Do You Get a Netbook or a Laptop? How to Choose?

First off, know that the difference between what’s considered a netbook and what’s considered a laptop is not necessarily like the difference between North and South Dakota — a clearly defined, unmoving line with no crossover. As more and more products are added in this area, the gap between netbooks and laptops gets filled in with models that share notable aspects of both. In fact, some tech media have started to add a third category, representing the middle ground: “notbooks.” These are machines which would initially seem to be netbooks, only on closer inspection their specifications have been slightly beefed-up, so now they’re not.

The main, and simplest, differentiator between laptops and netbooks? Price. Typically at this time, netbooks range in cost from a couple hundred dollars to upwards of four-hundred dollars. Laptops will range from around five-hundred dollars at the low end, to two-thousand or more for those on the cutting edge. You may occasionally find sub-$500 laptops, and netbooks which extend above that, complicating the categories as indicated above. Naturally, the most cost-conscious consumers tend toward purchasing netbook computers, and this is driving their growth percentage in computer sales.

Say you are not looking to purchase a mobile computer based exclusively on price (and few people are). What else differentiates netbooks from laptops? Size, for one. Typically, netbooks will have keyboards featuring less-than-standard key size, and may even forgo some of the non-essential keys included with most full-size keyboards. Screens on netbook computers often measure in at thirteen inches and smaller. Laptops will feature comparitively larger keyboards, sometimes with extras like a numeric keypad, and screens measuring fifteen inches and up.

So, those are easy. You can find the price tag, and you can easily compare the size of machines. What’s different between netbooks and laptops that is not immediately clear? Well, there are also going to be differences in processor speed — which largely determines how fast the computer will run — and in hard drive capacity, which determines how many files you can store on the machine. As you might expect, in most laptops you’re going to find faster processors and more memory storage. Although, if most of what you’re doing on your machine is checking email and surfing the web, those processes aren’t especially taxing on a computer, so in practice you may not notice much difference between a netbook and a laptop. And in that case, you’ll probably want to save some money by purchasing a cheaper netbook. If you plan to do photo or video editing, or work with large spreadsheets on your machine, it will probably be worth it to get a faster, more expensive, laptop computer.

This leads us to another difference between the categories — the operating system software. Most netbooks are, in fact, built to run using similar operating systems to smartphones. Many of them run on Google’s Android operating system, which the company built specifically to run on “lean” net-connected devices like netbooks and Android-branded mobile phones. This software is intended primarily for use browsing the internet. Laptops typically run on “beefier,” full-featured operating systems which are versions of those seen in desktop computers. Windows 7, the latest, greatest Microsoft operating system, is showing up on many new laptops, just as it is on many new home computers.

Along with these differences in software and computing power, you will see differences in battery life between the two categories. Battery power is highly variable depending on how your computer is used, but generally speaking, lighter netbooks are going to run longer on a battery charge than full-featured laptops.

So, finally, is a netbook or laptop best for you? Is price your main concern? Or are you looking mainly for a machine for checking email and web surfing? Then you’re probably going to find a netbook the better choice for you. Do you want a mobile machine that functions more like a home computer, able to run lots of software programs? Or, is a larger keyboard or bigger screen important to you? Then you’ll probably want to start by looking at laptop machines.

And don’t be afraid to search the “in-between” for something which really suits you best. The options for consumers in mobile computing are nearly unlimited.