Category: Netbooks

Greenpeace sees red over Dell's toxic record

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

It seems that Dell Computer is in the toxic hot-seat today. In a brazen publicity stunt, Greenpeace members managed to scale the walls of a building located on Dell’s Round Rock campus and then hung a banner declaring “Michael, what the Dell? Design out toxics.”

Greenpeace is hoping to draw attention to the fact that Dell has backtracked on a previous promise to eliminate all toxic chemicals from their products by 2009. Dell’s new timeline pushes back this commitment to 2011.
“Dell continues to sell products that are littered with toxic chemicals, despite promises made years ago to phase them out,” said Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner Casey Harrell. “Dell can’t fulfill its aim to be the greenest technology company on the planet until it follows the lead of Apple, HP and Indian brands HCL and Wipro, which are phasing out the use of these toxic chemicals.”

Greenpeace’s full-frontal assault on Dell won’t end with a banner that will likely be taken down by the time you read this. They are also taking their case to the court of public opinion via a  TV ad that will air in Austin, Texas on several channels, including MTV and ESPN, that “explains Dell’s backtracking”.

The spot asks Austin residents to call CEO Michael Dell and tell him to honor his company’s word to phase out toxic chemicals.

According to Greenpeace, two tech companies that are doing their part to get rid of the nasty ingredients found in consumer electronics are Apple and HP. Both of these tech giants have removed PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) from their new line of PCs. As a result, they have been ranked higher than Dell on the most recent edition of the quarterly Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.

The top five companies on the list are Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Philips, Motorola and Apple, while the bottom five ranked companies are, in descending order: Toshiba, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Nintendo.

I recently bought one of Dell’s new Inspiron Mini 10 netbook computers. Overall, I’m pleased with the gadget, especially when I consider it’s sub-$300 price tag. But I confess I did not take Dell’s environmental record into account when I made my purchase decision. There’s no question, the environment matters and I feel a little guilty at having played a role in damaging it further. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think that I’d have made a different decision, even knowing what I know now. When it comes time to retire my Mini 10, I’m hoping that Dell will take it back and recycle it responsibly, ensuring that none of these toxics make their way into our food chain.

What do you think? Does a company’s environmental track-record have an impact on your decision to buy their products? If Apple’s record was the same as Dell’s, would you hesitate ordering up a new iPad (okay maybe you would hesitate anyway, but that’s a post for another time). Let us know.

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Intel launches an app store for netbooks

app-up-logo

Apps, apps, apps. It’s all you hear these days isn’t it? We’re constantly being informed “there’s an app for that”. Of course, they’re all refering to apps that run on Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch and soon the iPad. But not for long…

Intel is attempting to take the netbook category of PC beyond its initial scope of a low-cost, portable PC, and into the realm of a dedicated platform for app developers, using the very successful storefront model pioneered by Apple for their touchscreen devices.

AppUp is the name for Intel’s netbook app platform. It is a downloadable application that will work on any Intel-powered PC – not just Atom-based netbooks – and provides a one-stop-shop for browsing and acquiring apps that have been built specifically for netbooks. AppUp is currently in beta and will only install on WinXP and Win7 machines.

Unlike the majority of programs written for the various Windows OS flavours, AppUp apps are specifically geared for the small screens and the low-power Atom processors found on most netbooks.

Once you install AppUp, it will appear as an icon on your desktop and Start menu (if you choose this during the install). Launching AppUp takes a surprisingly long time given that it is supposed to be a starting point for small and fast apps for your netbook, but this may be a reflection of the program’s beta status. The AppUp interface  – much like the apps it provides – is a simplified experience that favours large buttons and minimal text, the entire UI runs at 1024×600 resolution which means it takes up 100% of the typical netbook screen. It can’t be increased or decreased or even repositioned, so for people who own HD-level netbooks (typically 1366×768), or for people running it on non-netbooks, it will simply stick to the top-left corner of your screen. Once you launch AppUp, it will ask you to sign in.

In a move that will hopefully be reconsidered once AppUp leaves Beta, Intel forces you to provide a credit card during sign-up. Without this, you can’t access the store at all, even if you’re only interested in the free apps. This will surely prevent many would-be users from joining – especially given that netbooks are a favourite amongst the student population, a group that doesn’t typically have their own credit cards.

The overall UI is divided into two main tabs, “Store” and “My Apps”.

