Latest Mini-Notebooks Too Pricey For You? Quit Your Whinin’
I have to admit that I was a bit shocked when I saw the tentative price for the Asus Eee PC 1000H. And sure enough a lot of people agreed with me. If you looked at comments made by our readers and elsewhere across the Web there was a similar refrain: “$649?! For that kind of money I could get a real notebook.” This kind of response is to be expected when you can nab a Dell Inspiron with a Pentium dual-core processor, 15.4-inch widescreen, 120GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM, and a DVD burner for $100 less. Or for the same price as the Eee PC 1000H you could pick up a 15.4-inch HP Pavilion notebook with an AMD Turion 64 X2 processor, 3GB of RAM, a DVD burner, and a whopping 250GB hard drive. The problem with this line of thinking is that it completely ignores what makes mini-notebooks compelling–the “mini” part. There’s no denying that the $649 Eee PC 1000H and other mini-notebooks like the $729 HP 2133 Mini-Note (XP) don’t measure up to traditional mainstream laptops when it comes to specs and performance. They don’t have optical drives, they have limited storage space, and their processors are not really made for multitasking or heavy multimedia–although the Intel Atom inside the Eee PC and the $499 MSI Wind NB is certainly faster than the VIA chip inside the HP. But no one in their right mind would want to carry that Inspiron (6.2 pounds) or Pavilion (6.1 pounds) everywhere. The appeal of mini-notebooks is that they’re light and compact enough to slip in a backpack or purse without a second thought. The real comparison that makes sense to me is how these minis stack up against ultraportable notebooks, those that typically weigh less than four pounds. One of the most affordable ultraportables right now is the Lenovo X61, with a current sale price of $1,020 (not bad, actually). For that kind of cash you get a “real” 3.1-pound, 12.1-inch notebook with a 2.1-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, and a skimpy 80GB hard drive. However, we’re still talking about a $371 premium, or nearly the cost of an Asus Eee PC 4G running XP. And this ultraportable is a rare exception to the rule that ultraportables cost a pretty penny. HP’s 12.1-inch Compaq 2510p business notebook(1.2-GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive) weighs in at 2.8 pounds and starts at $1,499. But most other ultraportables cost between $1,700 and $3,000. Toshiba’s svelte Portege R500 starts at $1,699. Apple’s groundbreakingly-thin MacBook Air starts at $1,799. And ASUS’s leather clad U2E starts at $2,049. Want a solid state drive? The cost of these systems go all the way up to $2,999, $3,098, and $2,699, respectively. In other words, for the cost of the MacBook Air you could pick up two Asus Eee PC 1000Hs for $649 a piece and still have enough money left over for an MSI Wind NB. So while you certainly could buy a “real” notebook for the same cost as the latest mini-notebooks with larger displays and keyboards, you’re still getting a lot for your money versus a traditional ultraportable laptop. The real question is whether anyone should charge more than $500 for a mini-notebook regardless of the screen size given that these systems were designed to be secondary PCs. I would say a qualified “yes.” If you want to surf the Web, check e-mail, do word processing, and perform other other basic computing tasks on the go, then the premium being charged for 9- and 10-inch mini-notebooks versus previous models with 7-inch displays and cramped keyboards is worth it. If extreme mobility isn’t a selling point for you, you shouldn’t even be looking at mini-notebooks, never mind taking the time to complain about their prices.