Pine Trail Showdown: What’s the Best 10-inch Netbook?

pinetrail-iAnyone who makes a netbook–or at least anyone who matters–now offers a model with Intel’s Atom N450 processor. Code named Pine Trail, this technology promises sleeker designs (the platform’s footprint has shrunk by 60 percent) and longer battery life (thanks to 20 percent less power consumption). Now that we’ve seen and reviewed several Pine Trail systems, it’s time to pit them against each other to see which one has the best combination of design, performance, endurance, and overall value.

The Combatants:

Design

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we’ve seen so many netbooks that we’re pretty confident in our ability to separate the stunners from the ugly ducklings. High marks in this category go to the HP Mini 5102 for its durability and business-friendly look and to the Acer Aspire One 532h for its two-tone aesthetic for a low price. We also like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10‘s multiple color and designer lid options.

But our favorite design is the Toshiba mini NB305. This netbook lost the junk in the trunk (i.e. getting rid of the battery jutting from the back) but still retains the great textured lid and metal keyboard. It’s the second most expensive system, but the mini NB305 certainly doesn’t look or feel cheap.

In general we like the Seashell design of the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE–until you get up close. This system picks up fingerprints too quickly. MSI’s Wind U135 sports a wavy line pattern that does a better job masking fingerprints but its chunky battery makes the system a bit thick. We’re more enthused about the upcoming Wind U160, which is thinner.

For a close look, check out the image galleries of all six netbooks below:

pinetrail-acer
Acer Aspire One 532h
pinetrail-asus
ASUS 1005PE-P
pinetrail-dell
Dell Inspiron Mini 10
HP Mini 5102
HP Mini 5102
pinetrail-msi
MSI U135
pinetrail-toshiba
Toshiba mini NB305-N410

Winner: Toshiba mini NB305.

Although it doesn’t look all that different than its predecessor, Toshiba has streamlined an already excellent design in the mini NB305.

Keyboard

The most important element in ergonomics, the keyboard makes or breaks a netbook. The good news is that vendors have mostly left behind the small, cramped layouts with undersized or misplaced keys that defined the early days of netbooks. A good size is only the beginning, though. The style of the layout and key travel are equally important.

The mini NB305 continues to have one of the best netbook keyboards we’ve ever used. It’s unchanged from the island-style keys found on the NB205 and still offers great travel and springy feedback.

keyboard02

Also earning top marks is the Mini 5102’s keyboard. It’s also island-style, though it looks slightly different to the NB305, and has properly-sized Shift and Enter keys. The Mini 5102 earns some extra credit for replacing the row of Function keys at the top with one-button access to volume, brightness, and media controls.

keyboard01

Coming in a close third is the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, which also switches up the top row and employs a traditional size layout with relatively chunky keys instead of a chiclet-style keyboard.

keyboard03We wouldn’t necessarily warn against using any of the Pine Trail netbook keyboards we’ve tested thus far. However, some may not like the flat feel of the Acer Aspire One 532h. And if you’re a touch typist, you may want to avoid the Eee PC 1005PE; the Shift key is small and in an awkward position. The Wind U135 also has a slightly undersized Shift key, but it’s in the right position.

Winner: Toshiba mini NB305 and HP Mini 5102

We really like the sturdy feel of the Toshiba and its spacious layout, but the HP earns extra points for its DuraKey finish and spill resistance.

Pine Trail Showdown Pages:

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Nick Says:

    The Toshiba is the best quality netbook… in fact toshiba is always good quality notebooks. Although am not a netbook person am considering getting one of the Toshiba for light web uses.

  2. Patrick Says:

    Nice review! You forgot an important metric however: wireless performance. I doubt there will be a netbook sold that doesn’t use wireless and the difference in performance (pick two distances) can be disturbingly high. Allow me to suggest you add this to all your portable reviews.

  3. Edi Says:

    Where is Sony Vaio W21, Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3, HP Mini 210 and MSI U160?

  4. K. T. Bradford Says:

    Patrick, we test wireless on every notebook but didn’t include that in this particular piece because the wireless scores were pretty close on each system. If wireless range is really important, definitely check out the full reviews.

  5. Ryan Says:

    Have been following the new Pine Trail netbooks, and while I too find the HP mini 5102 to be a great looking laptop that melds performance with battery life, I believe you have to take into consideration that when the laptop was released as pre-configured, and still now as cto models the price I found for the configuration you had for your review was around $650. It is pretty disappointing to see HP bring a product to CES 2010, claim it is going to release at a said price to get early conversations started about the product and then release the product $200-$300 more than the price given at CES.

  6. luipermom Says:

    Great article!

    It was helpful because I’m currently looking for a new netbook with Atom N450 and six cell battery. Actually I own an Asus EeePC 701 and after reading this comparison I think Toshiba Mini NB305 is perfect for me. Also I own a 15″ Toshiba laptop since 2005 and it still functions perfectly, so I trust in this brand.

    Best regards.

  7. Dre Says:

    Great Review, but I think you should also add the Gateway LT series netbook with the Pine trail processor. It is the best looking netbook I’ve ever seen, and it performs amazingly. Also cost around $350.

  8. George Says:

    Quick pricing question: You note here as you did in your earlier HP review that the preconfigured 5102 is available with the 6-cell battery for $424. Is that a price you got from HP directly? I’ve been researching that same configuration and have been told that battery option is much more expensive. Thanks for any info you can share!

  9. Rajiv R Says:

    I just bought the Dell mini that comes with the digital TV tuner and all the other features that is mentioned on this website for 325 bucks including taxes. The HP mini is also available for the same price with a bigger hdd i.e. 250gb vs 160gb in dell. But i went for the dell because of the TV tuner and plan to use an external storage if i need more than 160 gb for a netbook.

  10. Bernard Says:

    The new Dell Mini 10 is currently on sale for 299.00 with 250 GB hard drive and a 6-cell battery. All things considered, I think this is a more practical purchase.

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