Author Topic: Mini laptops  (Read 7885 times)

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Offline Ganymedes

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Mini laptops
« on: September 26, 2008, 06:33:25 PM »
The latest fashion in computers, the mini laptops, is a bit confusing terminology. I would think that mini laptops are those small laptops by IBM, Apple and Dell and such, which cost 2000-3000 euros and come equipped with everything possible. What I am dealing with now are those, which I would classify as moped-laptops ( :FU:), which are stripped down, small laptops with the average prize of 300 euros - still subject to go down or have more functionality in the very near future.

Anyway, I think that these minis or mopeds are not only the fashion in IT business. They have been sold with surprising numbers this year and I think that there is substance in them. They offer much more portability than small, regular laptops but are much more versatile than palm tops (if anybody even remembers them anymore) or phones.

In the following, there is my comparison between laptops, moped-laptops and phones. My estimate is based on Asus Eee PC, 9", 20 Gbytes, 1 Gbyte, Linux model that I just bought.

My summary tries to concentrate on the issues that have to be properly dealt with if the device is any good in the portable use. I would say that there is definitely a good market place for these mini laptops, which enable a certain kind of computer use for the first time. Phone kind of hit a similar market a couple of years ago, but their usability, mostly because of user interface issues (a small screen, no mouse), hit the roof rather quickly and they could not fulfill all the promises that were made.

Portability:
Laptop: Fair. The battery lasts typically only for a few hours or less. To carry one around means that you must have a bag with you.
Mini laptop: Good/very good. Battery lasts for the whole day. Only a big bigger pocket is required for carrying it. Easily goes in the motor cycle rear box  :FU:
Phone: Ultra good. Not really an issue since you have it anyway with you. Internet capable phones are not that much bigger. Although, sometimes you would need a device that you would use AND have a phone at the same time - not possible with a phone alone.

Usability (the applications that you can use):
Laptop: Very good. There are no real limits. For the most demanding tasks the bag that you need to carry with you tends to become bigger.
Mini laptop: All the most usual applications can be used without problems and these kind of applications come as standards with the mini laptop. The speed is not the issue. You can ruin everything by putting Vista or XP Pro with virus scanners and firewalls on it. But I do not think that you really NEED to have Windows for any practical reason. If you use Linux everything works very fast. The boot time is less than 15 seconds - much better than on any laptop with Windows (I am not talking about standby or hibernate but a real cold boot). Also the new radio station for Moonlighting works well on my Linux mini laptop.
Phone: Only some dedicated applications can be run. For instance G-mail and Internet browser work OK, but the list is limited.

Network connections:
Laptop: Everything works in a way or the other.
Mini laptop: Has Ethernet, has Wlan. Does not currently have 3G built-in. USB sticks can be used for 3G - setup on Linux needs expertise. However, built-in 3G connections are more than likely true in the near future and supporting Linux is just a support issue - not a technology issue.
Phone: Built in 3G. The better models have Wlan. Do not have Ethernet. For the normal use, no problems, but this is no substitute for a computer (like when downloading or uploading larger files).

User interface:
Laptop: Good.
Mini laptop: Good as well. You can use a proper mouse and the 9" display is OK. With the cheaper models, 7" display is not that good.
Phone: Display is small, resolution is slow, the user interface is limited. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle in even trying to do something serious, like editing a document or using a complicated WEB page on the phone. In principle you can, but in practice you do not do any of that.

Extensions:
Laptop: Very good. You can have almost everything.
Mini laptop: You can extend it a lot since it has typically 3 standard USB slots.
Phone: Limited or expensive dedicated hardware.

Prizing:
Laptop: From 600-4000 euros depending on what you need to do.
Mini laptop: 180-400 euros. Prices are probably subject to come down.
Phone: Not any cheaper than mini laptops if we talk about Internet and multimedia. Could be even more expensive.


