Technologizer posts about Netbooks

We May Need a New Name for Smartbooks. (Good!)

By  |  Posted at 9:40 am on Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Smartbooks are an emerging class of computing devices that, basically, are to netbooks what netbooks are to notebooks: smaller, cheaper, less powerful, and (possibly) handier. They’re an idea being promoted by chipmakers Qualcomm and Freescale, whose CPUs will be inside the machines (which won’t run Windows).

Trouble is, there’s already a smartbook. It’s a German company, and as TechCrunch’s Robin Wauters is reporting, it’s decided to protect its trademark by going after use of the term to describe these mini-netbooks.

Continue reading this story…

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Is the Cloud All You Need?

By  |  Posted at 5:42 pm on Thursday, November 19, 2009

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When you think about it, every netbook to date has been misnamed: They’ve run traditional operating systems, and worked just fine even when you didn’t have an Internet connection. But netbooks based on Google’s Chrome OS will be different: At best, they’re going to have very limited functionality when you’re not online. Whether they turn out to be wildly popular or a legendary flop, they’re something new. They’re…netbooks!

So let’s keep this T-Poll short and sweet:


Chrome OS: The Great Unveiling

By  |  Posted at 4:45 am on Wednesday, November 18, 2009


On Thursday morning, Google is holding a press event that sounds like it’ll be the closest thing to an official introduction that the company’s Chrome OS for netbooks has gotten to date:

While this will be more of a technical announcement, we will be showing a few demos that will definitely be of interest to you as well as a complete overview and our launch plans for next year. We’ll also hold a Q&A session with members of the Google Chrome OS team following the presentation and demos.

I’ll be at the Googleplex for the briefing, and will blog it here just as quickly as I can. I’m still recovering from compiling my Internet Explorer 9 wish list, so I’m not going to muse on what I’d like to see in Chrome OS, or guess at what it’s likely to involve. But would any of you like to take a stab at it?

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Chrome OS: Imminent?

By  |  Posted at 10:27 am on Friday, November 13, 2009


Google Chrome OSTechCrunch’s Michael Arrington is reporting that Google plans to release an early version of its Chrome OS netbook operating system next week. It’s presumably a very early version, since Google says that machines running Chrome OS won’t arrive until the second half of next year.

Google says that Chrome OS will be Linux-based, Web-centric, and designed to eliminate installation and security headaches. Other than that, though, it hasn’t had much to say about the OS. (Among the major remaining questions: Just how useful will a Chrome OS netbook be when it’s not connected to the Internet?) Consequently, it’s been hard to have much of an opinion at all about the product other than that it should be fun to see what happens as Google launches yet another salvo at Microsoft. Stay tuned for some answers, I hope…

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Hackintosh Trouble?

By  |  Posted at 8:21 am on Monday, November 2, 2009

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FrankensteinApple may be suing Mac clone merchant Psystar, but its policy towards individuals who install OS X on non-Apple hardware to create “Hackintoshes” seems to have been to ignore them rather than to frustrate them. That may be about to change.

According to OS X Daily, Apple’s upcoming OS X 10.6.2 update prevents Snow Leopard from running on computers that use Intel’s Atom CPU. If true, that would make it incompatible with the vast majority of netbooks in one fell swoop.

I don’t want to assume that the OS X Daily story is the real deal until it’s received independent confirmation, and even if it is true, it’s possible that there’s an explanation that has nothing to do with Apple’s attitude towards Hackintoshes. But if Apple does want to foil Hackintoshes, this would be a good way to go about it. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that Hackintosh makers will simply hack OS X 10.6.2 further to reintroduce Atom support.)

OS X Daily wonders whether Apple might move against Hackintosh netbooks because it’s getting ready to introduce a tablet. Maybe so, but the number of folks in the world who are willing to go through the effort of putting OS X on a PC must be one-tenth of one-percent of the market that Apple would like to capture with a tablet. It would be nice to think that the two platforms–if you can call Hackintoshes a platform–could quietly, unofficially coexist.

