What Defines a Netbook

picture-21A recent article by Peter Glaskowsky at the CNET News Blog outlines what the author believes to be the death and end of netbooks, the affordable, ultraportable computers.  As many readers have commented on his article, Mr. Glaskowsky seems out of touch with the intended purpose of netbooks.  He writes,

The truth is, the Netbook is dead, and good riddance. The concept of the Netbook was based on a tragic misunderstanding: the belief that tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people worldwide wanted a portable computer that was small, power-efficient, and (here’s the misunderstanding) not good for much beyond accessing the Internet.”

So what exactly is a netbook?  Are they only for accessing the Internet?  Sony has clearly outlined that their small VAIO P is not a netbook.  Here’s the deal: A netbook is not defined by screen size, keyboard layout, or Intel Atom processor; a netbook is defined by the following two factors:




Netbooks are marketed towards individuals, companies, and organizations looking for a cheap alternative to a $500+ USD notebook computer.  Netbooks are typically priced $499 or less.  Although companies like HP and Sony are introducing small notebooks with unconventional designs, their higher costs disqualify them from being categorized as netbooks.  These devices are not netbooks regardless of their Intel Atom processors, lower specs, or lack of a DVD drive.  Netbooks are also marketed towards hobbyists and individuals wanting a cheap, second computer for basic functionality and/or to push to the device’s limitations.


The other extreme is the introduction of devices that have netbook roots like the upcoming Asus Eee PC T101H and T91 Tablet PCs.  Although they are cousins to Asus netbooks like the 1000HA, these two new computers are Tablet PCs based on the netbook platform.  A device is not automatically a netbook simply because it has an Intel Atom processor.  If anything, the success of the netbook platform and the continued consumer demand for touch-enabled devices, coupled with the functionality of Tablet PCs, will introduce more consumers to affordable Tablet PCs.


It is rumored that other netbook manufacturers will be releasing computers with 12″+ screens.  The netbook title applies if the price remains low.  We cannot classify a device as a netbook simply by its shape, size, or weight.  The cost and purpose determine its classification.


Yes, the intended purpose of netbooks is to access the Internet and view or consume multimedia.  This differs from notebooks which are designed to create and publish multimedia.  Just because netbooks do have the ability to perform tasks beyond accessing the Internet does not mean they are automatically notebooks.  Their intended function is not to be a desktop replacement but to live inside a bag as a mobile computing device.  These devices are mobile companions to a larger, full-featured notebook computers.  I do agree with Mr. Glaskowsky when he writes,

“You wouldn’t buy these machines to run Photoshop, edit high-definition videos, or play 3D games, but for most simpler purposes, they’d be fine.”


When discussing the new generation of netbooks, specifically the Asus lineup, Mr. Glaskowsky writes,

“So these new machines aren’t merely Netbooks that are “evolving” or “overachieving“. They’re notebooks. And Moore’s Law will ensure that these systems will eventually suffice for any fixed workload. (3D games get more demanding each year, so small notebooks will always be inadequate for bleeding-edge gaming.)”

Again, Glaskowsky misses that the purpose of the netbook determines the classification.  Many consumers are still unfamiliar with the netbook and its designed purpose.  If the device is created primarily for accessing the Internet and remains relatively affordable, it remains a netbook regardless of higher specs and the ability to play 3D games. Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Glaskowsky has misunderstood what a netbook is, and he certainly has failed to see the widespread consumer adoption. From the coverage of CES 2009 it is clear that the netbook is very much alive.

What do you believe constitutes a netbook? For continued reading, check out what Loren Heiny says about netbooks and his admission that they do have a place at the powerstrip.