Eee PC S101For computer users who travel a lot, the new “Netbooks” are small and lightweight. And they cost a lot less than laptops.

 One reason they’re cheap is they typically lack CD drives and have small screens. They’re used mainly for email and surfing the web, which puts them in direct competition with handheld devices and smart phones like Research In Motion’s Blackberry, Apple’s iPhone, Google’s new Android, and many others coming down the pike.

 Unlike smart phones, however, Netbooks come with keyboards you can use with all your fingers, instead of just your thumbs, and they have Windows or Linux operating systems. Major Netbook makers include HP, Dell and ASUS, starting at $400. Most come with either a regular hard drive or a solid state drive. By the way, a solid state drive is the same as a flash drive. They’re called solid state because they have no moving parts, hence there’s little that can go wrong and they can take a lot of mishandling. We’ve watched videos of Sandisk’s flash drives being run over repeatedly by heavy cars and trucks, and then plugged into a USB slot and work like nothing had happened.

 Dell chose to equip its new Netbook, the Mini Inspiron 12, with the Vista operating system. The Inspiron 12 is almost exactly the same size and weight as Apple’s new “Macbook Air” but costs $600 instead of $1800. The Inspiron has a built-in web cam and microphone but admittedly is not as sophisticated as the “Air.” Either one of these computers would fit into a manila mailing envelope. Don’t forget to buy extra stamps.




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