Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

Summary:Almost since the start of the PC industry's "race to the bottom" with netbooks, computer makers have been attempting to reverse course, or at least slow the pace.HP tried painting peonies on the Mini 1000 and charging $700 for it (you can now find the Vivienne Tam Edition for less than $500).

Almost since the start of the PC industry's "race to the bottom" with netbooks, computer makers have been attempting to reverse course, or at least slow the pace.

HP tried painting peonies on the Mini 1000 and charging $700 for it (you can now find the Vivienne Tam Edition for less than $500). Asus studded its $700 Eee PC S101 with Swarovski crystals. More recently, it borrowed a page from Apple's MacBook Air, sacrificing a few features and a little battery life to make its Eee PC 1008HA ultra-thin so it could charge a little extra. Acer and HP also charge a premium for business-class netbooks, the Aspire One 531h and upcoming Mini 5101, respectively.

The latest company to test the premium netbook waters is Sony. The Vaio W series 10.1-inch netbook, which was previously available only outside the U.S., is now available for pre-order (Sony's site says it will ship around August 21st).

The Vaio W has the usual netbook specs: 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, 1GB of memory 160GB hard drive and Windows XP. It also has the higher-resolution display (1366x768) found in some of the latest models such as the HP Mini 110 and Toshiba mini NB200. The problem is that the Vaio starts at $500--that's anywhere from $100 to $150 more costly than competing 10.1-inch netbooks. Sony is emphasizing the design of the chiclet keyboard and touchpad, build quality and media streaming software, but I'm not sure any of these justify the hefty price premium.

Initially Sony didn't want to release a netbook at all. Instead it came up with the Vaio P series, an 8-inch subnotebook that starts at $900 with a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520, 2GB of memory, 60GB hard drive and Windows Vista. The P series generated a lot of buzz, and found a few fans, but so far it has apparently fallen short of Sony's expectations, perhaps because of the high price and relatively poor performance. It looks like Sony is about to do something about the performance part with a Vaio P "mark 2" update in October or November, according to TechRadar site. Based on the timing, it's a safe bet that the new P series will come with Windows 7, which should help improve the boot time and overall performance.

I understand why computer makers are trying to gild the lily, but there's just not much of an audience for a luxury netbook. When you look at Amazon.com's list of bestsellers, it's clear that consumers have settled on 10-inch netbooks that cost less than $400. If you want mobile broadband, you can even get one for a buck. Moreover, many of these standard netbooks are now built with better materials and have surprisingly nice designs. The $390 Asus Eee PC 1005HA sitting at the top of Amazon.com's list is a great example. Besides, if you're willing to spend several hundred dollars more, there are already lots of luxury netbooks to choose from--they're called notebooks.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

About

John Morris is a former executive editor at CNET Networks and senior editor at PC Magazine. He now works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are... Full Bio

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