The netbook has been the computing phenomenon of 2008. Packing some hardware into a tiny notebook chassis and flogging the result as a low cost connected computer has proved a real moneyspinner for hardware bods.
I've spent considerable time with Dell's variant on the theme, the Inspiron Mini 9 as sold by Vodafone complete with HSDPA connection. I reviewed it back in October and since then have been using it on and off. It does for a mobile internet machine, but the specs and screen size mean I really don't think it could function as anyone's sole computer unless their requirements are very rudimentary.
More recently I've become friends with LG's X110 which takes the netbook concept on to another level.
One of its key plus points is the 160GB hard drive which I reckon means that many users could store all their data on it. I could certainly happily install the applications and data I need for both work and leisure.
But it is the HSDPA connection which is the most alluring feature of all. The X110 is available 'free' at Phones4u on four different tariffs from Vodafone, Orange, 3 and O2. There are download caps ranging between 3GB and 5GB, and HSDPA speeds run between 2.8Mbps and 7.2Mbps. The tariffs range between £30 and £35 a month and all are 24 month contracts.
All the gen is here. Wi-Fi is built in which should help you keep inside those download limits.
I found the keyboard small but well built. Touch-typing at very close to my normal speed was not a problem. Usability was more affected - and negatively so - by the 10-inch screen whose 1024 x 600 pixels don't display enough information for serious work and can't adequately cater for having two simultaneously opened windows.
The webcam could be useful and there is a fun element in its software which lets you do things like apply 'hall of mirrors' type distortions to images and overlay stamps and frames. There is a YouTube uploader plonked in there too.
Build quality is superb. The casing feels solid and there is a neat tapering to the front. There is a fair range of ports and connectors: three USB ports, VGA-out, Ethernet, flash card reader for SD and Memory Stick formats, headphones and microphones connectors.
There is 1GB of RAM which seemed to cope well. The X110 runs Windows XP Home on its obligatory Intel Atom processor. The speakers are on the underside of the casing where their sound was often muffled by my clothing or the desk on which the X110 was resting.
The LG X110 is certainly a serious step up from the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 from Vodafone and on the basis of usability alone I'd swap in an flash if I had the opportunity. But those contracts aren't cheap, and I'd need another computer for everyday work with the LG sufficing as a weekender.
Which makes it a bit of a non-starter for me.