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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday April 04 2009

This (the device is elaborated on here) . . .

image

. . .  has always struck me as a mobile computer shape with a huge future.  Wide enough to have a proper (i.e. wide enough) keyboard, yet thin enough to fit in your pocket like a wallet, although by the look of it, this particular one is still too wide to be a wallet.  This photo makes it look better in this respect than it really is.  Oh, and cheap enough to not be bloody ridiculous like those bloody ridiculous Sony Vaios.  (Recently I read that Sony were complaining that cheap netbooks were diverting computer design away from true progress.  Prats.  The cheapness is the progress.)

People have been doing things like this PurseBook for years, but the configuration has never quite stuck.  Now, because small computers have suddenly become seriously powerful and hence actually useful and worth buying by others besides geeks, it just might.

What’s needed is some attention to graphics.  I was really impressed when Michael J showed me his iPhone not long ago, which, because it has such a tiny screen, has – and has to have – superbly legible lettering.  Nice bold Helvetica-like lettering that you can easily read, despite being tiny, quite unlike the spindly and illegible stuff that used to be considered sufficient.  Thank you (I strongly suspect) Steve Jobs.  Such lettering now seems to have immediately become ubiquitous on all iPhone clones.  Everyone saw it, and just said yes, that’s how you do it.  These PurseBooks need a similar graphic breakthrough.  They need lettering that economises heroically on vertical space, but which makes use of the relatively generous width to do it.

One day, the screens of such computers will unroll up from the top of the keyboard, or perhaps just appear in the air, as big as you want and exactly where you want, projected onto the air molecules in a way that you can see clearly but which others can’t so they won’t be bothered.  Problem solved.

It undoubtedly was a case of thank you Steve Jobs. It is amazing just what a high percentage of interviews with Steve Jobs turn into conversations about fonts. The other relevant thing about the iPhone is the ease of making the text larger or smaller at will. Zooming in and out on parts of an image and scrolling around is ridiculously simple.

Sony’s P series laptops that are roughly the same shape as the above are about the £800 level, which is cheap by Sony’s standards. Sony are too snotty to make actual netbooks, as you say. Apple lacks a netbook, but I think they are just planning on entering the market late once they think they have it right. Installing the mac OS on netbooks has become incredibly popular, and the OS runs so well that Apple must be aware it has to enter this segment soon.

The company that is getting it right is Samsung. They went out and made a netbook that is maybe £50 more expensive than the competition but which is really stylish looking. The NC-10 appears to be making an absolute killing to me. Several people I know have bought them, and I have even seen a couple of those strange creatures known as “girls” go absolutely wild with delight upon getting one.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 04 April 2009

Michael

Thanks for the Samsung NC10 recommendation. Looks like that’s the one I wish I’d bought instead of Jesus.  I particular like how light it seems to be.

But, the purpose of Jesus was to find out what I really should have got, at minimum cost, and that has worked.  Jesus has definitely cured me of Linux fever, and has caused me to revise upwards my prognostications for the future of Microsoft.

Also, Jesus’s keyboard is just too tiny.  Ditto the screen.  Size (i.e. lack of it) isn’t everything.  Lightness matters even more, and for His tiny size, Jesus still seems a bit heavy.

So, would any of my London friends, or anyone planning to visit London any time soon, like to make me an offer for Jesus?  100 quid would do very nicely, but now that I have told you all how relatively crap He is, Or Near Offer would probably do the deal.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 05 April 2009

It wasn’t an option at the time you bought it, as the NC-10 has only been available since about October. It wasn’t available when I got mine (an MSI Wind) in July, either. The Wind has similar specifications but is less pretty. The NC-10 has been the best machine for the last few months though: although I have not bought one myself, several other people have done so at least partlt on my advice.

For the moment, netbooks seem to come in two form factors: “9 inch”, and “10 inch” generally defined by the size of the screen. (Confusingly, your Asus only has a 7 inch screen but is otherwise the size of a 9 inch, as there are large black spaces around the size of the screen). These two form factors have similar specifications otherwise, with the difference mainly being the size of the screen (although both screen sizes have the same number of pixels: 1024x600) and the size of the keyboard. The 10 inch form factor seems to be accounting for the majority of sales at this point. My hunch is that it is the keyboard that matters. Before I ruined my left hand, I could touch type on the leyboard of a 10 inch like the Wind or the NC-10 but not on that of a 9 inch. What Samsung have done is buid the nicest possible machine given the usual specs of a 10 inch netbook.

We are about to see a break from the present “All netbooks have similar technical specs” situation. Dell are offering a 10 inch screen with a 1366x768 screen. Intel are offering faster CPUs. Intel and nVidia are talking about chipsets with smaller power consumption and better graphics. One or two netbooks are starting to have inbuilt 3G hardware (ie the dongle is internal) My hunch is this will all

Posted by Michael Jennings on 05 April 2009

Michael J

This will all what?  My commenting system seems to have interrupted you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 05 April 2009

come together so that we have machines with a new set of standard features available from about July and ubiquitous by the end of the year.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 05 April 2009

My concern, though, is that they’re creeping towards the weight & cost of a “normal” laptop.

I have a slightly old & battered but still perfectly functional 13” MacBook, which however I find at just over 2 kilos a bit too heavy to lug around in my bag all day just to use for half an hour in the U-Bahn. So weight is my primary consideration - or so I fondly imagine, having not yet tried to seriously use these tiny screen and keyboards. And these 10-inch jobs seem to be around 1.5 kg (and 400 Euros), which simply isn’t compelling in the way that 1 kg (and 200 Euros) might be.

Clearly, however, the main market for these things isn’t “second laptop” but “only laptop”, for which the market seems to have decided that the original tiny Eee concept was too small & too compromised.

Posted by Alan Little on 08 April 2009

€400 is a bit much. Over here at the moment you can get a rebadged MSI Wind for about £220 and the Samsung NC-10 is just over £300.

I think once you reach the 12 inch screen size (like the Samsung NC-20 or Dell Mini 12) what you have is a “laptop”, yes.

For me the netbook it is definitely a “second laptop” - my other laptop is a 15 inch Macbook Pro. The MSI Wind has a sticker on the front saying (amongst other things) that it is 1.2kg. Mine is heavier than this, because I have added a much higher capacity battery than the standard one. This is worth it, though, as it means I can get through the day and don’t have to take the power brick with me. It is still small enough that I don’t really notice the weight when I carry it with me, which is what I wanted when I bought it. What I am wondering is not so much whether I need a second laptop as to whether I need a desktop. When my current desktop gets retired, I am tempted to not bother replacing it and just to plug the Macbook into the screen on my desk when I am at home.

The keyboard size remains the big deal for me, which is what drives me to the 10 inch form factor. If Apple could come up with a 10 inch netbook that runs OS-X, has a 1366x768 or similar screen, has decent battery life, and that weighs something like a round kilogram, I think that they would make a killing.

Actually, any other manufacturer would also make a killing if the managed this with Windows XP, too.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 April 2009
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