Author: Tyler Kearn
I was at the doctor’s office the other day and, after checking my weight, the nurse asked me if I wanted to see how much my backpack weighed. I was curious, so I put it on the scale. It was full of what I consider to be a typical day’s load-my laptop, its power charger, two 1″ binders, and a paperback novel. She moved around the sliders on the scale until it read 16 pounds. I was astounded, but, there it was. “We calibrate the scale every morning,” the nurse assured me.
Once I got back to my room, the first thing I did was look to cut superfluous weight from my backpack. The easiest items to cut were also the lightest-extra pens and pencils that I didn’t really need, some computer cables that I rarely use. But, after taking these items out, my backpack didn’t even feel noticeably lighter.
What else could I take out? I had to carry around the binders and novel, as I needed them for classes. I typically carry around a full day’s class materials, because I don’t always have the opportunity to go back to my room to swap books.
My roommate, noticing what I was doing, asked me why I needed to carry around my laptop everywhere. I shrugged. I’ve become reliant on having a computer with me. When I have a few spare moments (the doctor’s waiting room is a perfect example), I pop open my computer and cruise around the internet – check Facebook, stay on top of my email or even work on a paper. I like that I can do these things wherever I wish, and I like that I can go right from class to the library to get work done without having to stop by my room first.
Nevertheless, I went online to look up the weight of my laptop-I wanted to find out how much carrying it around with me all the time was really costing me. My computer is a two year-old 15″ Dell business laptop, excitingly named the Latitude D520. The specs list the weight as 6 lbs. For comparison’s sake, the weight of the regular MacBook is 5.2 lbs., the weight of a 17″ MacBook Pro is 6.8 lbs and the weight of the 14″ Dell Inspiron 1420 is 5 lbs. I can’t find anything listing the weight of the power charger, but I’m estimating that it’s about one pound. (It is neither small nor very light.) My backpack would be half as heavy if I just stopped lugging around my laptop. Now that I’ve looked at the weights, what I used to consider reasonable now seems excessive-carrying around 7 lbs. of computer with me everywhere has begun to feel like a burden.
I briefly looked at new laptops, which can be as light as 3 lbs. for the MacBook Air, or 4-4.5 lbs. for something more mainstream. This research turned my attention to a new category of computers that are just now hitting the market, called mini-laptops or “netbooks.” These are tiny laptops, meant to be used as portable secondary computers. They have 7-9″ screens, not quite full-sized keyboards, low-voltage processors (read: less powerful), weights ranging from 1.8 to 2.8 lbs. and are priced from $300-$600.
They really are small-approximately the size of a large paperback book-and their power chargers are more akin in size to those of cell phones. The whole point is that you can throw them in your purse or small bag, which you carry around anyway, without needing a computer bag. They don’t have a CD/DVD drive or the horsepower to do much more than basic tasks, but you don’t really need more than that for a secondary computer. For browsing the internet, word processing or listening to music-the stuff you do on your computer 95 percent of the time-they should work well. Presumably, when the time comes to watch a movie, play a game or edit video, you can turn to your primary computer.
There are two main mini-laptops on the market. The first to come out was the Asus Eee PC, which has a 7″ screen and a $300-$400 price tag. A 9″ Eee is expected to come out in the next week or two, and it should be slightly more expensive. The other major mini-laptop currently available is the HP Mini, which is both bigger (9″ screen) and more expensive ($500-650).Two more mini-laptops are due to come out in June-one from Dell and the other from Acer. Acer has said that their mini-laptop will cost less than $300, and the increased competition that these two companies bring should force everyone to drive their prices down.
What’s most exciting is that these are first generation products. In technology, first generation products tend to become a lot less expensive and a lot more powerful very quickly. Three hundred dollars may seem like an awful lot to spend on a second computer. However, in six to 12 months when the prices drop to $100-200 or less for a fully-functioning laptop, that perception may change. Getting a computer for less than the cost of an iPod seems like a very attractive idea.
Even with reduced prices, a secondary computer might seem unnecessary and pointless to a lot of people. After all, the computer you have now can do everything a mini-laptop can. Why would you want to spend money on a computer that is no better than the one you have now?
These mini-laptops are a great option for students, especially those who like to have their computer with them everywhere. Their size is a big advantage for activities such as taking notes in class, where they could fit on top of the often tiny desks (Johnson 200, anyone?) and would be less distracting to others. Of course, the biggest advantage of mini-laptops is that, since we typically need to carry around a school bag of some kind, it is easy to throw a mini-laptop in and always have a computer at the ready.
It’s all about form factor. The mini-laptops are small enough and cheap enough that they can become “take everywhere” devices. I can see mini-laptops becoming the next iPods. Before the iPod, there were portable CD players and radios, but the iPod became enormously popular because it enabled people to carry all of their music with them in one simple, compact device. Mini-laptops have the potential to pull off the same feat, but instead of music, they will enable people to carry around and access all of their files wherever they go.
Personally, I’m looking forward to leaving my laptop in my room and carrying around a 2 lbs. computer. Then my backpack will only weigh 11 lbs. Yikes! I definitely need a smaller, lighter bag.
Tyler Kearn is a sophomore Economics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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