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The ultimate guide to buying a netbook

Confused about what to choose - we'll help you

If you're confused by the exploding netbook market then fear not. We explain all you need to know about these low-cost, low-power laptops and help you decide which is right for you.

Battery life
Though the Intel Atom CPU is by no means an energy hog, netbooks aren't known for long battery life. That is partly because vendors typically try to keep costs down by providing a modest three-cell battery. If you're lucky, a battery of that size will last 2.5 hours on one charge, judging from our test results.

So if you want to stay productive on your netbook while traveling, you'll probably need to buy an oversize, extended-life battery to power your machine.

The best-selling Acer Aspire One is a case in point. You'll have to shell out around £75 for the the optional six-cell battery that effectively doubles its duration. The bigger battery adds a little more weight to the system, too. So far, Samsung has earned the laurels for producing netbooks that have the longest battery lives. We've seen some that last upwards of almost 8.5 hours in our lab tests.

You get one other bonus when you buy a bigger battery, in some models at least: the double-stuffed power source props up the netbook at a slight tilt, making ergonomic typing on the (usually) tiny keyboard a little easier.

Many netbooks come with serviceable, comfortable keyboards, despite their smaller size. A netbook's keyboard is usually about 88 or 92 percent of a full-size qwerty keyboard, but the layout and arrangement of those keys counts almost as much as their size.

To see whether the layout and shape of a given keyboard will work for your fingers, you need to do some hands-on testing at a store. Of course, bigger keys are better for beefy digits - and netbooks that have 10in screens tend to offer the larger keyboards.

NEXT PAGE: Software and wireless connectivity

  1. Confused about what to choose - we'll help you
  2. Netbooks: the big picture
  3. More key features to pay attention to
  4. Software and wireless connectivity
  5. The specs explained
  6. The specs that are really important
  7. Netbook shopping tips

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