I want to buy a netbook for $400 or less. Any advice? —M.C.
The netbook category is changing so rapidly, it's sometimes hard to keep up. But it seems that the best value for your money right now is probably the Asus Eee PC 1000HE. It's an editor's choice at PC Magazine and a favorite at Laptop Magazine, which called it "one of the best values in netbooks around." It offers over seven hours of battery life (compared with less than five hours on average for netbooks), weighs 3.2 pounds, and sports a 92-percent keyboard that makes some crucial improvements over previous versions. (Notably, the shift key is now right under the enter key, a placement that's more important than you might think.) The 1000HE is currently available at Amazon for $383.
Personally, I would avoid the Eee PC 1008HA, also known as the seashell, which is a little thinner and prettier than the HE but has 1.5 hours less battery life. Style is relative; even the best-looking netbooks look a bit like children's toys. However, I know M. sometimes prefers style over substance, so I'll leave that decision up to him.
Another good choice is Samsung's highly-regarded N110, which also has over 7 hours of battery life and a great keyboard; it costs roughly $410 at Amazon, Buy.com, and J&R.
What if you want to go cheaper?
The Acer Aspire AOD150, which generally runs around $330, is the obvious choice. The battery lasts six hours, according to Laptop Magazine—pretty good, if not as good as the Samsung N110 or the Eee Pc 1000HE. The one drawback is the smaller keyboard; plus, CNET says the track pad and mouse buttons are so small that they're "painful to use."