Smartphones and PDAs can do a surprising amount these days, but sometimes you need a real keyboard—and a screen that’s larger than a playing card. Until recently, the only alternative was a subnotebook, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X301 or Apple’s MacBook Air (see ”Small Is Big in Notebooks—But Not Too Small,” IEEE Spectrum, December 2008). They’re great, but they come in at 1.4 kilograms (three pounds) and cost US $2000 to $3000 dollars.
How low can today’s cost- and shoulder-conscious travelers go?
Until a year or so ago, to get under a kilogram you had to spend $2500 or more, for a Fujitsu LifeBook P1630 or a Toshiba Portégé R500. Then came the ”netbooks”—tiny notebook computers with lower-powered processors like Intel’s Atom or Celeron, flash storage often instead of a hard drive, and prices that sometimes start below $300. Netbooks may not be good for Photoshop, but they’re more than adequate for browsing, e-mail, iTunes, and the occasional spreadsheet. Yet, even though they don’t require any heavy lifting themselves, only a few netbooks slide under the thousand-gram mark. They do so in part through fewer-celled batteries and displays under 10 inches.
As of mid-April 2009, here are the vendors with netbooks under 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) and 1 kilobuck ($1000).
Acer Aspire One
US $350 as reviewed
The Acer Aspire One AOA150-1987 and related models squeak in under the weight limit by having NAND flash memory drives—a hard drive version is 1.04 kg. They have 8.9-inch, 1024-by-600 thin-film transistor displays, 1 gigabyte of RAM, 8 to 16 GB NAND flash storage, and either Windows XP Home Edition or Linpus Linux Lite. Other features include 802.11b/g, card reader slots, a webcam, and optional HSPA mobile broadband.
Asus Eee PC 900 Series
Starting at US $230
Asus kick-started the netbook category; it now has around two dozen models up to 1450 grams. The 900 series includes several with 8.9-inch screens that are under 1 kg. The 900A (Atom-based) and 900 (Celeron-based) models weigh 990 grams, have 8.9-inch 1024-by-600 displays, come with 8 to 16 GB of flash memory, and run either Windows XP or Gnu Linux. Asus’s 700 series, with 7-inch screens, are even lighter, from 892 to 922 grams.