If you've been looking at the latest crop of thin and light notebooks – TLNs – out in time for the holiday buying season and comparing them to the not-yet-refreshed selections netbooks on the shelves, it is very easy to see where the lines blur between the two categories.
A price on a new TLN can run anywhere from $400 to $750 while netbooks can start at $300 and end up at $500 or more, depending on battery configuration and screen size. As a result, there's a band of overlap between the higher-end netbook and the TLN in terms of both capabilities and pricing, so it makes sense to compare TLNs side-by-side with netbooks if your business is shopping for a round of road-warrior devices.
Many TLNs weigh in between 3 to 4.5 pounds – as much as or slightly heavier than a 3 pound netbook, but come with normal-sized keyboards, larger LCD screens and battery life that can hang with the best of the upper-echelon netbook gang; on the order of 7 or better hours, according to the manufacturer's claims. Screen size for a TLN seems to start at 11.6 inches – the top of the netbook class – and can go all the way up to 14 inches, with a typical resolution of 1366 x 768. Built-in webcam and mike is standard, but wireless capabilities vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, with 802.11 b/g standard and some throwing in N or Bluetooth.
Under the hood of a TLN, an ultra-low voltage, or “ULV,” dual-core Intel Pentium processor plus 2 to 4 GB of RAM (News - Alert), typically 1 GB on a netbook, and a 320 GB hard drive is standard fare, plus 3 USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, an HDMI port, a SD removable media slot and maybe a VGA-out port for legacy's sake. Most of them are also deleting the optical drive to save weight and power, but all are bringing in 6 cell lithium batteries to the party for extended run time.
All of the new TLNs come with Windows 7, so that's a good news – it’s not Vista – and bad news – it’s new and something IT may not be ready to support yet – story. Depending on the brand and model, a netbook may be loaded with Windows XP or Windows 7 Starter and some people, like me, prefer XP because it is less resource intensive than Vista or 7.
With the extra CPU horsepower and RAM, a TLN is a more capable machine than the basic netbook, able to better handle much more complex tasks such as viewing and editing video. The initial wave of TLNs is coming out without onboard 3G – EVDO or GSM – connectivity, but buyers should expect to see integrated 3G and 4G options fairly soon; until then, the USB modem is the peripheral of choice for mobile broadband.
If you there's some flexibility in your budget when buying a portable machine, there are at least a couple of TLN choices that have better configurations and performance than the current crop of netbooks while being in the same ballpark for battery life and at the same or about a pound extra more weight.
However, IT shoppers can't get complacent. Intel (News - Alert) is pushing out the next generation of netbook Atom chips and a new crop of machines built around the CPUs are expected in January at CES. The new family of Atom processors is expected to provide better battery life and smoother video playback, so choosing between a TLN and a netbook for a mobile broadband use outside the office is likely to become more challenging in 2010.
Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Kelly McGuire