No one knows better than us that mini-notebooks are a hot ticket. Thanks to their irresistibly small sizes and low prices, some of us at LAPTOP have even become a bit obsessed. But not everyone has bit the bait, which brings up the question: “Who are these for, anyway?” We pitted two of our writers with opposing views on the mini-notebook hype against each other to battle over why—and why not—these mini-notebooks are a solid choice for people seeking out a second computer. Point: Why Your Second Computer Should be a Mini-Notebook by Avram Piltch From the moment I first laid eyes on the ASUS Eee PC, I knew I needed a mini-notebook. I already own a high-performance desktop computer, and a reasonably-powerful, if somewhat chunky, notebook. So why would a mobile professional like me need yet another device? I need a light, unobtrusive, and ultimately dispensable device that I can use to access my e-mail, surf the Web, and do light typing. The large screen, full keyboard, and more powerful processor make a full-fledged notebook the best choice when you’re on a business trip, sitting at your desk, or making a presentation. But there are so many situations when you need something else:
In public places: How comfortable do you feel whipping out your regular laptop when you’re waiting at the train station or packed into a tight bus seat?First, you have to try balancing it on your lap, a chore even with an ultraportable.Then you have to worry about damage, loss, and theft. Though it’s not exactly disposable, you can think of a mini-notebook as the comfortable economy car you drive all over the place, while you leave your expensive luxury vehicle in the garage. If your $1,800 MacBook Air, which just happens to hold your important data and apps on its hard drive, falls onto the subway tracks, you’re going to jump down there and get it even with an oncoming train in sight. If your $399 Eee PC falls on the tracks, you’ll be sad as you watch a train turn it into plastic confetti, but you’ll seize the opportunity to buy a newer model. In social situations: Think of all the times when you’ve wished you had a computer on hand, but the situation called for discretion. Let’s say you’re at Thanksgiving dinner, and you just have to look something up on the Web. In most families, if you whip out a regular notebook and plop it down on the dinner table, you’ll be met with disapproving looks at best. You can keep a mini-notebook on your lap and at least appear to be giving your family and friends your undivided attention. At business meetings: Paper and pen just don’t cut it in the boardroom. When the boss asks you for the latest numbers, you can grab them from your e-mail account or open up the corporate Intranet. However, if you lay down a regular laptop—even an ultralight laptop—on the meeting table and open the lid, your face can become obstructed, which is awkward when you’re trying to present information and may appear disrespectful. A mini-notebook has a smaller lid, allowing you to easily conduct a face-to-face conversation while your computer is open. At meetings, you also want a notebook that will boot and shut down quickly so you’re ready to go at the start and can pack up easily when a meeting ends. Many mini-notebooks boot and shut down quickly. True, a mini-notebook may not be powerful enough to use for all your work, but when you’re sitting in a meeting, you’ll need access only to the essentials. When you need access to something more powerful, you can use your mini-notebook to access a remote control application such as Logmein.com or Microsoft’s remote desktop to connect to your primary PC. At home: A good mini-notebook gives you nearly instant access to the Internet when you’re in a part of your home not conducive to full-size laptop use. Perhaps you’re lying in bed at night and important questions that demand immediate answers pop into your head: How many legs does Jabba the Hut have? Is Britney Spears in rehab again? When is the next BlackBerry coming out? You’re in luck if you have room for a regular notebook to sit comfortably on your nightstand. But even an ultralight like the MacBook Air is a tight fit in many small spaces and, if you’re conscientious, you have to worry about keeping an expensive computer lying around the house in places where you might knock it over or spill drinks on it. A mini-notebook is small enough to keep next to the bed and light enough to easily plop into your lap for a quick e-mail check or Wiki search. Even better, a fast-booting mini-notebook will start up, connect to your router, help you find out that Jabba the Hut has no legs, and then shut down before your significant other realizes that you were surfing in bed again.
It almost goes without saying that a mini-notebook is not the best kind of computer for gaming, watching movies, content creation, or using productivity software. Most Web pages will look better on a conventional notebook with a larger screen. However, a mini-notebook isn’t meant to replace your main computer; it’s meant to go places where a conventional notebook is too large or too valuable to go. Read Dana Wollman’s Counterpoint >>