Anyhow, here’s a T-Poll:

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Please Sir, May I Have More Memory?

By  |  Posted at 6:24 pm on Monday, October 26, 2009


Oliver TwistGood news, maybe, sort of: Fudzilla is reporting that Intel will allow netbook manufacturers who use an upcoming version of its low-end Atom CPU to sell machines with 2GB of RAM rather than today’s artificial maximum of 1GB. That would allow for nicer, better-performing netbooks that don’t cost a whole lot more. Of course, it also begs the question: Why is Intel involved in deciding how much RAM a netbook can have in the first place? It’s a little as if the company that manufactured my home’s furnace wanted to be involved in deciding the capacity of my washing machine.

The PC industry–even the parts of it who are selling tons of netbooks–have an amazing track record of disparaging the darn things and explaining why consumers don’t really want them. But some of the limitations of netbooks are manufactured: Both Intel and Microsoft impose restrictions on PC manufacturers that ensure that netbooks are less appealing than they might otherwise be, and therefore less imposing competition for more traditional, full-featured, profitable notebooks–ones that typically contain costlier Intel chips and run higher-priced versions of Windows.

Almost everyone in the computer industry would rather that consumers reject netbooks and buy somewhat more expensive, powerful thin-and-light notebooks with ultra-low voltage processors. And in many cases, those machines make a lot of sense. But wouldn’t it be nice if said consumers could choose between the best possible netbook and the best possible thin-and-light?

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Nokia’s Netbook Gamble

By  |  Posted at 1:32 pm on Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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nokia-booklet-3g-colorsI don’t quite understand Nokia’s thinking, but the company has made it official that its Booklet 3G, its first true netbook PC (or any type of full PC for that matter) will come to the states through AT&T and Best Buy on October 22. Entering into the increasingly crowded netbook space could be risky for Nokia.

First off, the device will run a pricey $599 unsubsidized. To me thats pretty astronomical for a netbook. Let’s take a look at those specs, and for fairness let’s for now forget about the 3G data capability.

It runs a Intel Atom 1.6GHz chip — the same used in the market leading Acer Aspire Ones — and includes Wi-Fi, a 120GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, and a 10.1″ display. My Acer has all of that, and was $259 without any subsidy.

The only thing I could find that my netbook doesn’t have is Bluetooth, and an accelerometer (oh and Windows 7 out the box: mine runs XP). So essentially, are we paying here $300 for 3G, which we’ll also be required to sign up for a $60 per month data plan for two years? That’s pretty steep.

While no doubt this entrant has a lot to do with Nokia’s recent cozying up to Microsoft, however I’m a little confused as to “why now.” With Acer and others able to give us netbooks under $300, how many people are going to be able to justify paying that plus an extra $2,000 or so over the life of the contract just for data?

Right now I just don’t think there’s a market for it.


Is This Twice the Netbook?

By  |  Posted at 9:30 am on Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Engadget’s Ross Miller is attending CEATAC in Tokyo–it’s the Consumer Electronics Show of Japan, only far weirder–and among the gizmos he’s encountered is a prototype of a netbook with two screens (photo borrowed from Engadget):

Two-Screen Netbook

My instinctive response to dual-screen laptops of all sorts (which I wrote about here) is that they take the best thing about portable computers–the fact that they’re easy to quickly and efficiently use almost anywhere–and mess it up. If you want more pixels than an ordinary netbook provides, wouldn’t it be more practical to buy a larger, higher-resolution single-screen notebook? Wouldn’t this machine intrude on your seatmate’s real estate if you tried to use it on an airplane? And I like to take laptops literally and use them on my lap…a scenario in which double-screen models seem particularly unwieldy.

Every time I look at a two-screener, including this one, it seems to say “We’re doing this because it’s technically feasible, not because real people would want to use this in the real world.”

Then again, you could argue that real people have never gotten the chance to give two-screen notebooks a yay or a nay–yery few of the dualies that have been invented have ever made it to market. Do you think it’s an idea that’ll ever catch on?


