Image: Hugh Threlfall
September 19 2009
It’s only two years since the word “netbook” emerged to describe a mini, handbag/man-bag-sized laptop designed primarily for working on basic documents, e-mailing, web browsing and accessing web-based applications. It all took off with those clever Taiwanese at Asus and their seemingly Yorkshire-inspired “Eee” (as in “by gum”) models, and now they’re everywhere. In every airport lounge, hotel lobby and even business-class section I have been in lately, netbooks have outnumbered regular laptops. They are also superb for watching BBC iPlayer; the small screen makes the picture look better, plus the miniature scale makes them, if I may say, great in bed.
So which netbook to choose with about 100 very similar models now out there? I am much inclined to follow the sage advice of my teenage goddaughter, Kitty Wordsworth, which she expounded at the funeral last year of her grandmother, the pioneering fashion writer Alix Coleman. “I was talking about Kate Moss with Grandma before she died,” Kit said, sobbing, in her eulogy, “and she taught me always to remember that it doesn’t matter if you’re ugly on the inside – what matters is that you’re beautiful on the outside.”
On the inside, the Samsung Mini-Notebook N310 is pretty much like any other netbook, with a relatively small brain, up to five hours’ battery life, enough memory for everyday purposes and a thankfully un-modern Windows XP operating system. But where the N310 excels is on the outside. While the Koreans (South, obviously) have pretty much caught up with the Japanese for technology, they’re still a pace behind regarding looks, so it was a wise move on Samsung’s part to enlist the renowned Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa for this, the most fashiony (yet unisex) netbook on the market by miles.
The N310 doesn’t only look superb – whether you opt for turquoise, orange, purple, dark blue or black – it feels wonderful in the hand. You can spend time just holding its rounded, pebble-like, semi-smooth form for the pleasure of it. That’s why I favour it above all the others of the recent crop. If I go bush with a netbook rather than my MacBook Pro 13in (mwah, love it) it’s because I’m unlikely to be using a computer much that day. So the N310’s looks and tactility will win out over its poor battery life.
Other new netbooks may suit you better, but all look dull or plain ugly. Asus has a good new model, the Eee PC Seashell 1005HA, with seven hours’ life but no thrills. Toshiba sent over its NB200, which has a nice big keyboard, impressive durability and some other good features, but is horrible to look at. And Sony has just brought out its first netbook, the Mini-W – all fairly routine apart from its stunning high-resolution screen, which makes watching iPlayer offerings in bed even better. Plenty of choice, then, but for style, it has to be the Samsung.