Every now and then I'll catch a conversation about monitor envy on Twitter. You know what I'm talking about...someone posts a picture of some crazy monitor setup and all the desktop junkies go nuts over the size and quantity of monitors in someone's setup. It's like every hard working computer junkie simply dreams of sitting at mission control with a monitor for every application.
I'm the exact opposite.
I have laptop envy. Not just any laptop, but those adorable (and affordable) new "micro-laptops" being released by the likes of Asus, Acer and Dell. Tiny little two pound machines I could slip into my purse for conferences, road trips and Panera.
You see, NASA style multi-monitor set ups just aren't in the cards for a work at home mom like me. My little munchkins are soon to be 4 and soon to be 2 and spend most of the day running from room to room like a couple of squirrels on crack. That means I need to stay ultra-portable during the day. I'll get back to a desk and home office some day, but for now...it's all about the laptop.
Picking the Perfect System
The thing about desktop systems is they're cheap. You can buy a lot of power and get a heck of a nice monitor for the cost of a lower end or mid-range laptop. Portability costs money. That means those of us who use a laptop for our every day system instead of for travel often end up investing as much in our laptop as others do in their desktops and laptops combined.
It also means buying systems more often. In fact, I've gone through five laptops in the last four years. An excellent Sony Vaio, a piece of crap Dell Inspiron, a Toshiba Satellite that died after two weeks, an extraordinary Acer that I'd still be using if the screen hadn't gone wonky and my current love; the HP 8510p. Of course dropping $1500-$1800 on a system I know will have a life span of about 18 months is tough.
Now at least a few of you raised your eyebrows at the 18 months bit...but it's true. If I average out my laptops, that's how long they last. Daily use of a laptop with no desk means they get tripped over, stepped on, dropped, accidentally sat on a couch with the fan blocked, carted through airport after airport and left in perilous positions on the edge of Panera couches while I make a soup and sandwich run. (Not to mention the ongoing risk of small children popping keys off and hiding them under the furniture.)
6.4 pounds or 4.8 ounces? How About Neither?
For the past year, my constant debate is whether to carry six and a half pounds of laptop or whether to rely on my iPhone. I can easily read email and web sites on my phone. I can Tweet, use Gtalk, check directions and do most other things on my phone. For the most part, it serves me well while I'm out and about. In fact, for SES London and a subsequent trip to Italy last year I survived with nothing more than my iPhone and a thumb drive.
But when it comes to shows and normal travel, I get stuck in the middle. I either end up lugging my laptop around all day without using it, or I find myself stranded with my iPhone when I really need to write an article. What I need, is something in the middle.
I've looked and looked at the super small laptops, but to get anything with any amount of power costs an arm and a leg. With prices in the $1000-$2000 range, I'd be hard pressed to buy and use one for the occasions when I travel. After all, my laptop has to be able to function as my every day computer.
Then I saw it.
Functional AND Cute? Sign me up!
Last spring at SBMU Houston, I sat down in the back of a classroom next to Sage Lewis. I glanced over and Sage was uploading some files from his Flip Video to one of the smallest (and cutest) laptops I've ever seen. I asked him about it and he told me it was the Asus EeePC.
If You're Looking to Send me a Bribe...
(Well, I'd never take a bribe....but I'll always accept gifts.) I've been doing some digging and checking out the specs and the reviews of these new micro-laptops. Here are the three that have impressed me most and that I aim to arm myself with for "conference travel" sometime in the next year.
The Asus EeePC 901
Sage has an older version of the EeePC with a smaller screen and a Linux based operating system. While I appreciate the speed that comes with Linux and have used OpenOffice, I'm still a Microsoft girl at heart. I like the programs and environment I'm familiar with, so the fact that the new EeePC 901 comes with Windows XP installed definitely floats my boat.
Check out this quick review and tell me you aren't drooling at least a little bit over the portability of this system.
The older PCs ran off Flash memory and didn't include a solid state hard drive. The Asus EeePC 901 changes that, offering up 1 Gig of RAM and 12GB of solid state hard drive space. It's run off an Atom processor and includes all the things I'd need on the go; integrated wifi, a web cam, multiple USB ports, VGA output, even a SDM slot.
My favorite thing about it? An 8.9" screen (big enough to surf and type on) and it weighs about a kilo.
The EeePC is not the cutest of the itty bitty laptops, but it's the one with the best history and I'd certainly be thrilled to have one to play with.
Price point: just under $500 at Amazon
The Acer Aspire One
Last week I was wandering around Circuit City while my dad caught the last quarter of the Ohio State game. As usual, I found myself in the laptop aisle looking at the small systems. Much to my surprise, they had an Acer Aspire One set up. I didn't know Acer had released a netbook and the price point of under $400 quickly caught my eye.
The system I played with had a larger keyboard than the Asus EeePC's I've played with, but also had a bit of a "cheap" feel to it that I can't quite describe. It makes sense though as the massive difference in hard drive size has to be made up for somewhere to keep the prices down.
Here's a review of the Acer Aspire One on YouTube that also gives you a great idea of what I'm talking about in terms of size of these systems.
While there are some things that make the Acer incredibly attractive (price, ginormous hard drive) there are a few concerns I have about how usable I'd find it. I've been using a laptop with a touch pad for years now and am quite used to it. Unfortunately, the Aspire One changes things up and moves the touch pad buttons to the right of the pad rather than below it. For someone used to navigating with their thumb and then quickly tapping the button with that same thumb, moving the buttons to the right could create an annoying learning curve.
Overall, this is a great looking system...but I'm not as in love with the Aspire One as I am with the EeePC and the Dell Mini.
Price Point: Under $400 on Amazon
Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Just yesterday morning I popped over to Dell's site to take a look at their small laptops and noticed they were now offering the Inspiron Mini 9, Dell's answer to the new "netbook" movement. I have a love/hate relationship with Dell. I love them for their prices, on-site service and the fact that Rachel and Robert are big fans...but I still hate them for selling me a laptop that crapped out in six months and two weeks. (Yes, six month warranty back then.) That said, for the right system, I'd give them another shot.
The Mini 9 might just be that system.
The Dell Mini 9 has an 8.9" screen and runs off the same Atom processor that powers the EeePC. It comes also comes with Windows XP, 1 Gig of RAM, a slightly larger 16 Gig hard drive and a weight of around 1 kilogram.
Check out the full review:
Thus far, the Dell Mini is leading the pack in terms of sparking my netbook desires. It's the nicest looking of the mix and the reviews I've found are complimentary of the quality of the components. While I carry an ultra portable hard drive with me for files, the extra hard drive space would be nice as well. Most of what I do is online, but I'd need to have the room to install Power Point and might even like to keep a few movies nested on there for flights.
Price point: just under $450 at Dell
What's Your Favorite?
So anyone out there have any of these systems or considering getting one? What's your favorite and why?