The Last 12-Inch Netbook in America

By  |  Posted at 4:21 pm on Friday, October 2, 2009


Lenovo S12

Have I mentioned lately that I’m a big fan of netbooks–but that I think treating them as a fundamentally different sort of device than a notebook is kind of silly, and that it’s a shame the computer industry doesn’t seem to like them much? A netbook is just a notebook that happens to be (1) small and light, (2) designed for relatively basic computing tasks rather than heavy-duty stuff, and (3) attractively priced. And despite ongoing attempts to pigeonhole netbooks, there’s no reason why there should be any hard-and-fast rules about what they are and aren’t.

Which is why I like Lenovo’s IdeaPad S12, a netbook with a 12.1-inch display that refuses to play by the rules. With Dell’s recent discontinuation of its 12-inch Mini, the S12 is a machine in a very small category: Big-Screen Netbooks. (Asus’s Eee PC 1101HA, and HP’s Mini 311 have 11.6-inch screens, but the rest of the netbook universe generally tops out at 10.1 inches.)

Continue reading this story…

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Would You Buy a Non-Windows, Non-OS X PC?

By  |  Posted at 10:09 am on Tuesday, September 8, 2009


T-PollThe IDG News Service’s Dan Nystedt has a report today that Taiwanese electronics behemoth Foxconn is planning to build “smartbooks”–even cheaper netbooks, basically–built around ARM processors. Their lack of x86 CPUs means they’ll run some flavor of Linux–perhaps Moblin (backed by Intel) or, eventually, Google’s Chrome oS. We know they won’t run Windows–not unless Microsoft comes up with a really cheap, ARM-compatible version of the OS.

I don’t think that Foxconn’s machines will be aimed at most of the people reading their post–they’re for folks in emerging nations for whom even netbooks are unaffordable. But all the recent news involving netbooks and netbook-like systems running Linux and variants thereof (as well as other alternative OSes such as Symbian) inspired today’s T-Poll.

For decades now, nearly all consumer PCs have run OSes from a grand total of two companies: Microsoft and Apple. (Yes, I know about the advances that Linux has made–I’m a Ubuntu fan–but the OS has yet to gain any permanent traction in the consumer arena and its market share remains tiny.) Either all this new activity relating to other OSes is going to amount to something, or the companies involved are wasting their time.

Queue the T-Poll:

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New Tech Still on Tap for 2009

By  |  Posted at 3:41 pm on Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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[A NOTE FROM HARRY: Here's a post by Mari Silbey, one of Dave Zatz's Zatz Not Funny colleagues. We'll be borrowing some of her ZNF items along with Dave's--welcome Mari!]

In Store for 2009We have yet to hit the holiday shopping season, so you know there will still be plenty of gadget goodness before the year ends. However, there’s also some new behind-the-scenes tech to get excited about in 2009. Here are four enabling technologies to watch out for in the next four months. This tech may not be sexy, but it’s guaranteed to make those shiny gadget toys work better, smarter, faster.


Since my netbook is clearly not cutting it for a lot of video playback, I’m psyched about new processors making their way into netbooks and small laptops in Q4. Most likely to actually hit the commercial market this year is the NVIDIA ION chipset, which is said to boost graphics power significantly in any Intel-Atom-powered device. According to Brad Linder over at Lilliputing (also heard as afternoon anchor on my local NPR station), two major manufacturers, Lenovo and Samsung, are planning to ship ION-powered laptops in the last few months of the year. And, Brad speculates that the upcoming Nokia netbook, the Booklet 3G, may also sport NVIDIA ION graphics. More info to come at Nokia World on September 2nd.

USB 3.0

If you’re into transferring a lot of media between devices, then the launch of USB 3.0 is right up your alley. Unlike USB 2.0, which transfers data at a rate of 480 Mbps, USB 3.0 boasts a whopping transfer speed of 4.8 Gbps. That’s not just good for moving HD video around, it’s also perfect for large back-up operations to an external hard drive. According to Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM, USB 3.0 will start shipping to device-makers this year, with consumer availability soon to follow.


