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How to choose a netbook

We pick the best netbooks for specific tasks

Want a great netbook for video, music, and light gaming? Or a machine with all-day battery life? Or maybe just a cool companion PC on the cheap? Look no further: We've uncovered suitable netbooks for all sorts of users.

Best for entertainment: Asus Eee PC 1201N

The Asus Eee PC 1201N offers a bigger, better screen and keyboard than you'll find on most netbooks.

Would you spend almost £395 for a netbook-even a top-of-the-line one, like the Asus Eee PC 1201N?

At first glance, the 1201N physically resembles more-conventional thin-and-light laptops based on low-voltage (CULV) mainstream CPUs.

It's certainly priced in that market, it has both a crisp, 12.1in, 1366x768-resolution display and one of the better keyboards that I've seen on a netbook, too.

It also has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N330 processor - one, however, that is hosted by the capable nVidia Ion chipset.

The Ion's video capability, Asus hopes, is what will bring buyers to the table. In our tests, its video performance and image quality were definitely a cut above those of Atom CPUs using the stock Intel chipset.

The Ion chipset delivers robust video quality, giving smooth performance and downscaling with 1080p WMV files.

The Ion's 3D gaming performance was also better, but this is not a gaming system.

The bigger display means slightly larger dimensions than many netbooks have, giving the keyboard a more usable layout than those of many netbooks with a 10in screen.

And the larger display with its higher pixel count makes for a more productive working environment - you spend less time scrolling and more time reading web pages and documents.

The ports are typical for a netbook, consisting of three USB ports, an HDMI digital video port, and a VGA analog graphics connector, plus, on the right side, an ethernet jack, audio in/out, and a multiformat flash memory reader.

This Eee PC ships with SRS audio and the full Realtek HD audio suite, allowing you to set specific equalization settings and to spread out the sound field a bit.

I found that enabling these features muddied the sound quality, however, so I usually left the settings on standard stereo.

The system's built-in speakers won't make you cringe, but you'll enjoy better sound by using headphones.

The LCD screen offers better-than-adequate image quality, but it's also very sensitive to viewing angles.

That can make casual video viewing on your couch a little frustrating, as you must either stay in the same position or constantly adjust the display to the appropriate angle every time you shift your body.

Asus ships the machine with Windows 7 Home Premium instead of the more typical Windows 7 Starter Edition or Windows XP.

Home Premium offers more customisation choices-something welcome in a product that positions itself at the high end of its category.

Microsoft Works and Microsoft Office trialware come bundled.

Also included is Asus Webstorage, an online file backup and sync service that provides 1GB of free storage.

The 1201N's performance earned it a WorldBench 6 score of 33. Battery life, at 4 hours, 17 minutes in our testing, seemed a tad short for current-generation netbooks.

The real problem with the 1201N is its cost.

At nearly £400, the price tag encroaches on the cost of laptops with CULV (ultra­low voltage) mainstream processors, such as Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge and Dell's Vostro V13.

Though this Eee PC gives you a bigger display and a more usable keyboard, CULV notebooks are likely to outperform it.

Some people will find the Asus Eee PC 1201N's video performance and 12in display to be compelling. But I'd still like to see the netbook's price drop by about £100.

Loyd Case

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