Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

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).

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware

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

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  • Nuttier than fruitcakes...

    [i]$900 with a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520, 2GB of memory, 60GB hard drive[/i]

    Nine hundred bucks for a machine with a 1.33 gig processor and only a 60 gig hard drive? Are they nuts? They should charge double that. THAT would make people think luxury. :p
  • RE: Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

    "gild the lily"?
    Use of a common misquote, like use of "ain't" puts
    you in with the common - ignorant? - man, I guess.
    C. Anderson
    • As does...

      ...incorrect use of hyphens and punctuation.
  • RE: Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

    If I wanted to "luxury" netbook, I would buy a laptop....
  • There's no way around it

    netbook is just a name for dirt-cheap, crappy laptop bought
    ONLY because of the low price. Intel Atom? Ha! :-)

    Consumers who want better laptops of course buy a
    Macbook or a Sony Vaio for example.
  • RE: Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

    I hsvr luxury at home with my PC. When I am out and about my netbook is functional and lightweight, just what I need.
  • I'll buy one!

    I want a business notebook for my increasingly frequent trips into London. I don't want to lug my heavy, hot and large laptop around.

    Something as thin as a Macbook Air with an SSD and on OLED screen and battery life long enough to last a day so I don't need to take a power block. I could go to a meeting with my pad folder with a slim notebook on the left - perfect for email and browsing and the odd impromptu presentation.

    I don't want to use some tacky looking piece of rubbish - that is why I got a unibody Macbook for home rather than a far cheaper Dell, and I didn't regret that decision. We all use computers too often and too long to suffer something substandard for the sake of saving a $100 or so.

    In my opinion, of course!
  • RE: Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

    There are two reasons people might buy netbooks: (1) they're cheap or (2) they're small. Reason (1) is inconsistent with "luxury netbooks", but reason (2) is completely consistent. A luxury netbook would be a reasonable choice for someone who wants style or distinction or specific features (like a better keyboard or display) and wants it really small and light.

    For instance, my personal laptop is a ThinkPad x60s, which weighs as little as some netbooks but cost about 3 times as much. It's got a great keyboard and display and a non-touchpad pointing device, all must-haves for me.

    From the vendor's point of view this makes complete sense, because the markup on luxury models is significantly higher. In some markets, the profit on one luxury item may be many times the profit on a commodity version. Of course, that only works if your luxury version actually attracts luxury buyers, who are often quirkier and less predictable than commodity buyers.
    • Luxury netbooks

      If the manufacturers are targetting a niche market for these "luxury" netbooks then surely more research into the needs of this market is required, instead of mass producing tacky netbooks with "bling" and a huge price tag.
      I Hate Malware
  • Please justify netbook?

    I love my laptop. It's a Macbook pro 15" --- the 17" in my opion is for the desk and I have always found that plugging in a 23" external monitor is a far better experience then lugging big 17" laptop.

    The weight of laptops has never been lighter under 5 pounds (not really sure what the real weight is with the power brick) but the weight or the size is not really an issue for me (large male). As do many millions of smart phone owners, I have a mobile device to gather content while traveling. so I rarely pull out the laptop in transit.

    The netbook size is not small enough for a pocket so I still need a bag for if... yes? The battery needs to be charged so I still need to bring a power brick with me. The keyboard is small so if I were to utilize it for "real work", I would need to dock it for a keyboard and mouse. So where does the "netbook" fit in? Is it a cheap computer alternative? Is this a throw away computer for the beach? What am I missing here?

    Would like to know how or why people have come to justify this purchase. It could help others make an informed decision.
    • It works for...

      It works for...

      * My children, who is 4.5 years old;
      * Myself, to demo PHP/MySQL web apps (the netbook is the server and the client);
      * Myself, to write or proof documents while not in my office (no need for a bag or ext. keyboard);
      * My wife, who like to chat while in bed;
      * My classmates, who write some notes or read the ebooks in class (a netbook is so light you can carry it like a... well, like a small book);
      * My friends who don't have enough money for a laptop...

      for everybody else I know, a netbook won't work or they really don't need a laptop.



  • The LUXURY netbook is a non-starter ...

    ... because it is a NOTEBOOK!

    You've been able to buy small laptops for premium prices for years and nobody really wanted them. Why would someone buy a 1.6GHz 1GB Intel Atom system for $500+ when they can get a Core 2 Duo 2GB system for $500?
    M Wagner
    • I concur

      Have to agree whole heartedly, If i had the need for a laptop again, i would look at features then price. Knowing how much i want to spend limits my choice to the lower end of the market, not that i would be lacking for choice and capabilities. Not so much that i would have to resort to putting up with a netbook.
      I Hate Malware
  • Its a transitional technology

    The Netbook is a risky market too close to the format of a laptop. You are right, I'd much rather have a small laptop than a luxury netbook, simply because I use (and will always use) many stand-alone applications. And I could still dock at and drive a hi-res monitor when needed. Just as the smartphone killed the PDA market, small laptops will kill the netbook market (for users like me) once the prices come within $300 or so. The best hope for the Netbooks is for phone companies to begin bundling them with wireless contracts combined with a robust developer community churing out low-cost or free netbook apps. Because it aint gonna make it on it's format alone, it needs cheap connectivity and a large pool of cheap apps. And those two items are still not in place.

  • RE: Why the luxury netbook is a non-starter

    I agree with the article. PC mfrs, Microsoft and Intel don't seem to like netbooks because the margins are skinny. But for many of us consumers, netbooks are great. They are 1) low in price and 2) small and light.

    Making more expensive netbooks undercuts one of the essential selling points of a netbook (the low price). It seems especially ridiculous when they aren't even providing real added value equal to the price increase.

    I have a System76 Starling netbook ($359) and couldn't be happier with it. I also have a very capable 14-inch Lenovo laptop ($1800) that I originally bought to travel with. But I found on recent trips that I wasn't able to fit the Lenovo laptop in, since I was taking binoculars and hiking boots, etc and the airlines are charging for extra baggage. I can, however, fit the netbook in. And it performs splendidly -- browsing the Web, playing music, playing movies, taking notes, and editing photos. Long live the netbook!
  • Netbooks a tradeoff, but so is everything.

    You conflate two different "luxury" netbooks. Netbooks like the HP 2140 have added-value features that improve their capabilities ? a rugged case, shock-resistant hard drive, high-rez screen ? that may justify a price increase. The Vivienne Tam edition and crystal-encrusted netbooks are vanity editions meant to extract a pretty penny for low-margin products ... unsuccessfully I'm pretty sure.

    But you can understand why people would buy premium (value-added) netbooks by looking at why people buy any laptop: to work, play, study, or browse the Web when away from home. Sure, some of these encroach on the price realm of full, low-cost laptops, but they offer a different feature set.

    Netbooks provide portable size and high battery life at the expense of high performance ... and they do it for under $500. To many people, the tradeoff is worth it. Someone tell me what laptop you can get around 3 lbs. with a 7-hour battery life for that cheap.

    When manufacturers want to add features, it's a good thing as long as the tradeoff is worth it. Technologies such as Nvidia's ION add capabilities such as light gaming and video acceleration. To the extent that the speed bump is worth the hit to the battery and the wallet, this will be a good thing for consumers.

    Netbooks' features are unique at their price point and it shouldn't be assumed that because you can buy a bargain basement laptop for the same price, that you necessarily should.

    But, they are still just laptops, and different people are going to value different features. Me? I have a desktop, a limited budget and no need to do real work away from home. I need the Internet and a decent screen without having to hunt down a plug the first thing I do. If I can watch videos and play a game or two, bonus.