Like anything, especially in the world of consumer electronics, netbooks have pros and cons. They offer a highly portable platform that still provides ample power to perform basic functions, but they may not be for everyone.
Sporting an Intel 1.6GHz CPU and a gigabyte of RAM you can expect to run most applications without any problems. But some models are a little weak on video. YouTube videos may be slow. Bandwidth may not be quite adequate. You may see some pixelation or fits and starts. Watching films off the Internet may or may not be possible, depending on your unit and connection.
That same limitation applies even more to games. Some will run, but no one should expect to get the kind of crisp, smooth play they'll see on a high-end laptop. No netbook will perform anywhere near what a fully-decked out gaming desktop will deliver.
Still, for a machine that - by contemporary standards - offers modest specs, it's amazing what these little things can deliver. PowerPoint presentations work just fine on most and display clear text and graphics, along with lively animations.
That relatively small CPU and memory (by today's standards) affects all applications to a degree, of course. Spreadsheets won't load quite as fast. Saving a large document will take a little longer. Part of that limitation is not the CPU or memory, but the hard drive. Some offer only SSD drives which, while faster in theory, are sometimes slower in practice than laptop hard drives.
That hard drive also tends to be much smaller than the monsters available standard on today's laptops. Some offer drives as large as 160GB, so the situation is really not much of a drawback when you think that 80GB was as large as the largest desktop offered only a few years ago. Others provide only a relatively modest 8GB.
Some netbooks have drawbacks beyond the electronics inside. Because they're meant to be taken on the road, some models are made almost entirely of plastic apart from the metal internal parts, of course. That makes them truly lightweight, but there is plastic and then there is plastic. Some types are more durable than steel. Others are worse than the material of a cheap child's toy. It's something to consider when evaluating the one you want.
Heating used to be a problem on some early models, and it still can be on a few in certain situations. Few suffer from the extremes that would shut down a system a couple of years ago. But they can run a little warm to the touch, especially if you prefer to hold one on your thighs while you type. Wi-Fi contributes to that issue.
Most do a fine job in this area, though, provided you avoid plugging up any vents and allow good airflow around the unit. None have fans, but the small heat sink atop the processor has to dissipate heat to the air and fresh air has to come inside to cool the unit.
The keyboard is the big annoyance for many netbook users. All are smaller than a standard laptop and some people have a hard time adjusting to that. For students with smaller than adult-sized hands that can actually be an advantage. Still, other adults adjust just fine. If it's important to you, look for a unit like the HP 2133 Mini-Note that provides a near-standard size and feel.
The price difference should be only a small consideration overall. It's true that netbooks are much cheaper than a full-sized laptop, sometimes as little as half the cost. But, you get what you pay for. For many people, saving a few pounds of weight and $100-$300 doesn't make up for the lower performance and capacity. Better to spend a little more, carry a little more and be happy.
But for those looking for a truly portable great performer - and who don't require all the extras that today's laptops can provide - a netbook might be the perfect choice. They're becoming so powerful and so flexible that many people can just forego getting a laptop at all. As with any purchase, the decision comes down to a personal one.