Shootout: What’s The Best Ion Netbook?

ion_notebooks_shMost people buy netbooks because they’re ultra-light, affordable, and offer long battery life. There’s just one thing missing: good graphics performance. That’s where Nvidia’s Ion comes in, a GPU that’s paired with Intel’s Atom processor to provide a better multimedia experience on mini notebooks. Ion-enabled machines can not only handle mainstream games like World of Warcraft, they can play high-definition video and stream your favorite shows at full screen on sites like Hulu without any stuttering. You can even edit video at a fast clip using programs like vReveal, which allows the GPU to do the heavy lifting instead of the Atom processor.

Unlike traditional 10-inch netbooks, Ion systems feature 11- to 12-inch displays with higher resolutions (1366 x 768) for enjoying high-def content, as well as HDMI ports for outputting video to the big-screen. And they’re only a bit heavier than regular netbooks, ranging from 3.2 to 3.4 pounds. Going the Ion route does involve a couple of trade-offs. Windows 7 models are more expensive than their Atom-only counterparts ($399 to $649), and you’ll sacrifice some battery life. But if you like the idea of owning a netbook that offers plenty of multimedia muscle, Ion is for you. But which one is best? We’ve tested four Ion machines — The HP Mini 311, Lenovo IdeaPad S12, ASUS Eee PC 1201N and Samsung N510 — and put them through seven grueling rounds to determine a winner.

Round 1: Design and Ergonomics

All four Ion netbooks on the market today are about the same size with 11.6 – 12.1-inch screens. The IdeaPad S12 is the only one under an inch thin, yet manages to be .2 pounds heavier than the rest (which weigh 3.2 pounds). Though the Eee PC 1201N has the largest footprint — 11.7 x 8.2 x 1.3 inches –the Seashell design keeps it looking svelte.

Aesthetically, most of these netbooks resemble their 10-inch counterparts, the biggest exception being the Mini 311. There HP took advantage of the extra space to give the system a properly-sized touchpad, to correctly position the mouse buttons, and give the keyboard some extra width. Like the IdeaPad S12, the Mini 311 comes with a subtle swirl pattern on the lid (both netbooks are also available with white lids).

Underneath the lid Samsung and Lenovo both went with matte plastic and spare, professional-looking decks. Black, glossy plastic dominates the Eee PC’s deck and bezel, which looks great when sitting on a shelf but picks up fingerprints easily. HP’s glossy silver deck has the benefit of not betraying finger smudges too much and also lending the netbook a more modern feel.

Each Ion netbook has a near full-size keyboard that offers correct key placement. However, the IdeaPad S12 offered the best typing experience with no flex in the keys and snappy feedback. The keyboard on the Mini 311 comes in a close second.

We also liked the touchpad on the S12 better than the others as there was very little friction, making it easy to slide our finger across it. We also appreciate the dedicated left and right mouse buttons. The buttons on the Mini 311 are larger than the IdeaPad S12’s, giving fingers plenty of room. We like the size of the 311’s touchpad but wish it had less friction.

ASUS gave the 1201N the Seashell line’s dimpled touchpad which has a very distinctive look and is easy to use. But the small single mouse bar beneath it isn’t our favorite. The Samsung N510’s mouse bar is a bit bigger (but still just one instead of two), and the touchpad is wide and easy to use.

WINNER: HP Mini 311. Although the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 offers a slightly more comfortable tying experience, the Mini 311 blends sleeker looks with solid ergonomics.

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  1. Rogue Says:

    After reading the article, I don’t agree with that the Mini-311 is all it’s cracked up to be.Yeah I know it didn’t win, clearly it was the 2nd place champion. But I just wanna say, it’s the FPS that is the proof in the pudding for an ion netbook. Usability of the tool chosen for the job. When you’re watching a 1080p video, the fps will matter, not the keyboard or the ergonomics. When you’re gaming in WoW, even my 10″ ASUS 1005HA-PU17 has enough keyoard to be comfortable enough with a usb mouse attached.. The ASUS battery life is 1 hr less than the 311, not worthy of making a point. You won’t be raiding an instance for hours on a’ll do it in an airport at the laptop tables, in the admirals club, or at the lounge..or more commonly in a hotel room..all attached to an outlet. Or even if not, running on battery, unless you’ve chosen a flight with a 6hour layover..or decided to trek the kids across BFE..4 hour life at full gaming speed is more than hefty at this performance level. The ASUS EeePC 1201n is the blowout winner.

  2. Edwin Doherty Says:

    I have had the Samsung Rogue since Jan 7th, it previously worked good until about a couple of months ago. my phone doesn’t receive texts messages until about 20-30 mins after the other person sent them. almost all of the time i will get multiple messages at once, when i do get them. whenever i send a image message occasionally it will send just fine and other occasions it may take a few minutes, hours, or a day to get to the other person. i have heard of others having issues with their phone randomly turning off, mine does that too. my first samsung rogue got so bad i had to get a replacement, that was almost 2 weeks ago. I am still having the same problems with my new one! I am so disappointed, i just want to get a new type of phone. i payed retail for the rogue and am so mad that it turned out to be a crappy phone :/ just my rant…

  3. Andrew Says:

    Disagree with Rogue on the simple fact that the Mini 311 has an incredible community at MyHPMini which have developed a software Overclock that allows overclocks to ~2.0Ghz and an Unlocked BIOS that gives you access to all of the ION Chipset options and Allows (thanks to lowering the memory multiplier) overclocks to 2.2Ghz+ If you get an ION LE you can also unlock it to an ION as well as overclock the ION Chip, a lot. It can take 3Gb of RAM and you can adjust how much DDR3 VRAM you give it in the unlocked BIOS. My 311 is running at 2.23Ghz with the ION VRam set to 512Mb with the Chip itself overclocked. I have 3GB of ram a and a 320Gb 7200RPM HDD. I have also now upgraded to the new 9 cell battery which weighs the same as the standard (less excess plastic) but has 60% greater Capacity. Yes 60%. It is without a doubt the Best ION Netbook On the Market and the fact that you can pick one up for about £230 from Amazon makes it an absolute steal.

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