AppUp Store Tab

AppUp Store Tab

In the Store, you can find apps using the built-in search tool, or browse by “favourite categories” (there are 18), or by three other classifications: Staff Picks, Top Rated, Most Downloaded and New Releases. Depending on the app, downloads are free, or paid. While you can choose to display only Free or Paid or All apps once you are within a category e.g. “Business”, there isn’t a global listing for all Free apps.

Clicking on a listed item takes you to the app’s download area where you can read a short description, see screenshots if available, and check out user reviews and ratings. You can only submit a review once you’ve successfully downloaded and installed the app.

AppUp My Apps Tab

AppUp My Apps Tab

The My Apps tab works just like the home screen on an iPhone/iPod Touch: this is where you can launch any apps you have downloaded. Installed apps appear as large, friendly icons which can be displayed as a grid, or a list, and can be sorted by Title, Rating, Free, Paid or All. There doesn’t seem to be a way to customize this screen to display specific apps, which is also something that should be reconsidered for the full release.

Also present on this tab are a collapsible lists showing you your most recent downloads, downloads that are either in progress or pending, and any updates that might be available for apps you already have.

App sizes are fairly small, averaging about 30-50Mb each. For a first test, I downloaded the free app Boxee, a program that is designed to turn your PC into a TV-based media center. The download and install process went well, albeit a tad slow given the speed of my net connection. Running Boxee was also smooth and it looked great as a full-screen experience, though being in Canada means NetFlix and Pandora options are not available.

Unfortunately, this is where my experiment ran into trouble. I wasn’t able to successfully download and install any other apps after Boxee. More frustrating was that AppUp suddenly decided I didn’t have an internet connection. This might not be such a bad thing if it only meant that I couldn’t browse new apps and do downloads, but for some reason it locked up the “My Apps” tab for ages before finally letting me see the apps listing. Once I could see it, my one and only app (Boxee) took several minutes to launch. An internet connection is apparently a very good thing when using AppUp!

Such things are not unusual with Beta-ware, but judging from some of the reviews on the apps, I’m not the only one encountering bugs.

Although at first it seems as though you need to have the AppUp program running in order to use your downloaded apps, this isn’t actually the case. Your downloaded and installed apps appear in your program menu and you can run them even if AppUp isn’t open.

Intel is on to a very good thing with AppUp. The netbook market is already much bigger than anyone anticipated. Millions of units sold means that there is already a significant base of users who are potential AppUp customers. iPhone app developers who have spent considerable time and resources creating small screen experiences for that device should take a serious look at AppUp. If your plans already include a larger-screen experience aimed at the forthcoming iPad, an AppUp port might well be worth your while – it’s hard to imagine that there is going to be massive overlap between these two audiences.

If you own an Atom-powered netbook, you owe it yourself to download AppUp and try it out. I realize the credit card requirement will put off some of you, but it’s a minor inconvenience for the ability to access a growing library of apps that were built from the ground up for your screen size and processor power. Then head back here and tell us what you thought.

Why the iPad got the cold shoulder

ipad-1up-us-20100127_512x512_015While Apple may be scratching their heads at the mixed reaction their latest device has received, you can see how it happened…

When netbooks took the computing world by storm two years ago, they created a new category: The cheap, small, lightweight, just-the-basics laptop.

It was an overnight success story, with geeks and other gadget lovers buying these devices up as quickly as manufacturers could build them. Within a year of the original Asus Eee PC going on sale in North America, it was joined by models from almost every manufacturer with one notable exception: Apple.

Steve Jobs was famously quoted as saying that, “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk”.

Perhaps what he really meant was “we don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that we can make a decent profit on.”

Jobs was likely taking note of the unexpected side-effect of the netbook craze. What had been initially intended as a simple, internet-connected appliance for basic email and web surfing, running on a zero-cost install of Linux, netbooks have evolved into mini laptops running Windows XP or the newer Windows 7 Starter Edition – both of which add incremental costs for manufacturers. The group of users that netbooks had been designed to woo were those who had no need for a fully-fledged PC and wanted to accomplish some very basic tasks as quickly and easily as possible. Instead, they appear to have attracted traditional laptop buyers who have been pulled in by the super low pricepoints and small form factor.

So it was widely expected that last week’s announcement would be Apple’s answer to the netbook: a ground-breaking device that would (depending on who you listened to) do a myriad of tasks far better than any netbook while ushering in a new age of tablet-based computing. From some of the hype, you’d have thought Apple was getting set to announce the end of war, poverty and hunger, not a new gadget.

Instead, they launched the iPad.

