Netbooks and User Satisfaction: It's All About Expectations

Growth in netbook sales has fast overtaken that of full-fledged notebooks and desktop computers. After all, they’re inexpensive, really portable and they’re usually considered cool. But recent research cited by NY Times and Computerworld indicates that some netbook users are unsatisfied with their purchases.

The disappointment with netbooks — NPD analyst Stephen Baker preferred that term rather than “dissatisfaction” — stemmed from expectations that a netbook was the same, more or less, as a laptop. Six out of every 10 netbook buyers, said Baker, thought that the two were equivalent, and figured that their new netbook would have the same functionality as a laptop.

I have been a netbook user for more than a year now. Since the first Eee PCs were shipped by Asus, I bought myself one. Since then, I’ve been trying different models from different brands. So far, I’ve been satisfied with performance.

It all boils down to expectations. And it depends on perspective, too.

Netbooks are practically the same as their full-fledged notebook counterparts. Mostly every component is miniaturized, and you would expect some tradeoffs there. The smaller screen and keyboard might not be as good for usability. But the portability is surely a key feature. The smaller parts might usually be slower, such as the hard drive or flash-based SSD, but they are designed for portability and sometimes for durability, as is the case with solid state drives. Their processing power might not be as hefty as with most modern, dual-core processors, but the low-power platform is supposed to give you longer battery life.

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Because they can run the same software as you would on bigger computers, netbooks are supposed to be able to give the same functionality. Foremost of these is the ability to get you connected to the Internet. Perhaps that’s why they’re called “net” books–this what they are primarily intended for.

The issue here is about expectations. Some users purchase netbooks thinking, perhaps, that these can totally replace a desktop or notebook computer. To some extent this can be true. But people might be in for a disappointment if they will rely solely on their netbooks. I’ve purchased netbooks with the thought of using these as my mobile office when I’m on the go. But I don’t consider netbooks to be my primary computer. I still have a desktop and a laptop that I consider my main work machines.

If you purchase a netbook expecting to crunch hundreds of columns of spreadsheet figures, or to play the latest first-person-shooter, or to render videos, then you might be in for a disappointment. Sure, a netbook can probably handle these tasks, but will perform poorly. But if you expect to use a netbook to chat or catch up on emails while at a cafe, take notes during class, write a short report or letter while at the library, or check up on recipes online while at the kitchen, then these will perform satisfactorily or even wonderfully. It’s all about expectations.

Are you a netbook user? If so, are you satisfied with your netbook?

image credit: flickr/ndevil

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