Netbooks under $100
Oh, you better believe thereís a catch
By John Andrews† firstname.lastname@example.org
The catch is that they suck.*
The pitch is, OMG, a computer for really cheap! And with the way computers have been divebombing in price for years, itís really not that astonishing that a serviceable computer might finally appear at that magical two-digit price point.
Donít you believe it. Donít you dare believe it.
When they were first appearing on the market, what exactly made a netbook a netbook was unclear. Small size? Cheapness? Kinda, yeah, but they were still OK machines. All but the very first had processors over 1GHz, and it quickly became almost impossible to find one not based on Intelís 1.6GHz Atom processor. Thatís part of what made them so cheap ó they were all pretty much identical inside and not as modular as other notebook PCs, so they could be manufactured at very low cost.
Then someone figured out, hey, if you slapped the guts of a pocket PC from a couple years ago into a case with a keyboard and a 7-inch screen, you could make some serious bank.
Hence, a flood of cheap ó and I do mean cheap ó devices.
Oh, theyíll get you on the Web. They actually might be nice for a bit of browsing in bed. But donít think youíre getting a computer with real multimedia capabilities.
The majority use Windows CE as their operating system. Since this was designed for mobile devices, Web sites often show their mobile Web sites when you access them. Thatís actually sort of good, since rich media, complicated code and dozens of ads would bog down this underpowered machine, but it also means that you donít get the full experience of most Web sites.
Did I say underpowered? Yeah, about that. A Sylvania advertised for $99 at CVS runs at a whopping 300MHz. Thatís not memory speed, or front bus speed ó thatís the main processor. The Augen E-Go, which is available new almost nowhere after its brief retail run, clocked in at an even more pathetic 248MHz. If youíre lucky your model has 128MB of RAM.
Your phone is probably faster than that.
You get similar specs from names like Visual Land, Konaki and iView. That inspire confidence? No? Thought not.
The picture doesnít get any better when it comes to software. The Office software you get is extremely limited. You can edit documents in a stripped-down version of Word, but spreadsheets and presentation are strictly read-only. Youíre probably better off using an online suite like Google Docs, if it will even load in one of these thingsí browser.
There are pre-installed apps for hip things like YouTube, Facebook and Pandora. And Ö not much else. Have you searched for Windows CE software lately? Even when Microsoft was still making that operating system, the software library wasnít that impressive. You might get lucky and find one or two apps under active development.
Or you might decide to buy a refurbished real netbook for a couple bucks more.
*Thereís one other possible catch: the netbook is actually decent, but you have to subscribe to wireless broadband access for a year or two. Possibly worth it if you like to surf the Web while camping.