Journalists who attended the event in California seemed to be quite taken with the new device despite many acknowledged shortcomings. But out on the blogs, message boards, chat rooms and social sites, the critics pounced. Yes, it’s pretty, they acknowledged. But the litany of flaws including a lack of support for Flash, no built-in camera, no multi-tasking, an OS better suited to smartphones than computers, a lousy name (yes people are very vocal about this), no USB ports, no memory card slots, etc. seemed at points to be endless. How could Apple have so seriously misjudged the audience for this new product?

They didn’t.

The trouble is, they didn’t communicate who the iPad was aimed at, either before, during or after the launch.

Perhaps Jobs felt he had given enough away when he said “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk”.

Perhaps industry watchers thought that this meant that Apple’s forthcoming product would be an expensive tablet computer that presumably was not a piece of junk. That might explain why there were so many rumours about a $1,000 price point.

For these reasons or perhaps just because Apple followers believe with a cult-like devotion in their favourite company’s ability to redefine the computing experience as they did in 1984 with the launch of the original Macintosh, most people didn’t realize that Apple wanted to target the original netbook audience (those who had no need for a fully-fledged PC and wanted to accomplish some very basic tasks as quickly and easily as possible), and not their existing user base of MacBook and iMac customers.

If we filtered out all of the negative comments written by geeks, gadget-gurus, Apple fanatics and even most of the tech journalists, we might just find the set of individuals the iPad was conceived for. Let’s take another look at the device from the point of view of someone who:

  • Isn’t in love with their computer because frankly it’s just too complicated for what they really want to do, and
  • Doesn’t own an iPhone (or any smartphone for that matter) or an iPod Touch.

If you’re a 30 or 40-something, I know what you’re thinking: “My parents.”

How many of us tech-savvy ‘kids’ are called upon by their aging parents to provide emergency tech-support when an email attachment won’t open? Or when “the internet isn’t working”?

The hard truth that so many of us who grew up digital have tried to ignore is that computers are complicated. They are not user-friendly. Not even Macs. Someone once claimed that if cars possessed the same attributes as PCs, no one would ever be comfortable getting behind the wheel who wasn’t a certified mechanic. There is a group of users out there (and I’m willing it bet it’s sizable) who are eager to enjoy the benefits of internet-connected PCs (digital photos, movies, music, email, ebooks, web-browsing) but who find the prospect of using a computer daunting, frustrating, time-consuming or just not worth the trouble. Still others use a computer, but do so reluctantly or with anxiety, and find themselves wishing for an easier way to do things.

This is the group at which the iPad is aimed squarely, even though Steve Jobs never once said it. And he never will. Instead, he will woo them with phrases like “using the iPad is much more intimate than a laptop” as he sits comfortably in an easy chair.

For these people, the iPad fills a huge void. A void that netbooks tried to fill, and may have been successful at filling if they had stayed true to their original vision.

And that’s why the iPad’s keyboardless touchscreen interface is such a smart move on Apple’s part. In courting a group of users who prize simplicity and ease of use above power, above speed, above almost anything that regular PCs offer, the dead-easy UI of the iPhone/iPod Touch OS is a master stroke.

While making a touch UI for Apple’s OS X might have been what enthusiasts were hoping for (and there’s nothing stopping Apple from doing this on a future device), the I-can’t-open-my-attachment crowd couldn’t care less. They likely aren’t going to be too bothered by the inability to multi-task (they probably work consecutively rather than simultaneously on their existing PCs anyway). The iPad promises to keep things simple. And easy. And that’s exactly what they want.

So was the omission of a webcam a mistake? Yes, I think it was. The iPad is going to be a communication tool for a lot of people and having a webcam would have made it a more powerful one. Should it have come with a slot for camera memory cards? Probably. But my mother has had a digital camera, a laptop with a card reader and a digital photo frame for over a year now and she has NEVER transferred a single photo to either device. Sad? Yes. But you can bet Apple understands my mother from a technology point of view better than you or I.

If you’re sitting at your computer or laptop or iPhone right now reading this, and if you’ve got a few apps open in the background while you’re listening to MP3s or streaming an internet radio station, and if you were one of the people who read about the iPad and said to yourself “Holy cow, Apple really blew it this time. So much for the iPad, I’m never buying one of those things”, I’ve got news for you: You aren’t the target market for the iPad.

