Like I Said, Netbooks Suck

by Joey deVilla on June 23, 2009

Netbooks are just like Burger King apple pies

My article from a couple of weeks ago, Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck, got a lot of reactions from both the “You’re right!” and “You’re dead wrong!” camps (the article on Global Nerdy got a fair number of comments, but the same article on the Accordion Guy blog got a hundred comments).

Here’s some evidence to back my theory that netbooks are like Burger King apple pies – that is, they look like laptops, but don’t offer the same capabilities, leading to disappointment: a report from NPD Group, a market research company titled NPD Finds Consumer Confusion about Netbooks Continues.

Some highlights from the report:

  • 60% of the people interviewed by NPD who purchased a netbook instead of a notebook thought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks.
  • 58% who bought a netbook instead of a notebook said they were “very satisfied” with their purchase, compared to 70% who planned on buying a notebook from the get-go.
  • In the 18- to 24- year old group, the group that many commenters said would embrace netbooks, 65% said they bought their netbooks expecting better performance; only 27% said that netbook performance exceeded their expectations.
  • Portability is a big selling point for netbooks and a point that many commenters brought up, but 60% of the people surveyed said that they never even took their netbooks out of the house.

It’s just as I said: the form factor of netbooks – they look like laptops, but smaller – sets up people for disappointment in the same way that Burger King’s apple pies did. They looked like homemade apple pies, but didn’t taste like them.

The Real Point of Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck

When I first wrote Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck, my intent was to post it in the official Microsoft Canada Developer blog, Canadian Developer Connection. I didn’t want the legal department on my back, which is why I referred to Burger King and McDonald’s as “Monarch Burger” and “Jester Burger”, respectively.

I feel that there’s a little too much excitement about netbooks at Microsoft. I think that part of it stems from the old company mantra, “a computer on every desktop and in every home”. The PC is the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, and the closer that a device is to the PC, the more Microsoft “gets” it. I feel that Microsoft sees the netbook as an exciting new space, where I see them as smaller, less powerful laptops. I think that eventually, as technology catches up, netbooks will simply be considered “computers” – just on the small end of the PC size spectrum, and that Microsoft should treat them as such.

The article is also an open letter to Microsoft stating my concern that netbooks are a dangerous red herring distracting us from where the real potential in mobile computing is: the smartphone. It’s an area where Microsoft had an early lead and dropped the ball. It’s an area where I feel that Microsoft is showing a lack of vision, from Steve Ballmer’s ill-considered dismissal of the iPhone (“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”) to Windows Mobile 6, which feels as though it was half-assedly slapped together by PDA designers frozen in an iceberg in 2000.

I think I’ll close with the graphic that summarized Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck:

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Corina June 23, 2009 at 10:51 am

I think this is just typical consumer ignorance… I don’t know anyone who has bought a netbook expecting it to yield the same functionality as a full laptop. The people I know who are happiest (besides Brent Ashley and his Hello Kitty mod) are usually the ones with a serious laptop at home, who wanted a scaled down version to use for simple applications.

I’m hoping the trend is to merge the two worlds… eventually building a high-functioning portable that doesn’t require its own special carrying bag.

2 Fabio June 23, 2009 at 11:06 am

Another of their reports state the following (from June 9):
“The early success of netbooks indicates that Canadian consumers have adopted these products and understand their features and capabilities were designed to be a portable companion PC, not a lower-priced notebook,” said Ryce.
I’m pretty sure that finding the necessary statistics to back up whatever side you choose would not be terribly difficult.

3 Melanie June 23, 2009 at 11:14 am

I love the Eee pc and found it supports an amazing range of tasks I wouldn’t have thought possible – like running Second Life (a bit laggy but otherwise functional). Since we got it, I’ve updated websites, created presentations, edited video and audio and run a large number of applications at once without any issue. It does what i need it to do – which is quite a lot!

The other thing about netbooks is how they challenge the digital divide. I know many people who simply cannot afford the outrageous dataplans for the iphone. I also know a lot of people who really don’t need a macbook for their work. In fact, the only people i know who simply must have apple products are precious geeks and hipsters who cannot bear the prospect of being seen with any other brand. For my teacher friends, family members and non hipster types, there are a lot of other products out there that deliver amazing performance at a humane price point. The Eee is one such product.

When talking about tech, it’s really important to remember that our own habits and lifestyles aren’t necessarily those of the average consumer and that socio economic realities are a huge factor for many people in their choice of hardware. The digital divide is still alive and well, though many geeks simply don’t see or acknowledge it (because they don’t really know people who are excluded from these conversations – IMHO).

4 Andrew June 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

I love my netbook, but I can see how someone would be disappointed with it. I bought it in place of an ebook reader, and for watching video on the train and as a Skype device. It does all that very well. But if I was looking even to do some simple photo editing and more than a little typing it would probably drive me nuts.

5 efnord June 23, 2009 at 8:28 pm

I’d like to echo what Melanie said and also mention the issue of credit. A netbook doesn’t cost more if your credit rating isn’t perfect, and there’s free WiFi lots of places. If you have to buy a smartphone outright and go with a pay-as-you-go data plan, you’re looking at some really disproportionate expenses.

