Is it worth it to get a Netbook?

I've been lugging my laptop for all my business meetings and on flights, for the last few years of my life. First it was a very heavy and rugged IBM think pad, then a rather unfortunate Lenovo purchase that I would like to forget and now my one year old Dell XPS 1330, which is the lightest and most high-end laptop I have ever owned.

So you can't really blame me for salivating over the ultra portable netbooks that are now flooding the market. Most of them hit the sweet spot under Rs. 20,000; about the same price you would pay for a high end cellphone. Why not? Yet I have hesitated before springing for one of the HP, Dell or Asus models that are available.

This article that I read yesterday on ZDnet puts the issue into perspective. For most of us, laptops are used for business and we therefore need a certain level of computing power. Specs such as Atom Processor and Win XP Home leave me fairly cold. The slowness and clunkiness of my Vista OS has made me very scared about low end slow machines.

I recently advised a friend who is an art director and travels a lot, to get a desktop for her home use (large display, powerful ICore processor for her Corel and Photoshop) and a netbook which will let her blog and browse on the fly. Her Rs. 60,000 budget would have accomodated both at a pinch, but she chose the option of semi-portability with a 15 inch Dell Studio (ICore processor, 500 GB hard drive, 4 GB RAM). She gets blazing fast speeds on her image editing software, and a backache each time she travels, but she does not regret the Netbook that would have weighed next to nothing.

I cited this example to prove that for most of us, it is very hard to justify a netbook purchase, despite the ostensible practicality of it. On the one hand, hardware manufacturers and software providers keep pushing us to upgrade to higher performance equipment. On the other hand, ultra portables are not only convenient, but also premium and aspirational. Now portability comes cheap without the performance and people like me are unable to justify its utility.

I understand where netbooks are positioned in my mind, when I look at when I would recommend it to someone. If a friend had a tight budget and wanted a notebook, I would tell him to stretch as much as he could and get a mid-priced performance notebook from Dell or HP. I would want him to get the highest performance his money could buy, not the greatest portability. I would only ever recommend a netbook as an add-on purchase to a laptop or desktop. And anyway, how many of us really want the hassle of having two laptops and always having to transfer stuff to and fro?

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