Okay, so you've outfitted your mobile employees with inexpensive netbooks, but there are a few recommended accoutrements you should consider to help them remain productive while on the go.
With a growing assortment of handy accessories, you can expand the functionality and longevity of your business netbook.
From wireless mice and bigger keyboards to high-definition webcams and Bluetooth headsets, there are plenty of peripherals to choose from. Here are some netbook accessories that experts suggest might be worth a look:
Mice and keyboards
Because they're portable and affordable, netbooks have become a popular laptop alternative -- but its smaller form factor means typing and clicking on them might not be as comfortable as a full-sized laptop or desktop.
"It might not seem necessary, it might even seem redundant, but you'd be surprised how handy a wireless mouse or keyboard can be when it comes to doing work on your netbook," says Paul Semel, a seasoned technology journalist and netbook user based in Los Angeles. "Granted, you won't need them when you're sitting in the airport and want to quickly check your e-mail, and there isn't enough room on a plane for them, either. But when you arrive at your hotel, and have to work on your proposal before the big meeting, you'll appreciate having a better keyboard and a mouse," Semel adds. "Well, unless you enjoy carpel tunnel syndrome."
Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst based in London, Ontario, agrees. "If you're planning on heavy duty text entry, most netbook keyboards just won't cut it…. More often than not, the keys are smaller-than-standard, and are squished more closely together than on a conventional laptop or desktop PC." Levy also says the miniaturized trackpads built into most netbooks can be frustrating to use: "This is especially true when they come with space-saving layouts that place the keys beside the trackpad surface -- or worse, on the front panel of the netbook itself," says Levy.
Headsets and speakers
Many netbooks feature integrated Bluetooth technology, which allows you to go wireless when it comes to some peripherals including, mice, keyboards and headsets. With the latter, these optional accessories are ideal for chatting via a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) solution, such as Skype or Windows Live Messenger.
"Trying to type or use your mouse while a wire dangles in your way is a quick and efficient way to annoy yourself," says Semel.
With the increasing ability of free tools to make voice calls -- such as GoogleTalk, Skype, and other products -- the use of the netbook as a portable telephony device makes increasing sense, says Chris Silva, a senior analyst for enterprise mobility at Forrester Research, a Boston-based technology research firm. "A wired USB handset or, better yet, a Bluetooth wireless handset make for a must-have addition taking the netbook from small PC to mobile office."
Music lovers, on the other hand, might want to consider a pair of external speakers. "Road warriors who use their laptops to play tunes when they turn their hotel rooms into mobile offices are often disappointed with the tinny, usually mono sound from the average netbook's speaker," says Levy. "USB-powered portable speakers may not rock the Kasbah, but they'll fit the bill when you need some familiar music in a faraway place."
Monitors, optical drives, and webcams
Levy says an external CD/DVD burner is also a good idea because netbooks don't have an embedded optical disc drive. "Although we're burning fewer and fewer disks these days as the world increasingly shifts to solid state memory and Web-based software, there will come a time when we all need to burn a disk, or install something from a CD or DVD," she says. "As netbooks lack internal optical drives, a slim external unit can keep you functional without adding too much weight."
Silva says to consider a netbook with an integrated Web camera, or you can always pick up an external model, now offering high-definition quality for crystal-clear online video conferences. "While the quality for digital still pictures is likely to be dismal [with an embedded camera], the use of the camera with IM tools for live, video chats makes the device moving video conference solution great for exchanging ideas with colleagues or checking in on the family from the other side of the world," says Silva.
And instead of squinting to read text on a 7- to 10-inch screen, an external monitor is recommended while stationary for a while. "While you certainly won't be carting an external display in your travel bag, many netbook users use them at their desks to make up for the built-in display's limited real estate and resolution," says Levy. "For basic productivity needs, a netbook with an external display, keyboard and mouse can often be all the machine the average small or mid-sized business office user may ever need."
A few other netbook accessory suggestions:
- A fitted sleeve to keep the netbook secure and protected when carried in a larger bag, backpack, or suitcase.
- A USB 2.0 hub that turns one universal serial bus port into four or more, to connect multiple devices at the same time.
- While the latest netbooks offer 160GB of internal memory, SecureDigital (SD) Flash cards or an external hard drive adds more storage, if needed, and the ability to transfer files easily between PCs.