In the coming months, especially as Apple switches their advertising machine to full power, take careful note at how (and to whom) they are pitching the iPad. Though they will obviously try to make it as sexy and appealing as they can to the widest possible audience, the one message that will resonate with the target audience is “This is not a PC. This is not a Mac. This is not an iPhone. It’s something else. It’s something you will love using.”

And they will be absolutely right.

The iPad: An iPod Touch on Steroids?

Apple iPad

It’s not quite what the pundits were expecting, but the iPad has landed and with it Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging all the other PC makers to catch up – if they can. It’s a slick device, offering all of the features and functionality of an iPod Touch, with a larger screen and more powerful processor. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple put on a good show, demonstrating the iPad’s deft handling of web browsing, watching videos, reading publications and running apps such as racing games. But the price for this uber-iPod starts at $499 USD and rises sharply as you add more memory and 3G connectivity, leaving all of us to decide if we really need a device that sits somewhere between our MP3 player and our laptop, a device that offers little in the way of new functionality yet nonetheless occupies a category of its own.

Just how much like an iPod Touch is the new iPad? Let’s take a look at the specs:

The iPad features:

  • A 9.7” LED-backlit IPS LCD multi-touch screen (IPS is one of the varieties of LCD technology that uses fewer transistors, but requires more backlighting for an increased viewing angle)
  • A 1.5lbs aluminum and glass enclosure
  • Built-in microphone, speakers and headphone jack
  • 10 hour battery life
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g /n
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • A custom Apple-built 1 Ghz processor, dubbed the “A4”
  • Accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
  • 1024-by-768-pixel resolution (3×4 aspect ratio)
  • Can output 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable to a TV

So far, with the exception of the compass, it’s a large iPod Touch, with a fast processor and a not-quite 720p resolution screen. Though it’s hard to tell without benchmark testing, the processor may deliver similar performance to Intel’s Atom platform – the Atom varies between 1.3 and 2 Ghz. In fact, given Apple’s close working relationship with Intel on most of their other computing products, it’s a bit of a surprise that an Atom isn’t at the heart of the iPad. One reason might be cost, but I suspect Apple needed two very important things for the iPad: A need to clearly distinguish it from the netbook category (having an Atom processor would immediately invite comparisons) and the ability to extract every second of battery life possible.

Now for the software:

  • Safari (web browser)
  • Email
  • Photos (with an optional dock adapter that lets you read SD cards)
  • Customizable home screen
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Maps
  • Notes
  • iBooks (an online bookstore very similar to what Amazon offers on the Kindle)
  • iPod
  • iTunes
  • App Store
  • Video & YouTube, both with HD support

Again, we have a few minor enhancements over the iPod Touch, most notably the iBooks integration, but on the whole, it’s very similar.

The pricing:

Though Canadian pricing hasn’t been announced, here’s what they get in the U.S.:

16GB + WiFi: $499; 16GB + WiFi + 3G: $629

32GB + WiFi: $599; 32GB + WiFi + 3G: $729

64GB + WiFi: $699; 64GB + WiFi + 3G: $829

Since the iPod Touch only comes in 8, 32 and 64GB sizes, let’s take the 32GB model for comparison at $299 USD. The same size iPad is $300 more, or double the price. If you want to compare the iPad to the 32GB iPhone it starts to get tricky given the carrier-underwritten pricing, but it’s still cheaper than the equivalent iPad 3G.

Speaking of 3G, this is one area that will give prospective buyers of the iPad the most difficulty when it comes to deciding on which model. You will need to honestly ask yourself if you want to use the iPad absolutely everywhere or just when in range of an available Wi-Fi network. There is no evidence so far, that if you go Wi-Fi only, you will be able to upgrade to 3G capability at a later date. But because you aren’t tied to a carrier for the 3G model (unlike current iPhone purchasing models) many people may decide to splurge, simply as a way to future-proof themselves.

In the U.S., Apple has partnered with AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPad for $30 a month which is a great deal if you’re going to use it outside of Wi-Fi network range regularly.  For Canadians, who can’t currently get an unlimited data plan on *any* carrier, the questions are: will a similar deal will be struck here, and if not, will the iPad be viable financially when not within range of a Wi-Fi network?

So that’s pretty much it as far as the specs go. If it sounds like the iPad is a little underwhelming from this description, you and I have the same perspective.

However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss the iPad as an overgrown and overpriced iPod Touch, as with so many of Apple’s products, there’s always another aspect – an element that cannot be quantified through an analysis of the specs alone. The iPad is very attractive. It has the same simple elegance that has been a hallmark of Apple’s industrial design since Jobs took back control of the company over 10 years ago.

