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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.

The specs explained

When buying a netbook, you don't have as many configuration options as you do with other laptops; these machines are limited. But that doesn't mean that all netbooks are created equal.

Before you go shopping for a netbook, the first thing you should consider is how you'll be using it. The first generation of netbooks targeted non-business consumers - especially students.

After all, you can stuff one of these affordable task-specific portables in a bag, and it can take a beating. But machines of this class make sense for corporate users, too. Why lug a huge laptop around when all you need is a good keyboard and a wireless connection?

Such thinking has led vendors to divide netbooks into business and consumer subcategories. Corporate netbooks pack more premium components than their consumer counterparts. Of course, premium gear is expensive, and corporate netbooks command more money.

Here's a rough breakdown of some configuration options you'll want to consider when making your purchase.

Important consideration: keyboard size and layout
Yes, a netbook will have a small keyboard, but those keyboards are often quite comfortable. The layout and arrangement of the keys is almost as important as their size.

If possible, do some hands-on testing at the store to see whether the layout and shape of a given keyboard will work for your fingers. You should also note the position of the mouse, touchpad, and any related buttons. Make sure they are convenient and comfortable.

Important consideration: screen size and coating
You'll find netbook screens that range in size from 8 to 10in (and soon, as big as 12in) diagonally.An 8in display is adequate but a 10in screen will make a real difference in the user experience.

You should also consider the coating. A glossy screen may look cool indoors, but in broad daylight - where many people would at least occasionally use it - the glare on it can be blinding.

Important consideration: screen resolution
Another characteristic to weigh is the screen's native resolution. The default setting for most netbooks is 1024x600 pixels. Although this slightly odd aspect ratio will work with most software, some programs require a different resolution to run properly.

If you intend to run proprietary business apps that demand a specific resolution, make sure that the netbook you buy can support it.

NEXT PAGE: The specs that are somewhat important

  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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