Sunday, November 22, 2009

Netbook Mania

REPOSTING an article that I wrote for the February-March, 2009 issue of Silver Lining, a Singapore-based lifestyle magazine that specifically caters to the 45 to 64 year old readership and “aims to take a lighthearted look at aging issues confronting Singapore's baby boomers.”

I got to get to know this magazine when I answered an online ad for a Managing Editor opening for a new Singapore lifestyle publication last year. I got a reply from the representative of the publisher (Words Worth Media) who told me they already got somebody for the job. But she also said they liked the samples of the published articles that I submitted to them and asked me if I would like to contribute just the same. So I did.

This is one of two articles that I pitched and approved for publication. Since it was published earlier this year, netbooks have remained popular and have continued to improve in terms of hardware specifications and additional features. For one thing, the Intel Atom processor that powers these babies have now gone dual core. Likewise, Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system is now officially supported (even Mac OS X can be installed by, uh, more resourceful user) and even more netbook makers like Gateway and NEO have entered the fray, although Apple remains non-committal.

Even with all these developments, the article has so far stood the test of time quite well. Well, it has only been a year. Check out this slightly tweaked version and you decide:

Ultra small, ultra light and ultra affordable but are they really for us?
by Edwin P. Sallan

MINI-LAPTOPS, Sub-notebooks, Ultra Mobile PC’s and Netbooks, whatever you want to call them, these cute little computers are everywhere. Designed primarily as a secondary computer for basic tasks such as sending emails and surfing the internet, its phenomenal popularity has accelerated its evolution and even expanded its general use.

Smaller than a laptop and certainly bigger than the most advanced smartphone like the Apple iPhone, they strike an arguably perfect balance of fit, function and yes, even fashion. But are netbooks as they are more commonly referred to nowadays, really the ideal computing companion for those of us in our Silver Age? A look at their brief history should give us a clue.

Ease is the word

Although not entirely a new concept, the netbook revolution actually began with the release of the original Asus EEE PC 700 Series only last year. Designed to be “easy to learn, easy to work and easy to play,” the EEE PC was exactly just that as it did away with all the complexities of a regular computer.

With a Linux-based operating system, early models boast of a simple graphical user interface where internet, email, instant messaging, casual games and basic office suite software are all accessible at the tap of its touchpad. A VGA camera was also built-in to further enhance chat sessions.

Compared to the back-breaking weight of standard laptops, the Asus EEE PC’s were almost feather-light even with the battery and AC adapter. Battery life is also amazingly long for this device.

All this plus that all-important built-in Wi-Fi capability has made these babies a staple at Starbucks and other Wi-Fi enabled coffee shops here and just about everywhere else.

Limitations of early models

But limitations of these early netbook incarnations also made them less than appealing for the largely busy 40-something crowd. For one thing, while the small 7-inch screen makes it a joy to surf the net compared to an even smaller 3G mobile phone, it also makes it a chore when typing long documents. The tiny keyboard also doesn’t help in that department.

The lack of a CD or DVD drive (intended to keep costs down) coupled with mere internal storage capacity of 2GB to 4GB tops also limits its entertainment options and is certainly not an enticing proposition for executives who travel a lot and would like to listen to music or watch movies in their idle time.

Because of the limited internal and external storage capacities (32GB tops for USB flash drives) that can’t store all of their important data, it was hard for working Silvers to look at the early netbooks as more than a toy. That also means they have to deal with the shoulder-separating potential of their heavier laptops as they simply can’t ditch them just yet.

More juice, more power, more everything

With newer Asus EEE PC models and the arrival of formidable contenders like the MSI Wind, the HP Mini-Note, the Lenovo S Note and the Asus Aspire One this year, the playing field for netbooks just got wider and the options a lot better.

Most, if not all of these latest netbook models are now available on both Linux and Windows XP or Vista incarnations, generous hard drive capacities ranging from 80GB to a whopping 160GB, standard memory of 1GB and with the exception of the Mini-Note, are pumped up by the powerful Intel Atom processor.

The larger and brighter widescreen displays of either 8.9 or 10-inch displays coupled with a generous software bundle including a trial version of Microsoft Office further sweetens the deal. Typing long documents on Word as well as creating stunning Excel graphs and Powerpoint presentations have never been more of a breeze in such a small computer.

And at an age where our vision is beginning to be literally compromised, it’s also good to know that netbook displays are optimized for better viewing. It also doesn’t hurt that there are several viewing options to suit us, whether it’s the larger text or zoom functions in our favorite browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari or the ability to display larger fonts from Windows itself.

While all these improvements will also mean a slightly heavier and more expensive machine, especially with the availability of the more powerful 6-cell battery option, the netbooks remain generally lighter and relatively inexpensive compared to your average notebook.

Make mine netbook

True, there are still no CD or DVD drives and serious gaming remains a no-no. But that’s no reason to nitpick as netbooks are still designed to be secondary computers, a mobile alternative to the main desktop PC you have at home.

Given everything else that it has going for it, netbooks are indeed emerging as the way to go when it comes to mobile computing. It shouldn’t be surprising if some people decide to make it as their main computer both at home and on the road.

With this increasingly smart, new mobile computing companion and the exciting possibilities that await it on the horizon, the netbook is indeed a must-have. It’s only going to get better from here. Those of us in the Silver Age should feel like we’re part of some kind of Golden Age with one in tow.

This article was written entirely on an Acer Aspire One netbook. For more information on Silver Lining magazine, please visit

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