I haven’t even seen it in the flesh yet but I can hardly wait to get my hands on it – to touch it, interact with it, play with it. Though it may not boast capabilities that any well-equipped netbook couldn’t match and for much less money, its touch-based interface and beautiful, jewel-like screen call to gadget lovers like a siren song.  Steve Jobs described it as “magical”. I’m not sure I would call it a magical device given how much of what it can do is already available in other products, but there’s no question – it does exude a magical appeal.

If you ask yourself “Do I really need an iPad?”, the probable answer is “No.” But once you’ve used one, or watched curiously as someone else works with one, then ask yourself “Do I want an iPad?”, I’ll bet the answer will be “YES!”

It is already apparent that the iPad’s strengths are: Surfing the web with a multitouch interface on a screen that lets you really appreciate a full web page; Having access to books and periodicals in full colour with adjustable font sizes and orientation; Watching videos in your choice of letterbox or full-frame presentation, organizing and viewing photos, and of course, accessing the 160,000+ apps in the App Store that not only run on the iPad, but are sync’d with your existing App Store purchases if you already own an iPod Touch or iPhone.

This last point is really the iPad’s greatest strength of all. Not only does Apple already has a superb set of online tools through which users can download anything from apps, to movies, to music to TV shows, the company has fostered an enormous development community who can leverage every line of code that they wrote for the iPhone and iPod Touch and layer-on additional features for the iPad.

As with the iPhone, it will be this dizzying array of creative energy that figures out how to take the iPad to places that even Apple itself hasn’t imagined. I know they had to call this thing an iPad for consistency in branding etc, but I think its unofficial name ought to be “the AppPad”.

On a final note, I’ll share a few disappointments. These weaknesses are more omissions than outright mistakes. There’s no GPS (though A-GPS is available on the 3G models), there’s no camera either on the front or the back, there was no mention of the ability to multi-task or background your apps – something that has been a complaint on the iPhone for some time.

I strongly suspect that all three of these elements will make their way into future versions of the iPad, with multi-tasking being the first to come, with a software update, since clearly Apple’s new A4 processor is more than capable of handling it.

So welcome to the world iPad. You may not be the device that anyone needs, but I doubt that will stop you from winning a place in our hearts.

originalUpdate Jan 28, 2:10 P.M.: found this over at gizmodo… hilarious!

 

 

 

 

 

icm20Update Jan 28, 2:55 P.M.: Obviously Apple engaged with the accessory community early on for the iPad launch. If you were really bummed out by the absence of a webcam onboard the iPad, the folks over at iLuv have a solution (albeit a clunky one): A dock-adapter based webcam available in 1.3 or 3 megapixel resolutions. No word on price or availability yet.

Take your Wi-Fi with you anywhere with MiFi

Image courtesy of slashgear.com

Image courtesy of slashgear.com

The answer, until recently has been “sorry chum, you’re out of luck”. That is unless you have a rocket stick for your laptop and you do some clever network tweaking in Windows 7.

Thankfully, there is now a much more sophisticated and robust solution in the form of the MiFi 2372 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot. Just released on the new Bell Network, think of this tiny gadget as 3G rocket stick and Wi-Fi router all rolled into one, plus a handy MicroSD slot which can act as a shared drive of up to 16GB.

You’re even free from the hassle of finding an AC outlet as the MiFi sports an internal rechargeable battery which the manufacturer claims can last for up to 4 hours on a single charge.

Here are the detailed specs:

  • Connects up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices simultaneously
  • Computers, PDA’s, cameras, music players, personal and game players and more
  • Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery
  • GPS- enabled
  • Advanced internal antenna system
  • NovaSpeed® capable
  • Auto-install and auto-connectivity
  • 10M (30 ft) range of network coverage

The possibilities with a gadget like this are endless, but some of the ways it could be used include:

  • Turn your car into roving internet access port. When on vacation with the family, all of the passengers could be running internet-connected devices from netbooks, to MP3 players to portable gaming systems like Nintendo DS or Sony’s PSP and PSP Go.
  • Set up ad-hoc gaming parties in almost any location.
  • Internet for the cottage, campsite or cruise ship: You no longer need to wonder if there is internet access when you head out on vacation.

The MiFi allows up to 5 devices to connect via Wi-Fi and can support download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps and uploads of up to 5.76 Mbps.