(NP: Born From The Ice - Moonsorrow (album "V. Destroyed" (V. Hävitetty) - 2007)
« Last Edit: September 26, 2008, 06:49:53 PM by Ganymedes »
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Offline SteelSoul

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2008, 07:20:35 PM »
Gany, very informative. My Mom wants to get a laptop, and your info will help me to get her the best one. Thanx, man.

Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2008, 06:44:56 PM »
Thanks!

I think that normal laptops are better for home use since they are bigger, well in any respect. They are a bit more expensive as well even when minimally equipped.

The real point of a mini-laptop is its portability. I forgot to mention that the real mini-laptops, I dare say, have a flash disk instead of a regular hard disk. That means that shocks and vibration are not issues with a mini-laptop. Flash disk sizes vary from 4 to 20 Gbs (subject to grow fast in the lapse of time). Those figures do not sound much, much there are a couple of things that you need to observe:

- most of Windows and Office disk usage is just rubbish. For Linux 8 Gbytes is plenty, with all the standard applications installed.
- you can insert external disks to the slot and it will show you more disk space after that. For instance a 16 Gb card memory costs only 30 euros or so. I have 20 Gbs as standard and I do not need any of that.
- you do have USB slots for the temporary disk space when you need it. 8 Gb flash card is not expensive any more

Anyway, equipped with a flash disk, these mini-laptops should be much more durable than regular laptops in the mobile use. That is the principal, technological difference - it remains to be seen how good these mini-laptops really are in practice.
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Offline Zero

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2008, 07:43:40 PM »
I have had a Mini Laptop, for a couple of months and found it very useful.
In fact more it is more use to me than a full blown Laptop, due to it's size and portability, and I love Linux!

 :daisygrin:

Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2009, 08:13:43 AM »
I have enhanced my mini-laptop a bit. I like to call it a moped-laptop, since it is not an expensive mini model. They are very popular nowadays and I can see why.

I just installed Ubuntu Netbook remix 9.04 (numbering means year 09, month 04) operating system to it. The standard Asus Linux was OK, but slightly irritating and since I know Ubuntu reasonably well, I can have all the same software working on that moped-laptop, too.

For instance, I can take the memory card from my camera and read the pictures immediately with the laptop - I mean already on the road. I can also use digital TV on that - using a 20 euro USB digi-TV stick. I can use whatever software available for Ubuntu for watching and recording TV (like Xine and Klear). It also runs VMware virtual computers - which I use EVERYWHERE nowadays, especially professionally. I mean, the moped laptop is slow for that purpose, but it does run them, and if there are no specific performance requirements, it is OK. You know, my moped-laptop came with 1 Gb of memory, which is plenty for Linux.

Obviously, it works as a good mp3 player - there is plenty of software to choose from. It is also a very good portable DVD-player as long as you neglect DVDs and use some DivX/Xvid or whatever file format - they all work, much easier than with Windows. 16 Gb flash sticks are handy for that purpose.

I can also use my Nokia phone as a WLAN router and connect my moped-laptop to it as a standard WLAN client - works well, but the phone battery does not last long. The software on Nokia, which does the Wlan-router part of this comes from Joikusoft (costs 15 euros or so).

I can also use 3G usb sticks and connect to Internet using those, but currently I do not have one. I have tested them and they work just fine with my Ubuntu laptop - just select the ISP from the menu and there you go. I mean that since it weights only 1 kg, is small and the battery lasts for 7 hours, I can easily have it with me wherever I go.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2009, 08:16:50 AM by Ganymedes »
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Offline rarebird

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2009, 10:23:35 AM »
I have Asus EEE series which travels with where I go. It came with Windows XP and some software. Got it from my internet-proviver. It is light, but I don't have the feeling the battery lasts for more than 2 hours.

Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2009, 11:44:57 AM »
I have Asus EEE series which travels with where I go. It came with Windows XP and some software. Got it from my internet-proviver. It is light, but I don't have the feeling the battery lasts for more than 2 hours.

Yes, of course. You have Windows on it  :FU: . Mine is Asus EEE, as well.

