Can The Netbook Survive?

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We’ve been skeptics of the netbook platform for a long time, and for a long list of reasons.

To us, they’ve never seemed cheap enough to justify the trade-offs of having a full-powered notebook, never seemed mobile enough to justify the chiclet keyboards and tiny viewing area, and just never felt ... right.

Oh, we know there are a few people -- make that 40 or 50
million -- who have disagreed with us over the past three years
by actually buying one or two. But with the advent of the iPad
era, the argument should now be over.

In fact, according to research by NPD Group and Morgan Stanley, netbook year-over-year worldwide sales growth plunged from 641 percent last July to 5 percent in April 2010.

Case closed, right?

Well, it turns out that just as netbook sales numbers have begun to reverse-hockey-stick, we finally found one that we think is worthy
of enterprise consideration: the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e.

With s treet pricing below $500, the ThinkPad X100e is solidly and comfortably built, fully supports Windows 7 Home Premium, and has a comfortable, notebook-quality keyboard. Built with an AMD Neo X2 Dual-Core L335 at 1.6 GHz and a full Gigabyte of RAM, we ran Primate Labs’ Geekbench 2.1 benchmarking application and it scored a very healthy 1,194. That’s about 50 percent more than most netbooks we’ve examined -- certainly enough to support business productivity
and limited multimedia like video phone calling via Skype.

Using our battery test, which is to shut off all power-saving utilities and run video from the hard drive until the system shuts off, we clocked about three-and-a-half hours. That’s on par with most standard notebooks with 6-cell li-ion batteries.

The 11.6-inch LCD is bright and clear enough so that it won’t strain your eyes after more than an hour of viewing—and was clear enough so that a transition from a 26-inch LCD during the course of a workday was not horrible. The keyboard, with slightly less real estate than a full ThinkPad keyboard, was fine for light work. While still springier and heartier than most netbook keyboards, office jockeys married to their desktop keyboards with number pads (you know the type) will probably have a hard time adjusting.

Can it compete with the iPad? Well, no, because the iPad is in a class by itself. But iPad doesn’t run Windows or most Windows-based
applications, doesn’t sell through mainstream channel inventory and doesn’t have a 160-GB hard drive. The ThinkPad X100e does.

In the end, netbooks will go the way of the dinosaur -- sooner rather than later. But the good news for netbook lovers and manufacturers
is that the industry has been forced to deliver smaller, more efficient, less costly notebooks. The ThinkPad X100e clearly qualifies as more than a netbook, and this lineup from Lenovo may just have staying power even if the segment itself does not.

We recommend the ThinkPad X100e for “value notebook” needs.

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