The Price You Pay


Since my post yesterday, I’ve really been thinking about the implications of Netbooks in the classroom.  I have lots of thoughts but it’s an interesting technology area.  There are no real experts in this field so you’re pretty much on your own in making some of the decisions.

When you make the move to a Netbook, there are prices to be paid.  But, there are also advantages.  In deciding to make the move, it’s a good idea to create your own checklist of features that you use when you consider portable computing and decide what you can live with, what you can live without, and what compromises that you’re prepared to make.

Personally, I put more thought into the physical aspects and usability of the computer before making the leap than I can recall for quite some time.  Some of my observations appear below.  In my case, I was moving from a Lenovo T60p to a Dell Mini 10v.  Here are a few of the things that I concerned and subsequently have learned.

Keyboard

  • Probably the biggest concern for most people.  If you’ve grown accustomed to a particular size, comfort, and arrangement, you will need to compromise on a solution.  In my case, I wanted a keyboard that had a nice tactile touch to it, keys that were in roughly the same place, and no compromises.  There were some compromises – I miss keys devoted to pageup and pagedown but they are there combined with the FN key.  The size is a bit smaller but I became used to it within the first hour.  Not a biggy here and I thought it might have been.  I had played with other Netbooks with some frustration in the past.

Display

  • Laptop screens get bigger and bigger.  My Lenovo, at 1680×1050 gives all kinds of room to have multiple applications open at the same time.  Going full screen leaves a great deal of white space when you visit some websites so I seldom go full screen.  The Dell displays at a smaller 1024×576.  I do a lot more scrolling now.  I guess I never fully appreciated the pageup and pagedown keys until now!

Weight

  • This is the true reason for my going to the smaller unit for some applications.  Rather than lugging around a big computer bag, it’s so much easier to just fold up the portable device and carry it like a book.  2.5 pounds is more easily carried than 6.4 pounds.

Mouse

  • In the migration from DOS to Windows years ago, I recall wondering if this mousey thing would ever catch on.  Now, it’s hard to determine what kind of pointing device is best since it’s an industry all to itself.  The T60p has both a trackpad and a trackpoint.  I use the trackpoint most of the time and so fumble at times with the trackpad.  However, the integrated mouse buttons and scrolling region are nice additions.

Operating System

  • The Lenovo is really a desktop replacement.  As such, it just seems right that it runs Microsoft Vista Business Edition.  I specifically wanted Ubuntu on a netbook and that was one of the determining factors for the Dell.  Ubuntu boots very quickly and wakes from sleep equally as quickly. In an environment where you want to just whip out the computer and use it, the speed to action is appreciated.

Battery Life

  • This really isn’t fair to have in a comparison.  With the consideration given to weight, comes limitations to battery life.  I’m getting about 2 hours on both machines.  This is an elusive quality because I do like a bright screen.  Any limitations in this area can always be resolved with a few bucks more spent for bigger or additional batteries if you’re prepared to carry the extra weight.

Other Niceties

  • It’s not really fair to make a comparison in this area since the machines were bought at different times.  However, with the Dell Mini, I appreciate the bigger hard drive, integrated camera, and integrated digital card reader.  Both computers have the required wireless and wired network connections, USB ports, audio ports, and video out.

Browsing

  • Firefox remains the browser of choice on both machines.  Given the limited display space on the netbook though, I haven’t added the same amounts of add-ons to the browser.  I need the display space.  However, I can’t imagine a world without adblock plus or diigo.

Applications

  • This is an area where there’s a major change in philosophy.  I’ve grown up in a world of applications and programs and they reside on my hard drive.  Over the past couple of years, the Read/Write web has given so much additional functionality as long as you’re connected.  I’m forcing myself for the time being to move everything web-ward that I can.  It’s been a real change in philosophy but I think ultimately will be a good one.

Processor

  • This is the area for a discussion of apples and oranges.  The Atom processor and Centrino Duo are relatives in name only.  You’re not going to buy a small netbook and then expect to get the same rendering abilities for graphics, etc. that you will with a larger machine.  You’re also not going to go for the eye candy and the transparency in menus.  Well, I guess you could but reality will kick in and you’ll turn them off.

In the Classroom

  • With students, I suspect that you throw all of this out of the window.  Kids love technology and will take any technology and make it do amazing things.  They just want access and need opportunity.

So, there are a lot of things to consider and I continue on my journey determining where in my digital lifestyle each fits.

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