According to a recent survey by NPD Group, 58 percent of those surveyed claim to be dissatisfied with their netbooks. ZDNet blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes thinks the dissatisfaction comes from a misunderstanding — consumers expect less expensive netbooks to perform like laptops. That assumption is incorrect and ultimately leaves the uninformed consumer disappointed. Despite some consumer dissatisfaction, Christian Morales of Intel reports that netbook sales comprise about 16 percent of worldwide notebook sales. Misunderstandings aside, netbooks are taking a serious bite out of the laptop market.

Is a netbook the right choice for your client?

Some of my clients have asked me for advice about whether they should invest in a netbook instead of a laptop. The primary issue for most of them is that they want to (understandably) get the most for their dollars.

When your clients come to you with this question (if they haven’t, they probably will soon), your first step is to discern how the client wants to use the portable system. Laptops are for the clients who need full functionality to software in a trim, easily managed package. Laptops are also a better option than netbooks if your client needs to run a complex spreadsheet or manipulate a large database. Netbooks will mostly be used by clients for Web browsing, chatting, and email.

Assess your clients’ business needs

It’s important for clients to understand that they’re not going to replace their full-featured laptop with a netbook. The goal is to get the best value for your client’s dollar, while meeting all their needs. (Remind clients to take the adage “you get what you pay for” seriously. To that end, ask your clients the following questions:

1. Do you intend to use your new system as your primary computer?

A netbook is not the best choice for a business user’s primary PC. However, some home users, students, and so on can get by with only a netbook.

2. Do you require nonstandard wireless protocol?

Netbooks come with integrated 802.11 standard wireless connectivity. Some are more specific, using Bluetooth, or some other protocol.

3. Will you run complex business software?

Most netbooks will run complex business software, but it runs slowly on a netbook. For instance, a number-crunching spreadsheet or a large database won’t perform well on a netbook.

The system should come with free, easy to use tools for email, blogging, instant messaging, and so on.

There are other considerations. For instance, netbooks aren’t a good choice for CAD, graphics, or video applications. Most netbooks will run the software, but a large file will slow things down. Also, you should make sure the system is compatible with the client’s peripherals: digital camera, printer, music players, Webcam, GPS unit, mobile phone, and so on.

Clients with extensive needs can purchase the most powerful processor available in the netbook category or buy a laptop. In the netbook category, don’t bother purchasing anything less than a 1 GHz CPU with at least 1 GB of RAM; if your client can afford it, purchase up to 1.6 GHz with 2 GB of RAM.

4. Will you need to multi-task?

Multi-tasking on a netbook can be a pain. If your client needs to multi-task, opt for the most powerful processor you can get.

5. Will you download or store picture, video, or audio files?

Clients who need to store pictures, music, and graphic files should opt for the largest internal storage possible (160 GB).

6. Will you enter or edit a lot of data? Will you view large amounts of data?

If your client plans to use the system extensively, look for a netbook with the largest keypad and screen. Newer models are improving in both areas. However, these keyboards aren’t meant for touch typing, and you might find the processor has trouble keeping up with data entry. For that reason, recommend a laptop for those clients with a serious need for accuracy or efficient data entry. The alternative is to purchase a full-sized keyboard to carry along with a netbook, which tends to negate the netbook’s entire purpose. Usually, most clients will opt for ease of use over portability. Recommend the largest screen and keyboard that the client is comfortable carrying around.

If your client answers Yes to questions 1 or 6, a laptop might be a better choice than a netbook; otherwise, a netbook is a viable option. External monitors and keyboards are available for a few hundred dollars, but once you start spending money on accessories, the price for a netbook is comparable to a less expensive laptop.

Since most clients will use a netbook for Web browsing, chatting, and email, check the system’s security features in both the operating system and the browser. You need the same security features for a netbook as you would a desktop or a laptop system. At the very least, you’ll want a netbook with an operating system that supports automatic updates. You don’t want to manually install updates on netbooks anymore than you do your client’s desktop and laptop systems. For your sake, make sure the netbook has good call-in tech support.

Compare netbooks and laptops

The following chart compares laptops and netbooks. Keep in mind that there’s considerable overlap, as manufacturers don’t adhere to a standard.




Price $500 to $2,500 $300 to $800
Weight 6 to 10 pounds 6 pounds or less
Screen 13″ to 17″ 7″ to 10″
Internal DVD drive Yes If not, check for availability of external drive
Keyboard Full Full but undersized
Battery life 3 to 8 hours 2 to 8 hours
Integrated modem Yes Yes
Integrated network Yes Yes
Integrated wireless Yes Yes
Processor 2 to 2.2 GHz dual-core 1 to 1.6 GHz
RAM 2 to 4 GB 1 to 2 GB
Hard drive 160 to 400 GB 64 to 160 GB

If your client can get the best of all worlds — functionality, portability, and price — encourage your client to consider a netbook.

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