Hey, Premium Notebooks or Netbooks, Get the Basics Right!

I wrote this column on the Nokia Booklet 3G which is, in my opinion, the most luxurious looking netbook on the market. And for its $600 ($299 with a pretty expensive 2 year AT&T contract) it sure as heck should be. The aluminum unibody design feels as solid as a freshly pumped up tire, and its brushed metal palm rest isn't only minimalistic but is also smooth on the hands. The plastic coated keys are soft to the touch and the higher 1280 by 720 resolution screen is sweet on the eyes. And don't forget the built in AT&T 3G that kept me connected as I wrote in different coffee shops around New York City.

Aesthetically the Booklet has got the goods, but performance wise not so much.  While  using the Booklet for the last week or so I had to get used to the netbook taking at least a minute to boot up Windows 7 Starter (thanks to its slow 4,200 rpm hard drive), and  stalling at times when trying to open an application or simply loading a Flash video (thanks to its sluggish Atom Z530 processor). The Booklet 3G is like the stereotypical blonde — pretty but slow.

But Nokia isn't the only offender of making "luxurious but laggard" notebooks; Sony, HP, ASUS and Dell are similarly guilty of creating high end notebooks (or netbooks) with shoddy internal specs. Take Sony's new $1,300 Vaio X Series notebook. Sure, the carbon fiber clad notebook is the lightest in the world and it is pretty darn thin but its got the same slow and underpowered Atom Z530 processor as the Booklet, and it actually costs more! Apparently, Sony learned nothing from its mistakes with the P Series. It was the same story with the Dell Adamo that cost plus two grand. The notebook's machined-aluminum chassis is incredibly svelte and thin, but it has a sluggish ultra low voltage processor with only 2GB of RAM. (Luckily, Dell seems to have tweaked a few things with the revolutionary designed Dell Adamo XPS that is due out soon).

Offering less computing power for more money is one issue, but the same happens in the ergonomics realm.  Placing form-over-function, HP mucked up the touchpad on its super attractive and made of premium materials Envy 13. The same happened with its budget Pavilion dm3 touchpad; it is basically a pocket mirror implanted on a palmrest.  In both cases, it is an understatement to say that it is frustrating to move the cursor around the desktop. At the end of the day, we use our laptops to access digital content, not to attract onlookers. Don't get me wrong, I love attractive technology and love the feel of using premium equipment, but not when it hampers the intended purpose of the product.

Beauty, dear notebook manufacturers, isn't skin deep. Premium notebooks and netbooks have a position in the marketplace amongst those that value quality and are willing to shell out more for nice looking and feeling products, but sacrificing performance and power — the basics of a real laptop — shouldn't have to be part of the equation.  I'm crossing my fingers that the next column I type on a premium netbook or notebook isn't muddled by poor performance, a slow hard drive and a sub-par version of an operating system.