressing the keys feels shallow (and perhaps oversensitive). Whatever you choose, the keyboard should be comfortable for you.

The mouse on a netbook is very similar to those on laptops, though sometimes smaller, and with a different button layout. Some will have an even ratio to the size of the screen, while you will need multiple swipes across the touchpad to traverse the screen on others. Make sure when you have your hands in position to type that the mouse is not right under your thumbs to avoid accidental clicks.

You will want to know what kinds of options are available on your netbook. Most will come with USB drives, an Ethernet connection and audio and microphone jacks. Some are a little fancier. Built in cameras are great for video chat or conferencing. Memory card readers allow you to use cars like SD and xD formats. Good speaker may be important to you, but remember, you aren't going to get amazing video playback on a netbook.

There are a number of accessories that can be purchased along with a netbook. These include storage cases or sleeves, external drives such as a DVD or CD drive, and headphones or a microphone if one is not built in to the netbook. Probably the most important accessory if your netbook will supplement a desktop PC is a flash drive. This little drive will plug right into the USB ports of both computers to allow for easy transferring of files between the two.

Because a netbook is portable, it is important to be aware of what the product warranty is. Most warranties from the manufacturer are limited in that they only cover manufacturer defects. Extended warranties can be a great investment on your purchase. Read the details of the warranty carefully. Do not rely on your salesperson to tell you what it covers. Ask to see documentation. The warranty may require the unit to be mailed in for service, or it may offer on site or drop off repair. The most expensive and therefore the most important thing a warranty can cover is your netbook's screen. A computer that you carry around is much more likely to be dropped than a stationary desktop computer. Covering accidental damage, especially to the screen, is a wise choice.

Because battery life plays a big part in how portable a netbook will be, determine how loAsus Eee PC by Museo8bits (Wikimedia Commons)ng the battery life is on the included battery. 3 cell batteries will give you a few hours (2-4 generally) while 6 cells will give you up to 8 or so. 9 cell batteries are available for some notebooks. If you will not have easy access to a power outlet, battery life will be especially important. Know that extended batteries tend to be bulkier and may not be flush with the back of the netbook when installed. Fortunately, the way most are designed, the battery will prop up the back of the netbook, allowing for a more natural typing position.

Finally, you'll want to know what applications are installed on your netbook, and which of your favorite applications will run on it. The operating system will vary depending who makes the netbook and how updated the OS is. As of 2009, some still come with Windows XP, some have Windows Vista, while others with Vista have a free upgrade to Windows 7. Most computers come loaded with a bunch of software you may not want or need. These are simple to remove through the Control Panel in Windows. Microsoft Works is a typical pre-loaded office application. You may want to buy MS Office if you are used to using MS Word, but remember that MS Works files can be saved as .doc or .rtf for easy transferred into the MS Word program on your PC.

As you can see, selecting a netbook laptop is not terribly complicated. If you pay close attention to what your plans are for your netbook, seeking out features that fit your needs will be a snap. Read reviews online and make sure you get every netbook accessory and software you will need to make it truly useful to you. Review the store's return policy, and watch for 15% restocking fees from some stores. If you know in advance what to expect from your netbook, you will enjoy your purchase more, and you will end up with a netbook that you can enjoy using around the house or on the go.