6 Bob Firestone June 24, 2009 at 5:31 pm

The “Zone Of Suck” completely explains the entire position of the netbook.

Not really that much more portable than a laptop. It still won’t fit in my pocket & I am not carrying a man-purse to carry a mini-me laptop.

Not much more powerful than a smart phone or ipod touch.

Netbooks are a solution in search of a problem.

7 Paul June 24, 2009 at 8:26 pm

I have a Fujitsu Q2010. It’s 2.2lbs, very light, 12″ screen. I both love and hate it. I use it daily for work, as the screen size is just right for an ultra portable. The part I hate is how long it takes to switch contexts. Running IE, Firefox, and Thunderbird simultaneously is not something I recommend doing for long periods of time without closing one to recover from memory leaks. It’s sad that a $2k laptop can’t easily run an email/rss client and two web browsers at the same time.

The specs of this machine are somewhat akin to the net books: 1.2 GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, shared with video, 40GB [spinning] disk.

“Window key + E” 1, 2, 3, 4, … 8 seconds before Explorer opened. That’s not the kind of responsiveness I would expect from a modern computer, but is something I expect from a netbook.

I just thought I’d share my experience with a netbook prototype…

8 www.thingswelovetohate.com June 25, 2009 at 1:46 am

Well now I’m sure I’m not buying a netbook. What about a tablet then for portability and “enough functionality”?

9 Marco June 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm

You quote the study: “60% of the people interviewed by NPD who purchased a netbook instead of a notebook thought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks” which simply means that 60% of people interviewed were poor consumers. We live in a world where access to this basic type of technology review information is far to easy for this level of ignorance to have occurred.

Poor consumer decisions don’t make something completely useless. I mean, Microsoft product IS everywhere, no?

Having convinced my employer to buy 4 of these things for our staff to take with them to meetings, etc., I’d say that they’ve been an overwhelming success and are constantly “checked out”. But, we use them appropriately, as I think they were/are meant to use – they’re great ways to take notes at meetings and then send them around instead of transcribing from hand written notes (bit time savings!), surf the web/check stuff quickly at meetings/on the road where wifi is available and generally act as a very portable and adequate out-of-office office tool.

This is simply about appropriate technology use, nothing more. I love my iTouch, but hate typing anything more than a few lines on it and that screen is just a bit too small for reading big docs, etc. – but, yes, it’s awesome! The average laptop is too heavy to casually carry around and the battery life typically sucks (there’s your zone of suck!!!) – most just are like that.

Your zone of suck is easily replaced with netbook tablets (go Apple!) and people who understand what they’re buying when they buy them. It’s that simple.

Oh, and the LGs are the way to go, the Acer keyboards are just a bit too small (we have 2 of each – consensus is with the LG). The LG is more comfortable for longer typing and, with a slightly larger screen, not to hard on the eyes. If LG comes out with a tablet version… Rejoice!

And, you know what, our office netbooks have the same specs as my slightly older latop at home (although the netbooks have WAY more hard drive space!), which runs photo AND video editing software – albeit SLOWLY. But, patience people, yeesh!

10 dpeter July 21, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I agree. I bought an Eee 1000HE thinking it could function as a laptop replacement. I ended up disappointed with its really poor performance (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a PC that struggled to run XP smoothly). I also realized that while I don’t use an optical drive that much overall, I still need one every six months or so when I reinstall Windows, and external DVD burners are really expensive. It also wasn’t as portable as I thought. It can’t fit in a pocket like a smartphone, so you still need to lug around a briefcase or backpack the same way you do with a regular laptop. I also wasn’t too impressed with the flimsy build quality, or the uncomfortable keyboard. I would have given the thing a year or so before it started falling apart. I returned it and picked up a refurbished Thinkpad T43 instead for around the same price and I’m much happier.

11 Abi August 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I bought an Asus eee a couple of months ago, and am extremely happy with my purchase. I bought it online without seeing one in person, and while the small screen size does take some getting used to, I have not noticed any slowness or drag even with multiple applications running. I am still working on 1GB of RAM, and haven’t felt the need to upgrade to 2.

For me it’s perfect, I mostly use it at home… but bring it to work occasionally, and basically – as I said it does *everything* that I want it to do, and I can go a whole day without having to lug the recharger around with me. For me I really wanted something smaller than a normal laptop, but with the functionality that I need. Price was also a huge consideration – and this fit the bill perfectly! I think there is a large segment out there who are like me, and that the Netbooks do fit a nice little niche.

12 M3Man August 14, 2009 at 3:32 am

If you already carry a briefcase, adding the 3lbs for a netbook and its charger is less that half the weight of my 13 inch screened Toshiba, So now, everywhere I go I have all the computer power I need. I can write a letter, an email, get online and have full access to all web pages and can see the entire thing without zooming or scrolling like with a smartphone. I have one at home so I can surf the net from any chair with 2 lbs on my lap instead of 6. I bought a 2nd acer with the solid state drive to keep in my briefcase. It has no moving parts, and I can pop in 16 gb SD cards to the expansion slot for $25 bucks and thats all the storage I need. With the big battery, it will run 7 hours. Total cost for both? $650, including Tax and shipping.