Do not get me started with this comparison  :elf:

In short Windows is inferior compared to Linux on mini-laptops, its only advantage is better compatibility with Windows computers and the fact that you can run (stubbornly) exactly the same Windows applications. For the those two "better points", Windows compatibility is not a big deal if you understand what you are doing and for the other item - there is usually no real reason for using exactly the same applications. I mean who wants to use Windows Notepad, Mediaplayer, Internet Explorer and MS Office in the first place?

Normally, if you use usb flash disks for transferring files between computers, like mp3, text files, movies and such, there are NO compatibility issues with Windows in the first place. Except that you can actually CREATE the file system FAT or FAT32 on your usb disk (if you would ever need to do it) - if you have Linux. With XP you cannot - do not ask me why, ask Bill why such incapability exists.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2009, 11:56:33 AM by Ganymedes »
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Offline Electric Gypsy

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2009, 01:02:09 PM »
Excuse me!
may we please speak english! :mrgreen:
I have a mac mini that I like very much
I know it's not a lap top but it is mini and I suppose it could be portable
as to what it will do
I have no clue.
and Anita is the tech head in the house.
I just surf and record music and do the easy stuff most of us do everyday.

Gany my man
you lost me at the start of the thread with all the tech stuff
were we talking about computers or flying a modern high tech aircraft?? :crazy:
« Last Edit: May 21, 2009, 01:05:30 PM by Electric Gypsy »

Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2009, 01:38:51 PM »
Hehe, this was supposed to be a technology discussion, but if I may summarize a bit:

As for mini-laptops, I think that their class requires specifications like these:

For portability:
- battery life, 3-4 hours minimum (preferably more to last for a day's trip)
- size: around 9-10 inch display, weight: 1 kg (2 pounds) or less
- preferably without any moving parts, like a standard disk drive
For affordability:
- price: less than 400 euros
For usability:
- all the regular soft/hardware needed for networking & entertainment (usb, wlan, web browsers, skype, ethernet, media players, office sw)
- it must perform fast enough (not that easy because fast processors take a lot of power)
- user interface must be different on a portable device (that you use on a small screen without a mouse) than on a regular computer

If not obvious all the vendors who are not capable of providing a computer with such specifications try to sell something else and confuse the markets by selling their stuff under the category of mini-laptops. That includes, technologically speaking, various pathetic marketing schemes, for instance:

- putting Windows to a mini-laptop (Microsoft). They just do not have the technology required. Windows destroys portability, speed and long-term usability, just for starters.
- using an operating system targeted for regular computers (Microsoft XP). Well, what can they do, their user interface comes from 1995 (Windows 95) and they have nothing else working any better.
- selling 1000 euro laptops as mini-laptops (Mac). They just cannot compete in price, probably not in specifications either since their hardware selection is limited.
- selling 14-15 inch laptops with 2 hour battery life as mini-laptops (big players like HP). They just came too late to market, ASUS and ACER rule that market segment.

ElectricGypsy, in your case, you probably do not have a battery in your Mac. So in that respect it is not portable at all.

But like I said, the entire idea of a mini-laptop is portability. If you do not really need an excellent portability, a regular, cheap laptop is better for home use, and not really much more expensive. A regular laptop has a bigger screen and better keyboard - both needed in home use.

You can have Linux on that one, too. :FU:
« Last Edit: May 21, 2009, 03:48:02 PM by Ganymedes »
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Offline rarebird

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2009, 10:37:20 AM »
I have Asus EEE series which travels with where I go. It came with Windows XP and some software. Got it from my internet-proviver. It is light, but I don't have the feeling the battery lasts for more than 2 hours.

Yes, of course. You have Windows on it  :FU: . Mine is Asus EEE, as well.

Do not get me started with this comparison  :elf:

In short Windows is inferior compared to Linux on mini-laptops, its only advantage is better compatibility with Windows computers and the fact that you can run (stubbornly) exactly the same Windows applications. For the those two "better points", Windows compatibility is not a big deal if you understand what you are doing and for the other item - there is usually no real reason for using exactly the same applications. I mean who wants to use Windows Notepad, Mediaplayer, Internet Explorer and MS Office in the first place?

