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The Linux ‘weakbook’ bites backJay Lyman, November 18, 2008 @ 7:40 pm ET
I was pointed toward an interesting article recently that centered on a competitive battle of netbooks v. smartphones, indicating the latter will emerge victorious. It is true that smartphones are bucking the bad economy and gaining market like never before — with traction for iPhone and BlackBerry and even mobile Linux making a go of it (as discussed in our latest CAOS report, Mobility Matters. However, will the smartphone really kill the netbook, described as a ‘weakbook’ because it’s light and cheap? Nah. Here’s why:
Keyboard – even if it’s a smaller or tiny keyboard, the netbook allows you to type with real fingers and real keys. I’m partial to this because I’m a writer, but I don’t see the capability to write more than a Twitter update or short message, much less a stack of email responses, on a smartphone. On the netbook, you can plug away at the keys and if you prefer, you can find netbook keyboards that are almost as large as standard notebook size.
Screen – Oh, come here, you’ve gotta see this video. Um, can you back off a little, please? Unless we want to knock heads when we share cool things we’ve found or see on our latest gadgets, aren’t we’re going to want a screen that is 7-10 inches, rather than 3-4 inches? Furthermore, I’m not sure I could see sitting through a show or movie with an iPhone or other handheld. The netbook is already in a fairly familiar form factor for entertainment thanks to portable DVD players, and I see this device as ideal for streaming video TV shows, clips and movies. Considering screens and video, let’s not forget about Flash, which is moving ahead with or without Apple and which may be another edge for netbooks.
Storage – If you want a truly more mobile device, a netbook with solid state drive is best, and here netbooks do not offer a whole lot more than their smartphone rivals in terms of storage. However, netbooks may be more conducive to hooking up to USB toggles, SD and other external storage to broaden your options. If you are really looking for serious storage, you can opt for a netbook with a hard disc drive — typically offering 80-160GB capacity. While it may be a tad less mobile-ready, there’s no comparison to a smartphone in this regard.
Form Factor – let’s not forget that netbooks are PCs. While they still draw attention because of their slickness or cuteness or newness (perhaps even more than a, hold your breath, smartphone), they are bascially the same PCs that we have been using for years. Point, click, type, open, shut. This also leads to another area, user experience, where I personally see a big advantage in netbooks. I can barely manage to shift my mobile phone from loudspeaker to handset to mute and unumte during a live call. I’d much rather have a separate device, that’s right I want two devices, so that I can hop around between emails, Web pages, IM chats and more without having to keep looking at the device and changing tasks, however elegant that process may be.
All of these are arguable, but I believe there is one big factor that is less arguable which makes the netbook the killer: service plans and cost. Buy a netbook, and you’re out $300 to $500 for a good piece of machinery that can connect you to the Internet anywhere there’s WiFi. While you have the option of 3G and that is likely to increase, it is an option and it’s up to you which carrier to choose. Buy an iPhone, buy a BlackBerry or buy a G1, and you’re typically in for extended agreements and some serious service charges with the wireless carrier of their choice. I, for one, have no desire to buy a device that is going to tie me into charges that increase my total investment by 5-10 times. Even figuring in the cost of having a separate mobile phone puts you and your netbook below half the cost of owning one of these smartphones.
Cost is also the reason I see an advantage for Linux and the OS is also viewed as the more cost-competitive option by none other than Intel, which is integral in moving x86 computing and rich Internet experiences to mobile devices and smartphones, but seems more than content to make and sell netbooks as fast as consumers are buying them right now.
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