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Netbooks Battery Life.Netbooks are designed to be used on the go, so battery life is essential to functionality.
In the past, Windows netbooks typically came with a small, three-cell battery, but today, even the cheapest netbooks usually have a six-cell battery. Except for the Gateway LT2805U, that is, whose three-cell battery lasts only about three hours between charges, according to some users. Not surprisingly, the more cells a battery has, the longer it lasts between charges, and the upgrade to six cells has led to a significant increase in netbook battery life. Based on the reviews we've seen of Windows netbooks, all the six-cell models on our list can run for about seven hours. PC Mag's test of the HP Mini 210 finally came to an end after nearly 10 hours of run time.
Keep in mind that the way you use your netbook affects its battery life. If you run several applications at once, you'll drain your battery more quickly than if you run a simple word-processing application.
Netbooks Ports/Connectivity.For the most part, cheap Windows netbooks are designed to be self-contained units, although it's still nice to be able to connect up with other devices. Today's Windows netbooks generally feature nearly identical port and connectivity options. For example, all of the Windows netbooks we researched have three USB 2.0 ports and support 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connections. Some netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1015B, Asus Eee PC 1018P (starting at $350, Amazon), Toshiba Mini NB505, and Acer Aspire One AO722-BZ454, also include a card reader than can read a variety of flash memory cards, such as SD, SDHC, or MMC. The Acer Aspire One also has an HDMI output, something the other cheap Windows netbooks on our list lack.
Netbooks are too small to incorporate a CD or DVD drive, but you should be able to get by without one. If you feel you must have a CD or DVD drive for your Windows netbook, you can buy an external drive for $30 to $60 that connects to a USB port. Still, it's probably more convenient to use the netbook's flash card reader so you can easily shuffle files between, for example, your digital camera and Windows netbook.
Netbooks Keyboard and Touchpad.The big appeal of Windows netbooks is their portability. But the cost of that pick-up-and-go quality is usability challenges. Reviewers often worry that netbook keyboards are too small and that interacting with the touchpad is too awkward, issues that surfaced with some of the cheapest netbooks we researched.
Because the cheapest netbooks are so small, you have to get used to using a downsized keyboard. Even so, you should beware of keyboards with super-small control and shift keys, and keyboards without function keys. Look for a keyboard that's easy to use despite its compact size; it shouldn't flex while you're typing -- at least not very much -- and the keyboard buttons should provide tactile feedback. In addition, the touchpad should be responsive and easy to manipulate. A netbooks buying guide on CNET recommends finding a netbook with separate touchpad buttons rather than a single button.
According to expert reviews, the HP Mini 1103 and Toshiba Mini NB505 keyboards are standouts in the cheap Windows netbooks category. In the case of the HP Mini 1103, PC Mag says the small keyboard actually feels more spacious because the surface of the keys is slightly raised; the touchpad offers multitouch options like pinching to zoom or two-finger scrolling although it seems a bit small. Laptop Mag says the terraced keys on the Toshiba Mini NB505's small keyboard let you know where you are when typing, the touchpad is large enough for easy navigation, and pressing either of the two mouse buttons requires no extraordinary pressure.
Assessments of the input devices on the other Windows netbooks we researched are mostly mixed. For all the appeal of the Acer Aspire One AO722-BZ454, one expert grumbles about typing errors that are pinned on the lack of feedback from the keys and some flexing in the keyboard; the reviewer notes, however, that the single-button mouse bar is sufficiently responsive. The keyboard on the HP Mini 210 earns a thumbs up from experts for its roomy feel; Engadget reviewers aren't fond of the small touchpad because the buttons are integrated into the touchpad itself, making them tricky to use. The keyboard in the Asus Eee PC 1015B fails to impress. Both PC Mag and Laptop Mag consider it too small, although they commend the responsiveness of the touchpad (as a side note, Engadget says the touchpad on the sibling Eee PC 1018P is too stiff). Inadequate spacing between the keys leads to typos with the Gateway LT2805U, according to user reviews at Office Depot. But the bigger gripe about this Windows model seems to be keys that stick or come loose within weeks of purchase.
Don't Bother Cheap Netbooks
Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review
HP Mini 210 Review
Asus Eee PC 1015B Review
HP Mini 1103 Review
Gateway LT2805U Review
Acer Aspire One Review
Toshiba Mini NB505 Review
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