For more info on the MiFi and Bell’s 3G data plans, check out Bell.ca.

Update: May 10, 2010

Looks like there’s a wee problem with Novatel’s MiFi product. Apparently the battery may “swell” and that, obviously, isn’t good. If you own one of these units, either through Bell or one of the other service providers that offered the MiFi, be sure to get in touch and see what they will do for you. Bell customers are getting their MiFi’s battery swapped free of charge, and during the 6-8 week turnaround time, they will be sent a Novatel TurboStick 3G to tide them over.

Consumers are confused about netbooks

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Since Asus started the netbook craze a little over two years ago with their diminutive Eee PC, the netbook category has exploded. Nearly ever major PC brand (with the notable exception of Apple) has one, and prices have continued to drop as features and screen sizes have grown.

It’s no surprise that these little machines have become a hit: most models offer Windows XP, a 9″ or larger screen, built-in Wi-Fi, webcam, media card reader and a power-sipping processor that can last 5 hours or more on a a 3-cell battery. Higher-end models offer Solid State Drives, Bluetooth and multi-touch functionality. All this, starting at around $300.

There’s no doubt, netbooks offer superb value and portability for the money. So why then are a whopping 30% of all netbook purchases returned to the retailer where they were sold? The number comes from a recent Yankee Group report which concludes that consumers just aren’t well enough informed about the performance characteristics of netbooks before they buy.

Surprisingly, these consumers are not walking in to their local big box electronics retailer on a whim, and buying the first PC they see under $400. The same report claims that “consumers typically make a buying decision about a particular brand after hours, days or weeks of research—long before they ever walk into a store to purchase an item.”

If consumers are doing such due diligence yet are still unsatisfied with their purchase, it means that PC manufacturers, and all of us in the media, are doing a poor job educating buyers about netbooks before they even begin their research into which model is right for them.

The way to correct this apparent confusion is to start with some defintions that are meaningful to the average consumer. What is a netbook and what are the real differences between netbooks and their look-alike, but larger cousins, the laptops (or notebooks)?

Intel, the maker of the chips that are used in the vast majority of netbooks and notebooks, coined the term and has used it ever since to describe ultra-portable PCs that use their Atom processor. If we go with that as a starting point, any portable PC equipped with an Atom processor is a netbook, whereas any other CPU will make it a notebook.

But why does the processor matter? Aren’t size, weight, feature set etc. all important factors in identifying netbooks? Yes and no. While it’s true that most netbooks are small, with screen sizes never larger than 12″, and thin (often 1.5″ 1.5 cm thick) and light (some even as light as 2 lbs), it’s also true that they are no match for a notebook in the brains department.

And regardless how small and cheap a PC may be, if it can’t run all the software you could normally run (in the way that you normally run it) it’s not a notebook.

Well that sounds pretty clear: Atom processor = netbook, anything else = notebook. Right? Well…

It turns out that while Intel feels the netbook label is all about the CPU, other experts and some manufacturers disagree.

Sony just announced a machine they say is the world’s lightest laptop: the Vaio X.

And if the price is anything to go on, I’d have to agree. At $1300 it had better not be a netbook. But guess which processor is under the hood of this baby? Yup. An Intel Atom.

CNET, as recently as August of this year, argued that we should do away with the moniker altogether, claiming that “Netbooks are nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks,” and that “the distinction between the two can now be considered little more than marketing speak.” 

The same article doesn’t mention anything about the difference in processing power between the two categories, which is a shame, because it can really make a difference. How much depends on the CPU comparison, but Tom’s Hardware benchmarked the Atom against a fairly slow Celeron chip, and the Atom did not fare well. The Celeron was 35% faster, across the board. Remember the Vaio X? Still wondering about that $1300 price tag? Me too.

That sounds like a real knock against the Atom, but when you consider that the Atom consumes far less power than the Celeron, things begin to make sense, and it brings us back to the reason why netbooks are appealing despite their lack of processing power:  Their tiny size, and super-efficient internal components means that though they aren’t workhorses, they can go much longer without plugging in to a wall.

What consumers should remember is that while the line is blurring between netbooks and notebooks, there are some real differences in terms of performance. Want a super-portable PC that can give you quick and easy net access from a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can check your mail, surf the web, watch some videos and stay up-to-date on Facebook? Want to go up to a whole day without a recharge? Get a netbook.

But if you need a portable PC that can mutli-task, edit video, play 3D games, run Photoshop and do it all without grinding to a halt, you want a notebook.