Back in the summer of 2009, I wrote about my decision to purchase a netbook. Over a year later, my Asus Eee is still going strong and I still love it. I paid around $300 via Newegg and I haven’t had any software or hardware problems with my netbook despite some heavy use. And it’s really, really small and light:
I have pretty big hands but you get the picture: it’s small.
At the time I wrote my 2009 post, I was hemming and hawing between a netbook and a smartphone. I understand many of the reasons that people use and love smartphones, but I’ve since come to believe that at least for my purposes, a netbook is a much better option. Because:
- It forces you to decide when you really need to work on the go. I’m firmly against being always on duty; I work hard while I’m working, and then I shut the computer off and go play. In fact, I think that there’s growing evidence to suggest that people who work in the low 30 hours per week are the most productive. If I owned a smartphone, I know that I would take it with me most of the time: why not use those few minutes while I’m waiting for my daughter at school or standing in line at the supermarket? But, at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, where do those “few minutes” end, and why not engage with the offline world for a few minutes? With a netbook, I only take it with me when I really need it, but because it’s so small, I do take it sometimes. My family recently went on a multi-day bike trip while I was working on a book translation. I was faced with the option to work three or four 12-hour days before we left, or to take the netbook with me and work at night on the trip. I chose the latter, stuck the Eee in my bike bag (no kidding, it fits in a bike pannier!) and felt much less stressed. My Eee also fits in the messenger bag that I use as a purse, so I take it when I get my car’s oil changed or when I know I’ll be stuck waiting somewhere for a long period of time.
- You can do real work on it. My typing accuracy on my Eee is only marginally lower than on my desktop’s keyboard. By contrast, I think that a lot of e-mails that people write from smartphones have a smartphone quality to them; that’s OK if it’s a quick note to a colleague, but I wouldn’t want to respond to a client that way. And if I’m just reading the e-mails for the sake of reading them, why not just wait until I’m in my office? In addition, I think it can be really hard if not impossible to look at attached documents on a smartphone. My netbook has a 10 inch screen which is too small for some tasks (i.e. having multiple documents on the screen at once) but works well for word processing, reading PDFs and browsing the web.
- A netbook can do most of what a laptop can do. Full-size laptops certainly aren’t obsolete; if you need a big screen or a really big hard drive or a lot of processor power, a full-size laptop is probably still your best choice. Netbooks are pretty amazing for their size, but I don’t think that running your speech recognition software on top of your translation memory program on top of your office suite would work very well on one. However, my netbook has completely replaced my full-size laptop for traveling (it has a standard VGA port so can be hooked up to a projector) and I wrote most of the second edition of my book on it using LyX.
Obviously the title of this article is an overstatement; if you work on projects for which you just need to monitor e-mails, I think that a smartphone can be a great choice. And I think that the urge to work too much pulls at all of us freelancers regardless of whether we have a smartphone or not. But I do think that netbooks are worth a look if you’re in needs analysis mode!