I’ve been puzzling over this, because I love my netbook (eeePC) more than I expected to. Now, I do like some gadgets, but only when I can see an application for them in my life. My first gadget was a second generation ipod. The moment the ipod came out I knew that was the gadget for me. Until then I would open up SoundJam on my clamshell ibook on the bus between Toronto and Guelph, stick in my earphones, and then close my ibook with my thumb inside it to keep it from turning off, and listen to my tunes. Ipods had moved into their second generation by the time I found the cash to get myself one. Now I have a cellphone as well, but I didn’t really feel that connected to it until I discovered text messaging. Now text is what I mostly use it for (other than calling my mom). It’s basically my mobile AIM client. I don’t have an iphone (data is way too expensive in Canada to make that worth it for me). I have a PDA, given to me by my employer, but I don’t use it anymore.
So why do I love the netbook so much?
It really turned my head around. Using it made me see one possible future for computing, and I’m intrigued. It’s a fairly powerful little creature, with a gig a RAM (could be better, true, but not bad), but without much storage capacity. It has 16 gig of storage space, which is more than twice what my first ibook had, to be honest. But in 2009, 16 gig is smaller than my current ipod’s capacity. So I can’t keep my tunes on it, I can’t put movies on it. I can’t put tons of software on it, either. It’s not exactly a digital “home”.
But then, what if things turn around and we use less and less software client-side? I can use google docs right now for all that word does. (My eee, running Ubuntu, has Open Office on it, however.) I can use splashup or others to edit images without a client. I can use meebo for online IM. I love twitter, and I can get a client for that on my netbook, but why bother? the online interface is pretty simple and easy. I don’t really need a mail client, since both of my main email accounts (personal and work) have decent web clients. What software on my computer do I really need?
As for storage: both my dad and Jeremy taught me important lessons in the last couple of months. I gave me dad a digital photo frame, and it accepts SD cards as well as USB flash drives. Why would he even put his pictures on his ibook? My netbook allows me to upload pictures to flickr directly off an SD card. Given how cheap SD cards are getting, my dad could buy new ones for each trip he goes on. What used to be a transient storage method (that cost serious dollars) is now so cheap you could just leave the data on them. He could have 16 gigs per trip (twice a year) and just store the cards. That kind of storage capacity is just never going to be feasible inside a computer. Talk about extendable.
Jeremy bought a 64 gig flash drive to store media on. It cost him $100. I paid more than that two years ago for my 1 gig SD card. My netbook has three USB drives. If I bought three 64 gig flash drives and plugged them in, my netbook would have more accessible storage capacity than my current macbook. If I bought as many 64 gig flash drives as I needed to partition my data, my netbook would have unlimited storage capacity. I could keep all my tunes on one drive, movies and TV on another, work docs and software on another, etc. I don’t want to have to open up my computer to add more storage. I’d like to be able to just plug it in. The size of those flash drives is only going to go up; I bet my netbook would have more storage capacity than my work and home computers put together pretty soon.
My netbook makes me think about a world where my computer is just a portal to other things, not a location in itself. Any computer can do that, sure; the netbook is just more upfront about it.
Also: my netbook fits in my purse. It’s low profile makes it perfect for use while sitting in cramped economy seats on overnight flights (Jeremy and I watched a lot of british television while on our overnight flight). I wouldn’t have to turn sideways to use it on a greyhound. It’s perfect for taking minutes, mostly because it’s so small that typing on it doesn’t hide you behind a screen. It’s great for the bar, which provides free wireless to patrons. I can use it and still have room for my meal. I can sit in a crowded auditorium and tweet about the keynote I’m hearing. I can connect with other conference goers without having to carry a whole computer with me. And if something terrible happens and it breaks? I’m out 300 bucks, not 1400. And because I don’t store anything on it directly, I didn’t lose any data. It’s a sturdy thing too, since it’s all flash memory and no moving parts.
It’s a form of casual computing that I really like. It’s the kind of gadget I would take with me while wandering around town, in case I wanted to stop and look something up, or blog something, or get in touch with someone via email or IM. It’s perfect for conferences. Why carry your whole life with you when you can just bring a relatively cheap little portal instead?
The small screen: completely not a problem. I thought it would be, but I adjusted to it really fast. I think Jeremy did too. When I returned to my macbook, it felt bloody HUGE. We’re getting spoiled by huge screens. There’s a time and a place for them, sure, but is that all the time?
The small keyboard: takes some getting used to, but I like it. I don’t have huge hands, though. (I don’t have small hands either.) Jeremy I think struggles with it more, but I can type pretty well on the reduced QWERTY. It’s just a matter of getting used to a new keyboard. But I don’t think I would suggest that it’s a keyboard to do all your writing on. It’s more a casual keyboard. This presumes that people have the cash to have more than one computer (something with a bigger screen and a big keyboard, and this little guy), but to me, the netbook is a nice addition to my computing family. I suspect I won’t be traveling with my macbook as much as I used to.
Anyone in the market for a beautiful black leather computer bag? I don’t think I’ll be needing it anymore.