Can I use a netbook as my everyday work machine?

Why silicon.com's sub editor is ditching her laptop for a sprightly mini-laptop

Why silicon.com's sub editor is ditching her laptop for a sprightly mini-laptop

Netbooks have been enjoying the spotlight of late - but are they suitable for the workplace? Bethan Jones puts one to the test.

Recently I was quietly enjoying my skinny hazelnut latte, extra foam, extra hot when my ears pricked up at the conversation at the table next to mine.

Mr A was proudly showing off his tiny device to a chorus of Mr B's delighted ooos and ahhs. "So you don't even use your laptop anymore?" asked Mr B. "Oh no", replied an excited Mr A, "I use my netbook for everything now!"

This got me thinking.

Netbooks are everywhere - 25 million will be shipped this year, and another 37 million by the end of 2010. And while many of these will go to consumers as a secondary machine for simple web surfing, it's hard to keep any gadget out of business these days - so expect to find some cropping up in your office, soon.

But can one of these mini laptops that have burst onto the scene over the last two years really cope with my daily computing needs? If this be the case, I would jump at the chance to ditch my back-breaking laptop that I currently lug to and from the office every day.

So - now is the time to put it to the test. I'm giving my current hardware setup a holiday and instead will see if I can use a netbook as my main work machine.

This may not have been possible just two years ago but today's netbooks - neat, light and small enough to tuck inside your bag - have come a long way. What started back in 2006 as a niche product aimed at children in the developing world, have quickly become the latest must-have piece of hardware - with many people considering them not as a second machine, but indeed replacing their aged laptops with a netbook.

Many netbooks now sport screens of up to 11 inches, have hard drives comparable to many fuller-figured PCs, keyboards that even the chubbiest of fingers will be able to cope with - and a price point that is most definitely credit-crunch friendly.

My current setup
As a sub editor for silicon.com, my working day is broken down by a mixture of home and office working. I start each day by working from home for a couple of hours before making my way into the office.

I have a laptop as my main machine, which I transport to and from the office each day, working straight off that in the morning and then plugging into a monitor and keyboard when I get to my desk at Silicon Towers.

Now although my 14.1-inch Toshiba, weighing in at just under 2.5kg, is hardly the largest laptop around, netbook devices touting weights of as little as 1kg seem more than a little tempting.

The machine I've chosen to adopt for my trial - the Samsung N110 - sports a 10.1-inch screen and weighs in at 1.26kg - half the weight of my current device.

So what's not to like?
Despite the obvious advantages a netbook holds for a mobile worker like myself, there could still undoubtedly be some drawbacks.

The small screen size, while considered a plus to persons on the move, could prove a downer to some who like to view life in widescreen. The same goes for the keyboard. Though some of the larger netbooks boast keyboards at 92 per cent the size of full keyboards (according to the marketing folk), this may still be a little taxing after hours of keyboard bashing.

Lastly, the processor nestled inside most of these machines is the Atom from Intel, designed specifically to ensure the machine stays juiced for longer, and copes well with word processing, a few browser tabs, email and so on.

Looking at my screen as I type now I currently have Outlook, seven Firefox browser tabs, a couple of IE tabs, four IM conversations and Word all open. For my Toshiba, I could probably open further browser tabs, iTunes and a photo editing suite before it started to groan, whereas the mini machine may start to grumble slightly earlier.

Was Apple's COO Tim Cook right in his description of these devices: "Cramped keyboards, terrible software and junky hardware"? We'll just have to wait and see - thinking done, there's nothing left to do but put it to the test. So for the next two days it's bye-bye laptop, hello netbook. In my next column I'll let you know how I got on.

Do you use a netbook for work? Want to share your tips with Bethan about working with a netbook? Or would you never be parted from your desktop or laptop? Post a Reader Comment below.