HP nails the netbook, but positioning remains problematic

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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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