Netbooks are all the rage right now; here are a few things to think about before you take the plunge.
1. How small is too small? A 9-inch screen may not sound a lot smaller than a 10-inch screen, but when you compare them side by side, the difference is striking. On the other hand, the price difference can be striking, too: the 8.9-inch Acer Aspire One can sometimes be found for under $300, while larger netbooks can cost $500 or more. Make sure you look at a few different models in person before deciding to buy.
2. Have you tried them out? Even if you plan to buy online, go to Best Buy or your local computer store and try typing on a few of them. The keyboards differ pretty significantly. You may not think you care where the shift key is, but trust me, you probably do. A lot of netbooks have it placed a little too far to the right, which makes a huge difference when you're typing.
3. Can you wait? Some great new models may be right around the corner. Dell announced a new 10-inch netbook at CES, which it said would be out in the first half of this year. A 10-inch Acer Aspire should also be on the market soon (more photos here). The 8.9-inch Aspire has gotten rave reviews, but the screen is too small for my taste.
4. Will you really use it? Netbooks are an excellent tool for people who travel a lot and really need to take a computer with them on the road. They could also be great for students who carry a backpack around with them all day. But if you don't have a pressing need to do word processing when you're on the go, then you might be better off with an iPhone. In fact, if you compare the iPhone to a netbook, the iPhone starts to look cheap ... perhaps that's a good way to justify getting a new smartphone.