Keeping the Keyboard

Physical computer keyboards are not going away.

There is nothing wrong with touch-screen tablet computers, and there are several portable usage scenarios where they are the best option.
But that doesn’t mean the highly portable computer class known as the netbook is obsolete. The netbook market percentage may have become smaller, but the fact that netbooks have a physical keyboard means they are sticking around.

Computers Used in Meetings Must Be Portable

Several folks at my office have iPads, which are very nice devices. Apple knows how to turn a concept into a product and how to iteratively improve it.

One thing I notice though: Most iPad owners end up buying attachment covers. The best covers fold into different configurations to create stands to prop the iPad screen into a comfortable viewing or touch-typing angle.

For business use, the key to the iPad is that it is small and portable. You can carry it into a meeting on top of (or instead of) an appointment book or pad of letter paper.

Now compare a netbook computer’s portability. When closed they are the same size as an 8.5 by 11 inch pad of letter paper (or approximately a European A4 page size). They are usually only 1 or 1.5 inches thick. And they are light to carry. Open the screen to any viewing angle you desire and it stays there. Without any auxiliary attachments. The screen is the cover. You have a keyboard to type on; it doesn’t use up any screen real estate.

It may have become a niche, but there is still a market for these netbook devices. Acer has figured this out.

My Newest Netbook

I was browsing the computer section of my local Best Buy and noticed the Acer Aspire One A756 model for $279 (USD). This product was just released this summer (2012). Here is a June 2 review from NetBookNews.com:
Acer Aspire One 756: 11.6 inch Netbook with Intel Celeron/Pentium CPU’s Presented

You might be able to obtain an iPad for under $300 if you buy an older model on the used market. This netbook is brand new, and I was able to take it home today as an impulse buy. (Well I have actually been looking for a newer device to run Windows 8, so the impulse had already been forming for a few weeks.)

Here is what $279 (sales tax extra) provides:

  • A 64-bit Intel Celeron 877 dual-core CPU running at 1.4 GHz.
  • Integrated graphics driving an 11.6 inch (diagonal) screen at 1366 x 768 pixels. (Note that this meets the minimum vertical requirement for Windows 8 “metropolis” style applications.) Dual-monitor support.
  • Built-in 720p web cam with microphone and speakers.
  • 2 GB RAM.  (Expandable up to 16 GB; but the whole idea of netbooks is to be inexpensive. Still it is nice to know that the memory modules could be replaced with higher capacity ones.)
  • 320 GB hard drive.
  • Elantech trackpad with multi-touch and gesture support.
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports.
  • SD card reader.
  • VGA video connector. (Often a must-have for those conference room projectors.)
  • HDMI video connector. (Newer projectors can connect here and show plenty of pixels. You could also drive a slide-show or video on a large flat-screen monitor at a trade show.)
  • Integrated Wi-Fi (supports at least b and g; not sure about n)
  • Ethernet connector, supporting 10 Mbit, 100 Mbit, and 1 Gbit per second.
  • Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium edition.

Adding Windows 8

I followed the Dual-boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 instructions to add Windows 8 Pro 64-bit to this netbook. (I used my Microsoft Developer Network subscription to obtain the software and license key.)

So far the Elantech trackpad is treated as just a normal mouse by Windows 8. None of the gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, are supported. I will need to search for an additional driver to download for Windows 8 for this device.

Conclusion

I now have an up-to-date highly portable computer that can dual-boot into either Windows 7 or Windows 8. With its USB and SD slots, I will also be able to boot into various flavors of Linux. (See my earlier post A Complete Linux Java Environment in Your Hand.)

Here are some pictures to show off my new tool:

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