Netbook vs. Notebooks: Which to Choose?

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The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Studio 15

For the last couple of weeks, Intel kindly included us in a project to compare netbooks and traditional notebooks (aka regular laptops). So during that time, we put the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook and a Dell Studio 15 traditional laptop through their paces, especially in areas crucial to the daily computer needs of teens. We tested them out doing everything we could think of: Facebook, note taking, IMing, some internet gaming, viewing videos, playing music, and so on.

The comparison was quite interesting and if you’re considering computer purchase in the near future, we strongly advise you keep reading – it’s very likely you’ll want one of these types of computers (netbook or notebook/regular laptop).

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Dell Inspiron Mini 9

The Netbook: Dell Inspiron Mini 9

It’s not only sleek and stylish, but INSANELY small, which comes with its good and bad: carrying it around school is a breeze—it’s quite light as well, but the keyboard on this particular netbook is really hard to use; the keys are so squished together that in-class note-taking posed a serious challenge. It’s important to note that this is not the case on all 9 inch netbooks. The Acer Aspire One, for example, uses a bigger, more familiar keyboard layout at the expense of the placement of the keyboard buttons (they have them on the right and left of the mouse pad instead of underneath like traditionally found- which is worth the trouble if you ask us).

The small, 9 inch (well technically, it’s 8.9 inches, but we’ll just round that up to 9 for the purposes of this review) screen size also caused difficulties. With a Windows XP operating system (most netbooks still come with XP, and that’s a good thing too — running Vista on this would make you wanna throw it out a window), some applications, such as Google Earth, online flash games, and video sites like Hulu, not only couldn’t entirely fit everything onto the screen, but sometimes even the specific parts of it that we wished to view.

Our model also seemed awfully slow, constantly crashing and making it impossible to run multiple applications like Word and Firefox at the same time easily. Dell seems to have resolved the issue on its newer models of the Mini 9, however, upgrading the standard Mini 9 from the 512 of RAM (the stuff needed to make your computer run smoothly—whether on Mac or PC, just see our Mac Mini review for more info. Ours had 512 MB of RAM) to a far more potent, and usable 1 GB. The computer still did boot up very quickly, and the Intel Atom processor (found on pretty much every netbook you see) ran very, very well, which was actually quite surprising, considering the low RAM allotted to it.

The computer also doesn’t have a lot of initial hard drive space. The 8 GB Solid State Drive (the same type of hard drive found in the iPhone, iPod Nano and iPod Touch) is great for frequent travel (less likely to break as there are no moving parts in it), but it really limits your storage capacity. Two easy solutions are available though, as Dell allows you to double the hard drive to 16 GB for just $40 more, and an SD card slot is located on the side of the PC, so you can just pop in your memory card from your phone/camera etc. and you’ll easily triple the standard hard drive.

The greatest feature of the Mini 9 though is it’s price: starting at $300, it’s a great bargain, as long as you can deal with a cramped keyboard (our hands admittedly are a little big, so if you got small hands, then def. check this out).

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The cramped keyboard on the Mini 9

You can order the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 here.

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Dell Studio 15

The Notebook: Dell Studio 15

This guy is a BEAST, not only running the latest Intel Centrino 2 processors (which were REALLY FAST and gave good battery life), but also packing Windows Vista Home Premium, 4 GB of RAM (which together with the Centrino 2, actually made Vista really fast), and even a slot loading Blu-Ray drive! So with that nice intro, let’s move to our comments on this machine.

The good: A speed demon, as we said in the intro, this thing ran Vista (and even Windows 7—yeah, we put the next version of Windows on here) extremely quickly. Multitasking, like checking Facebook while taking notes (shh…) worked very well, Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 also proved superb, and checking sites like Hulu, YouTube, while playing Flash games were a breeze on this system. Blu-Ray also looked great, and even though the screen wasn’t full HD, everything looked like it was! Oh, and like all of Dell’s Studio’s and XPS’s, it’s got really cool touch sensitive buttons along the top for controlling your music and videos. It also has a back-lit keyboard like those found on the MacBooks, which is always a nice touch.

blu-ray on dell studio 15

Iron Man on Blu-Ray and reg DVD (Studio is Blu-Ray of course, with a MacBook playing it in reg DVD). We know the pic ain’t the greatest, but you can still see that Blu-Ray looks a lot clearer and nicer with better colors

The bad: Unlike the Mini 9, this thing is really BIG. Not terribly heavy, but not the easiest thing to take around school either. Playing Blu-Ray movies back on an HDTV using the included HDMI port (yeah, it’s got one of those) got really chunky at times, making it not the easiest to use as your stand alone Blu-Ray player (for that we’d recommend possibly getting a PS3, as those play back Blu-Ray really well and as you know, is a really good video game system as well!). The battery life also on this machine while good, giving about 4-5 hours, comes at the cost of a HUGE battery which is what makes the PC really thick.

The Windows 7 Beta also ran well in our brief time using it (we focused more on the Vista part as it had most of the stuff ready to go right out of the box): booting into it was easy, and it ran very fast while looking very cool (we’ll give a review of Windows 7 soon as we’re now testing the Release Candidate—the usual last step in testing before a launch, so hang tight on that!).

All in all, the Studio 15 runs excellently (yes, even with Vista), though we would have second thoughts about taking it to school every day due to its size.

The price of the Studio 15 starts at $649, and you can order it here, though that price will quickly sky rocket once you start customizing the PC to add things like personal color/design, Blu-Ray drive, screen resolution etc.

Now that we gave you a background on the systems…

The Showdown

I had mixed experiences with both of these computers, as you can see above, and after putting them through their paces, we both would take the Studio 15 over the Mini 9 because of the better, normal keyboard, and the more “raw power” found on it (the Mini 9, as we said, had very little RAM and we had serious trouble running multiple applications at a time on it).

However, we both would recommend a netbook with a 10 inch screen (such as the Dell Mini 10, HP Mini 1000, Acer Aspire One 10 inch version or an Asus Eee 10 inch netbook), for those looking for something that will be good for notes and at the same time get them online, as those are not only easier to use with their bigger screens and keyboards, but they also maintain the cheap pricing (most below $500) and slim design.

At the end of the day, the one thing we feel we should stress is that it will end up coming to personal preference on what type of computer you want yours to be (you rather have something really small, or something with a bigger screen and keyboard? How much hard drive space you want in your computer? etc.), and therefore would definitely recommend that you head down to your closest Best Buy/ Target/ Staples/ Wal Mart, whatever, and test out a couple of machines before you buy, so this way you’ll be happy with the computer you use.

What are your thoughts? You have one of these 2 computers, and if so what do you think about it? You got a netbook or a laptop as your main computer (doesn’t have to be one of the 2 we mentioned here, any brand works), and how does it keep up with your daily life? And if you had to choose for a new computer, which one would you get? Let us know in the comments.

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Posted on May 10, 2009, in Computers, First Look/Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I believe the acer has an option for a 160gb hard drive AND 4gb of ram, while still staying within your comfort zone of sleek and slim design and pricing.

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