Normally, if you use usb flash disks for transferring files between computers, like mp3, text files, movies and such, there are NO compatibility issues with Windows in the first place. Except that you can actually CREATE the file system FAT or FAT32 on your usb disk (if you would ever need to do it) - if you have Linux. With XP you cannot - do not ask me why, ask Bill why such incapability exists.
Well, it came with Windows, so I have to deal with it. If I ever buy a replacement, I'm not sure if it will be Windows again. Currently my big laptop is the oldest computer in the house and I don't know wether I will replace that one when the time comes. Perhaps 3 computers is a bit to much, though I love it to have a seperate computer to work with my sampler and Nord G2 Engine. The big computer does the midi-thing and the laptop handles the USB things.

Offline Madpsycho

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2009, 04:42:06 PM »
Minilaptops are awesome, though for someone like me who uses the computer on more heavier stuff (gaming, video/music programs) they wouldn't go too well. Well my laptop is kinda the opposite of minilaptops, 18,4" screen, nuff said :FU:

But seriously I know A LOT of people who are happy with minilaptops, they are very often used at some of the more important scout meetings where we check our budget etc. A really handy engine for notebooking and light internet usage, you can get them pretty cheap too these days.
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Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2009, 06:28:43 PM »
... Well my laptop is kinda the opposite of minilaptops, 18,4" screen, nuff said :FU:
...

You are right, these two types of laptops are really a completely different thing.

I have also a similar type of laptop, 2-3 years old now. However, it is not particularly fast, even if it was top of the line when bought. The reasons are:
- is has Windows 32-bit operating system, which only allows around 3 Gbs of RAM (too little for me). In the Windows world there are other alternatives, if you invest more money, but no better alternative performance-wise. Which is kind of ridiculous, since processors have been 64-bit for many years.
- everybody knows that Windows becomes slow in the lapse of time. You should reinstall (and loose a lot of work) once per year.
- hardware design is bad since it only has a single SATA disk and they cannot take the load if you do more than one thing at the time. USB disks do not help any, probably because the USB interface is of bad design, too. In comparison my moped-laptop has actually two SSD-disks - so relatively speaking it is better for heavy load. In theory this could be because of the operating system difference (Ubuntu versus XP), but I think it just because of bad hardware design (for a supposedly workstation class, very heavy and expensive (list price was about 4000 euro) laptop).
« Last Edit: May 22, 2009, 06:51:57 PM by Ganymedes »
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Offline Ganymedes

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Re: Mini laptops
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2009, 06:49:47 PM »
...
Well, it came with Windows, so I have to deal with it ...

I understand that you may want to use Windows, for instance because of the things I mentioned above, but you do not need to.

1.
First of all Ubuntu is free and will always be free. Just type in "Ubuntu download" in Google and there you go. The proper version for EEE is the Netbook Remix.

2.
You can install it, without a DVD/CD drive, using a 1 Gb Flash disk (or bigger). Instructions how to make one are on the above mentioned download page. You can create the usb disk in Windows (on any computer).

3.
You can also run Ubuntu from the Flash disk without actually installing anything. With that you can test that everything, like your 3G USB stick provided by your ISP, if you have one, works ok.

And then you can decide to install it (from the same USB disk).

4.
If you are just renting the mini-laptop, I do not think that the ISP cares. When, after the rent period, you return the laptop, you or the ISP needs, not just format the disk, but wipe it clean before handing the minilaptop to anybody else. So in that respect, it does not matter what you have on the disk now.

5.
If your mini-laptop stops working during your warranty / rent period, I guess then it is up to the contract that you have. Technically speaking it does not matter what operating system you run, when it breaks down, but it depends how your ISP or actually the repair shop want to play their game. They might get nasty or perhaps not - hard to say. In principle, you would win the case in every situation, because if it is broken, then it is broken - but it might get difficult for a regular consumer to prove things. Hehe ... I would fight until death in this case :-).
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