Best Netbook Alternatives: Big Laptops at a Netbook Price

Best Netbook Alternatives: Big Laptops at a Netbook Price
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Don’t Like Netbooks but Like the Price?

Netbooks offer many things that more traditional laptops cannot, including incredible battery life and good-enough performance at an extremely low price. Yet the standard ten inch netbook, and even some slightly larger eleven and twelve inch models, can feel too cramped for day-to-day use. The screen is often so small that multi-tasking is virtually impossible, and while the Atom processor uses very little energy, it also provides very little performance.

There are, however, some alternatives to netbooks. These laptops offer much better performance for a netbook price, making them a suitable alternative to those who don’t want to pay for all the frills but still want a little more screen real estate to work with. While portability obviously suffers, those who simply use their laptop as a coffee shop companion should find these netbook alternatives to have suitable battery life.

Dell Inspiron 15

When it comes to budget PCs, Dell has a long history of providing basic, reliable, but rather boring computers. They’re working hard on changing the boring part of the image, however, and the Dell Inspiron is just one of many products that reveal how thoroughly Dell’s new focus on style has soaked the entire company. Although the most basic model only costs $399, the Dell Inspiron can (at the cost of $40 dollars) be splashed with nearly any color you’d like.

We’re here to talk about more than style, however. With its 15 inch screen, the Dell Inspiron 15 is far larger than any netbook will be. However, its base price is comparable to most good netbooks, such as the Samsung, Toshiba, and newer Eee PC models, and the specifications of the Dell Inspiron 15 are well above any netbook. Its dual-core processor will handle most tasks beautifully and the larger 1366x768 display provides room for multi-tasking. It even comes stock with three gigabytes of RAM.

Battery life is average, which means about three hours with the standard six cell battery. A $45 dollar upgrade to the nine cell will raise that to about five hours, but the larger battery is quite heavy.

Lenovo G530

Lenovo’s G530 provides outstanding build quality on a budget

Since Lenovo took over operation of IBM’s personal computer business the company has significantly increased the range of its offers. Once known only for the Thinkpad line, Lenovo now offers multiple consumer oriented models including the one being recommended today - the Value Line.

The Value Line’s goal is simple. The Thinkpad is known as one of the most wonderfully well constructed laptops in the world, and Lenovo has been making every effort to capitalize on that legendary build quality. The G530, the least expensive laptop in the value line, lacks many the features found on even basic Thinkpads. But it still feels solid in a way that the other recommendations cannot match. This feel translates into a laptop the feels more expensive then its $499 purchase price. The keyboard and trackpad are particular points where the G530 beats the competition.

In terms of technical specs, the G530 is competitive, but not outstanding. Its main failing is the screen resolution, which is only 1280x800 on the base model. Many other laptops in this range offer 1366x768 as standard. The G530 also lacks battery life, coming in at a little over two hours in most reviews with the standard six-cell battery.

HP Pavilion dv2

The dv2 is more expensive, but has great graphics

In an article on best 12" netbooks, I recommended the HP Pavilion dv2 as a solid offering but noted that the HP Pavilion dv2’s status as a netbook remains in question. Today, I think that the HP Pavilion dv2 lies more on the side of a budget ultra-portable than a netbook, and as such it is an excellent netbook alternative.

Compared to the G530 and Inspirion 15, the dv2 is quite small. It has a 12.1 inch screen with a resolution of 1280x800 and a 92% keyboard. This makes it large enough that most users will not feel that it is cramped, and its screen resolution is equal to the G530’s despite the smaller size. The dv2 is no slouch when it comes to hardware, either. Although it is by far the smallest and lightest of this bunch, the dv2 packs an Athlon Neo single-core processor and Radeon mobile graphics. The mobile graphics are what set the dv2 apart in terms of performance. Those who regularly play WoW or The Sims will be happier with the dv2 than the other two options.

The Pavilion dv2’s main weakness is price, as it costs anywhere from $50 to $200 dollars more than the other options on this list. This makes it more expensive than all but the highest end netbooks. That said, the Pavilion dv2 is also the netbook alternative which most closely mimics an actual netbook. Its battery life and portability are respectable, making it nearly as good as a netbook for taking out of the house.