I know, I know, it’s cool to be down on WiMAX these days, but I’m still excited for it to spread to more cities (including my own Philadelphia) this year. Partly I’m excited about the higher speeds for mobile broadband, but partly I’m excited because of the different pricing options compared to existing 3G services. For example, my employer is unlikely to subsidize mobile broadband at $60 per month, but a $10 day pass is a good bet for reimbursement. Perfect for conferences, and other places where Wi-Fi tends to be lacking. Even an unlimited mobile contract is said to be only $50 per month. (See pricing coverage from Paul Kapustka at Sidecut Reports) That’s a better price and a faster connection.

Upstream Channel Bonding

And while we’re on the subject of broadband speeds, here’s an obscure one: upstream channel bonding. Channel bonding is what’s making it possible for cable operators to offer peak DOCSIS 3.0 speedsof 50-100 Mbps in some markets. To date we’ve only seen downstream channel bonding in the US, but upstream channel bonding is on its way. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports wrote earlier this month that Comcast is exploring upstream DOCSIS 3.0 trials this year, with upstream speeds maxing out at 120 Mbps.

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Nokia Does a Netbook

By  |  Posted at 9:58 am on Monday, August 24, 2009


Nokia, which has made some PC-like devices in its day, is finally making…a PC. The company has announced the Booklet 3G, a device that it’s calling a mini-laptop. I’m calling it a netbook, but a pretty fancy one: It’s got an aluminum case, built-in 3G (with swappable SIM card) and GPS, and HDMI output. Nokia claims twelve hours of battery life–even if you apply the usual discount and assume it’ll be more like eight hours in the real world, it would be impressive. It features Nokia’s Ovi services for synchronization with the company’s phones. It weighs 2.75 pounds and is “slightly more than two centimeters thin,” which would make it a bit under .8″. Oh, and the Booklet runs Windows–and Windows 7 at that.

Judging from the photos, the Booklet’s industrial design gives us a good idea of what an Apple netbook might look like if it was a MacBook Pro, only smaller:

Nokia Booklet

Here’s Nokia’s promotional video:

I’m a sucker for the concept of deluxe netbooks, so I’m glad that the Booklet is joining HP’s Mini 5101 at the high end of the market. Nokia hasn’t announced a price, but if all the stuff it’s talking about comes standard, I wouldn’t be shocked if the system cost in the neighborhood of $800 or even a bit more, assuming it’s not subsidized by a wireless carrier. (Which, for netbooks, is a pretty darn exclusive neighborhood.) It also hasn’t said anything about availability yet–and it’s not a given that this beast will be widely available in the U.S., given the company’s relatively low profile in the states. It says it’ll have more to say about the Booklet at its Nokia World conference on September 2nd.

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Dell Ditches Its Big Netbook

By  |  Posted at 11:23 pm on Saturday, August 8, 2009


Dell Mini 12I swear I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But if I were, I’d be suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the death of Dell’s Mini 12 netbook, which the company is discontinuing. Along with Lenovo’s IdeaPad S12, it was one of the few netbooks on the market with a 12-inch screen, so its absence will be felt.

The company says that “Larger notebooks require a little more horsepower to be really useful,” but like Mike Arrington, I’m left flummoxed by that–there’s no reason why some folks might not be happy with a low-cost, basic-specs laptop that happened to have a larger screen than most netbooks. And there’s no technical reason not to build one, which is presumably why Dell built the Mini 12 in the first place.

The system packed an Intel CPU and ran Windows XP (or Ubuntu), but both Intel and Microsoft have decidedly conflicted feelings about netbooks–especially ones with 12-inch screens. And now Dell’s lost interest in large-screen netbooks, too. Perhaps the Mini 12 just didn’t sell particularly well–although Dell didn’t say it wasn’t popular, just that it was a bad idea. That’s sort of the party line of the whole industry.

In the end, there are really no such thing as netbooks–there are just notebooks in various sizes with different specs at different price points. Maybe Dell will be able to configure a 12-inch notebook with better specs than the Mini 12 and bring it in at a price point close to the Mini (which started at $429). If not, it’s telling consumers who want a fairly roomy screen but who don’t need a lot of processing power that they can’t get both in one machine. Anymore.

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Toshiba’s Mini NB205 Netbook: The Technologizer Review

The company's first netbook is full of nice touches and short on conspicuous cost-cutting.

By  |  Posted at 4:13 pm on Friday, July 31, 2009


Toshiba Mini NB205When Toshiba announced its first netbooks last month, it said that it had waited to start selling inexpensive little notebooks in the U.S. until it felt like it could do them justice. I’ve just spent time using the Mini NB205–which Toshiba likes to call a mini-notebook rather than a netbook–and found that it’s indeed one of the most highly-evolved netbooks to appear to date. There’s nothing spectacularly new or different about its design or specs, but it’s a pleasing machine that doesn’t feel compromised 0r chintzy, and there are multiple areas in which Toshiba erred on the side of doing things right rather than doing them cheap.

The Mini NB205-N312BL I reviewed lists for $399.99 and sports the components and features you’d expect to find in a current $400 netbook: a 10.1-inch screen with 1024-by-600 resolution and LED backlighting, a 166-MHz Intel Atom N280 CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 5400rpm 160GB hard drive, 802.11G Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, three USB ports, an SD slot, VGA output, a Webcam, and a six-cell battery. And oh yeah, it runs Windows XP Home SP3.

The $399.99 version of the Mini is available in blue, brown, pink and white; all versions have two-tone cases and a bit of texture to the plastic on the lid. They’re among the slickest-looking netbooks at their price point. (There’s also a $349.99 version with a black case, a more basic keyboard, and no Bluetooth; I’d spring for the extra $50 for the top-of-the-line version.)

Continue reading this story…

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Microsoft’s Netbook Problem

By  |  Posted at 2:15 pm on Friday, July 24, 2009


The persisting popularity of netbooks has been a major drain on Microsoft’s Windows client licensing revenue. The worldwide economic downturn has driven many people to purchase cheaper machines, but I believe that the netbook’s ascension also reflects changing consumer tastes.

Windows client licensing revenue fell $1 billion from last year, and Microsoft’s unearned revenue from multi-year license agreements has flatlined.

Unless Windows 7 proves wildly popular, the company’s prospects for restoring its Windows business to its past luster appear to be grim. I expect that the company will experience a cyclical earnings bump that will crest near where previous Windows releases have in the past, but growth will be less substantial.

That is because there are simply too many alternatives, with the Web acting as the great equalizer. I access Gmail just as quickly on a netbook running Linux as I would on a higher end laptop powered by Windows. And even though netbook hardware is wimpy by current standards, netbooks are as powerful as high-end machines were on the not-too-distant past

Not everyone is a developer or a gamer. I believe that the netbook meets the “good enough’ threshold for most people, and there is a decent assortment to choose from on the market.

Many of those people may have been compelled to purchase a netbook by financial reasons, but it is highly possible that many will be satisfied enough  to purchase another netbook in the future. It could mean a permanent change in consumer buying behavior.

Microsoft seems to understand that, because it is downplaying netbooks at every chance it can get, and is attempting to direct customers toward more expensive alternatives. But the industry has failed to create really compelling products that would “wow’ me into paying more–so far.

I am reminded of my late grandmother, who was a child of the Great Depression. She wouldn’t spend money needlessly, and would reuse what she had (including tinfoil). People are experiencing varying degrees of hardship during this recession, and it is not unreasonable to expect that their spending habits will be permanently altered.

Consequently, if Microsoft does not see its market share slide, it will see its revenues fall. It cannot charge as much for a copy of Windows on a $400 machine than it would have traditionally done on more expensive systems. The Windows cash cow is slowly beginning to dry up.

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