It may not be what you need, but I’ve been waiting 20 years for a light, cheap laptop that will run Windows and all windows type software. 4 years ago, to get a computer this small, you had to by a high end Sony or Toshiba for $1700. Now its $275. How can anybody b*tch about that?

13 Blake August 31, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Happy to have found the “pie vs. pie” breakdown on the netbooks. Why do they make the netbooks seem so wonderful, but throw in a worthless processor? I don’t want a smart phone… I want a small laptop. Smaller than my wife’s MacBook. What is the deal? Throw a better processor in the thing and make it worth the trouble. Some of us need to catch up on Adultswim.com while we are on the road. A computer is worthless to me if I cannot watch Robot Chicken on my lunch break. These things get the big thumbs down until they are given the capabilities they should have.

14 Tim September 3, 2009 at 9:47 am

Say M3Man, how can you have been waiting 20 years for a laptop? They’ve barely been around that long! I agree, $275 might be cheap, but how far will you go for cheap when the damn thing breaks or cannot process fast enough for the upcoming web 3.0?!

15 Arran October 20, 2009 at 11:26 am

I was looking in to getting a netbook but was let down by the fact they all most all run with the Intel Atom thats only 32bit and have poor screen resolution and Intel graphics so i got the HP dv2-1010ea it has a AMD Athlon Neo thats 32/64bit and it has ATI Radeon x1250 Grphaics with a screen resolution of 1280×800 and a USB DVD-RW Drive oh and its 12.1″ in size yes it cost more but it was so worth it

16 luis January 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

netbooks, laptops for students, laptops for enterprise, laptops for home, desktops for students, desktops for enterprise, desktops for home ALL product of the marketing, all people deserve the best computer for them, if you have the money go on.

17 z2z February 21, 2010 at 1:08 am

Bought a Dell netbook in november of 08. It sucked, it’s probably the worst thing I bought so far. Don’t try playing youtube videos on the thing. What’s interesting thought that the battery lasts for a decent time (at least when I first bought it). It is now boxed again and somewhere in my walk-in closet gathering dust. Netbooks are useless. Some people are actually promoting them as a “second computer”, why would I need a second computer that sucks? For the same price of a netbook you can get a real laptop, I just don’t understand the logic, same way as I don’t understand the logic of the ipad .

18 KI March 10, 2010 at 12:10 am

Bought a Gateway netbook, and it was awful. Couldn’t download a program I had on a CD. It didn’t run some key websites I use often. It seemed slow, and I was always scrolling. Only the touch pad sucked.

Exchanged it for a low end but still powerful desktop and just using my old powerful laptop on power saver mode. I won’t ever need 6+ hours of battery life.

19 TestForEcho78 May 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I don’t like the keyboards on ANY notebook, let alone the cramped tiny keyboards on netbooks. At least a notebook will do enough stuff to make it somewhat bearable to deal with so many typos due to the condensed size of the keyboard. The lesser capabilities, power, sturdiness and such make the excruciating pain of a netbook keyboard way higher than the price of the stupid thing. If you want to buy one, fine with me, I don’t care. Just don’t try to push one on me. They suck, suck, suck. Kind of like the comparison between the 2 door sucks, sucks, sucks, 2 passenger “Dumb” Car and a real car. (besides the smart car looking incredibly ghastly and being a death trap).

20 Carlos June 2, 2010 at 2:07 am

I have bought 2 netbooks (one Acer and one Toshiba, both rated as ” top” when bought) as ” emergency laptops” the idea was to use them as a spare when a Laptop breaks.
Even for temporary use, they SUCK big time.
Might as well buy some used laptops on ebay as emergency machines next time.

Never again a netbook!

21 jack November 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm

NetBooks Rock !!!

22 Frank April 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I was totally disappointed by netbook performance. Had to wait 2 minute for it to boot up and enter a “usable state”. Get unresponsive when 2 tabs on IE opens at the same time. I sold it and got an iPad. Best decision I’ve ever made.

23 Roberto November 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm

It all depends on what you run on the netbook. On my netbook (Acer AspireOne, 1.67GHz 1GB RAM), on Windows, both Firefox and Internet Explorer run slow, but Google Chrome is still fast.

Also, I run Linux on it most of the time (Ubuntu 10.04), and it runs very smoothly (almost never slow). So in my opinion, netbooks are perfectly good if you don’t use any “bloated” software.

24 Jake May 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I have a Acer Aspire One. IT FUCKING SUCKS! It is the slowest piece of dog shit i’ve ever used. I want to take it outside, and smash it to pieces with a fucking sledge hammer! But, I fucking can’t because it’s the only pc I have! DX FUCK NETBOOKS! FUCK THEM RAW AND HARD WITHOUT A CONDOM! FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Leave a Comment

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: