October 29, 2008

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While I like the product category, I’ve written before about my disdain for the term “netbook.” Fortunately, Dell and HP have used the sexier term “mini” to describe their offerings in the space. And after seeing HP’s Mini 1000, the consumerizd version of its early entrant, the 2133, the company seems to have a winner on its hands.

In addition to disliking the term “netbook”, I’m also not a fan of positioning them for content consumption as opposed to content creation. That dichotomy has long existed for most users of existing PCs. A better approach is to make the case that this is the device to use when your smartphone isn’t going to cut it. And if Intel and friends are trying to reserve that messaging for MIDs, an alternative is to position the MID more for communication while the netbook is more for productivity. I don’t want to say this is starting to become a superficial academic segmentation, but even the angels are complaining about how crowded the head of this pin is getting.

And especially for HP, if netbooks are little more than a pretty screen, why focus so much on the keyboard? The Mini 1000 continues with the best-in-class custom keyboard that the 2133 offered. In contrast, the Sylvania netbook meso g that I’ve recently used has no right Shift key.

Despite maintaining that Linux has is place in portable computing and admiring how HP appears to have done the best job to date of building a superior Linux experience with MIE atop Ubunutu, I continue to be skeptical of the appeal of Linux on these products with only a $20 premium for Windows XP. Windows may be “a devil” compared to the streamlined MIE, but it is the devil that most people know, and has probably even endeared itself more to consumers with all the negativity surrounding Vista.

What’s missing from the Mini 1000? First, I hope the six-cell battery doesn’t protrude as much as the 2133′s did. Second, the true potential of netbooks won’t be realized until we have better wireless broadband options, but the removal of the ExpressCard slot is no deal breaker as Apple has long showed with the MacBook. The flanked trackpad buttons aren’t ideal, but they are a far better compromise than moving keys around the way Dell did on the Inspiron mini 9. Dell shouldn’t have to do that on its 12″ “netbook”, which may just wind up with the highest volumes in the category yet even if it cannibalizes other 12″ laptops.

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September 4, 2008

imageYou can continue to deride netbooks as underpowered toys if you like, and I agree with many of my fellow analysts that they will account for a niche in overall PC shipments this year, but there’s no doubt that netbooks are challenging the PC status quo in many ways — “retro” and alternative operating systems, newcomer brands such as Sylvania, and interesting distribution potential, such as via cellular operators.

Dell is definitely positioning these products in an advantageous way by offering its Inspiron Mini for $99 with purchase of a select other PC, reinforcing the message that this is a sort of computing peripheral. (Dell has offered similar promotions on monitors and printers in the past.) It’s also a fresh arrow for the company to tuck into in its challenged upsell quiver. Of course, I’ve argued previously that the lower-cost Linux configuration lives up to that designation better.

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April 9, 2008

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HP’s much-heralded Mini-note has finally arrived and to favorable reviews.  CRN calls it “a real winner” and says that “the quality and finish is outstanding.” James Kendrick now questions whether his Fujitsu Tablet PC is worth its 3x price premium over the Mini-Note. While I’m no Tablet PC fan, I like the Fujitsu P-series and form factor, and the company will certainly feel more heat in its niche as other notebook heavyweights move in.

This segment will represent a test for Dell, which seems prepared to enter this space before the end of the year. Dell has done well in the education market (for which the Mini-Note was especially designed) with its aggressive pricing while trying to improve its design perceptions particularly as it has moved more aggressively into the hands-on world of retail. It will be challenging for Dell to lowball HP while live up to the 2133′s design expectation.

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