Should Freelancers Buy a Netbook?

Dell Inspiron Netbookby Joe Wallace

Should freelancers invest a bit of hard-earned cash in a netbook? These highly portable, stripped-down machines seem perfect for the highly productive road warrior, and when they are priced at aroudn $300 per unit, it would seem to make a lot of sense.

Then there’s the battery life–advertised at eight hours or so as with this Dell Inspiron netbook sold at Amazon and elsewhere. Eight hours is a long time to be sitting in an airport lounge or in the train station…wouldn’t it be great to get some work done?

Unfortunately there are a few shades of gray to contend with. I loved the $350 price tag on the Gateway netbook I purchased–similar in many ways to the Dell pictured here, including the eight hour battery.

It’s true that the battery lasts much longer on my netbook than on my Macbook Pro or the regular-sized PC laptop I own. It is extremely portable and I love it for that. I take the netbook on the road with me a lot…but there are a few things you should keep in mind when considering a purchase that might make you think twice.

  • Awkward keyboard. I hate the size and placement of the keys on my netbook. For a power typer like me–someone used to cranking out 5000 words a day or more at times, I was forced to buy an external keyboard to stay sane. It cuts down on the portability factor a bit to lug around.
  • No CD/DVD drive . My netbook has no CD drive–all software installs must be downloads unless you invest in an external USB CD/DVD unit. Not a problem in some cases, but still something to be aware of.
  • Less rugged. My netbook feels like it should be treated more gently–airport warriors beware, these need a bit more pampering than larger, sturdier machines.

I won’t go so far as to say you shouldn’t buy one of these, but if I had to do it over again, form factor and the CD drive issue would probably push me toward getting a full-sized laptop instead. Travel writers are the ones most likely to get one of these and be completely satisfied–the space and weight issues alone make this a smarter purchase for them.

3 thoughts on “Should Freelancers Buy a Netbook?”

  1. I am 100% behind netbooks, and consider mine one of my best purchases of 2009.

    For $229 (from Woot), plus $50 for an extra gig of RAM, this thing is great (Acer Aspire). I easily get eight hours out of it and it’s fast enough for basic tasks.

    I have three computers I typically use. A beast of a desktop (3 monitors, core i7, 8 gigs of RAM, etc), a solid 15″ laptop and then this little netbook.

    I’ve situated things so that 100% of my work can be accessed from any of the three machines. Most of this is due to Gmail, Dropbox, Google Docs and Evernote. If I’m working on something on my desktop and need to run to a lunch meeting, I can grab the netbook off my desk (no cord necessary because of the killer battery) and I’m good to go. The battery will last all day, and every document I might need is on it.

    It’s especially nice for lunch meetings. A standard laptop eats up a TON of table space (“can you move your plate? Ooh, and your drink and stuff?”).

    That being said, your other concerns are perfectly accurate. It’s not pleasant to type on for long periods of time and the lack of an optical drive could be a problem. It’d be hard for anyone to use a netbook as their primary machine.

    As an “extra” computer to use from time to time, it’s pure gold.

  2. Mickey,

    Funny you should mention the lunch meetings–that’s where I get THE most mileage out of mine! I can’t tell you how many times the netbooks tiny size has made the difference there–it’s one of the reasons I can’t completely dismiss the netbook…

  3. I do freelance and fiction writing in addition to a day job, and I bought a netbook last year when my laptop died. My wallet wouldn’t allow for anything else, and it definitely serves its purpose. It’s frustrating when trying to create multimedia blog posts or multitask with the tiny screen, but for general writing it does the job and is so easily portable. And I got to write it off on my taxes! Your list of considerations were spot on.

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