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Netbooks and small laptop reviews

We test 10 go-anywhere laptops that won't weigh you down.
 
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01 .Introduction

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Test results for 10 tiny laptops priced from $350 to $1300

Choosing a laptop computer often involves compromise. Never more so than in the small and cheap category. It’s the holy grail of laptop computing – a device small enough that you want to carry it with you everywhere, but with all the features you need and at a price that won’t break the bank. We took 10 top tiny notebooks and put them through their paces to see how they compare.

For more information, see Computers & accessories.


Models tested

  • Acer Aspire One D255-2DQkk
  • Apple MacBook Air 11 inch
  • Asus Eee PC R105
  • Dell Inspiron Mini 1018
  • Fujitsu LifeBook SH530
  • HP Mini 210
  • MSI Wind U135 DX
  • Pioneer Computers DreamBook Lite M11
  • Sony VAIO VPCS135FG
  • Toshiba AC100

Fast facts

  • Small laptops can cope with most general computing tasks.
  • Netbooks are still the cheapest mobile laptops.
  • Lack of power and ports is the tradeoff for being small and light.
 
 

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Colour Some models, notably the Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 1018, HP Mini 210 and MSI Wind, come in a choice of colours. Check with the manufacturer’s website or the retailer for options. 

Connections Small laptops tend to sacrifice connections for size – the smaller and thinner the unit, the harder it is to squeeze in connections. Look for at least two USB ports and a video-out option such as DVI or HDMI for adding large monitors, TVs and projectors. A multi-format card slot for SD, MMS and other memory cards is a bonus. The MacBook Air is so thin it has even sacrificed the industry standard cable lock slot usually found in the chassis.  

Keyboard and trackpad Small screens usually mean small keyboards, which are sometimes too tiny for touch typists. This was a drawback for the first netbooks. An exception here is the MacBook Air, which has a full-size keyboard, making it ideal for extended use. Likewise for the trackpad. Try typing for a while in store if possible to get a feel for the keyboard and trackpad, especially if you touch type.

Wi-Fi Expect fast 802.11n wireless networking (Wi-Fi) rather than the slower 802.11g. You may also find a slot for a 3G phone SIM card in some laptops, though this didn’t apply to the models on test.

Screen quality and resolution is important on a small screen. Only two of the models tested, the Pioneer Computers Dreambook Lite M11 and the ASUS Eee PC had a non-reflective matte screen. All the others had glossy screens, which give an apparently brighter picture and more vivid colours, but may be subject to annoying reflections. Compare screens carefully and look for one without a heavy gloss coating, which can give a slightly distorted ripple effect at certain angles. Our experts assessed the Apple as having the best screen overall, followed by the ASUS, Sony and HP models.

An extra inch can make a big difference in resolution too, with the Apple, Fujitsu and Sony models all able to display 1366 x 768 pixels, a significant bonus over the 1024 x 600 of the 10inch netbooks.

Security software All Windows PCs should come with a suite of security software, preferably with a full one-year licence. Check to see if the bundled software is a full version or only a limited-time trial. You may have a choice of security software or a low-cost upgrade option at point of sale.

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