Free alternatives to MS Office include open source suites and web-based tools. The cost, though, is some limitations on functionality.
Best Cheap Netbooks
They're sporty, they're slick, they're oh-so-portable, and they're popping up in schools, coffee shops, and airports all over the country. Netbooks are big. Well, small, actually. Very small. Yet these little wonders are capable of handling most basic computer tasks, and usually for several hundred dollars less than even a modestly priced laptop PC. OK, maybe a cheap netbook isn't the best machine for watching high-def movies or playing 3D games, but netbooks costing less than $300 are an excellent tool for surfing the web, checking email, or working on a document while you're on the move.
Cheap Netbooks Buying Guide
An instant hit when Asus debuted its first Eee PC system several years ago, netbooks are slick, functional, and getting cheaper and better with each new product release. Meanwhile, they've become pretty homogenized in terms of hardware features.
One common complaint about netbooks, cheap or otherwise, is that their small size necessitates a small keyboard. When test-driving a netbook, be sure to look for one with a keyboard that's still comfortable and easy to use -- it should provide good tactile feedback and have a solid feel. The touchpad is another important consideration -- it should be responsive and accurate, and the buttons shouldn't be too stiff.
A netbook's performance isn't going to blow anyone away, even if it includes better-than-average hardware. These little systems aren't designed to be powerhouses. You won't be playing 3-D games on them (at least not well), and they're not ideal for video editing or other PC tasks that require a fair amount of power. What you should expect from a cheap netbook, though, is a system that easily handles everyday computer tasks.
As netbooks get more expensive, their features, quite obviously, get better. Pricier netbooks often have larger hard drives and larger, higher resolution screens that support true HD video playback. Higher-end netbooks also tend to have more memory than cheap netbooks and may also have faster processors.
We set our threshold at a mere $320 and found a few solid systems. The hardware similarities among cheap netbooks are extensive, so the trick to shopping for one is to pay attention to the details. For example, Acer's Aspire One AO722-BZ454 (starting at $299) has a larger screen and faster CPU than most other cheap netbooks. According to reviewers, Toshiba's Mini NB505 (starting at $250) is another budget bargain, with long battery life and an easy-to-use keyboard. The HP Mini 1103 (starting at $317) gets a bit of a boost from its faster-than-average hard drive and the Gateway LT2805U (starting at $230) is another good cheap netbook despite its limited battery life. Asus is one of the most prolific netbook makers out there and its line of Eee PC netbooks are usually favorites among consumers, but the Asus Eee PC 1015B (starting at $299) garners mediocre reviews for performance. The HP Mini 210 (starting at $279) likewise delivers less-than-average performance, according to reviewers.Back to top »
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