In a very short period of time I’ve found that in order to get along with a netbook properly, there’s 10 things you absolutely must do.
1. Use Google Chrome
Those who know my browser preferences find this a bit of a shock being that I’m a diehard Firefox user, because I’ve made it no secret that I can’t stand the Chrome web browser.
On a netbook however it’s a totally different story.
Chrome gives you the most usable space for your monitor with the least amount of memory munching. Being that you’re only dealing with a 1024×576 (or 600) screen, space is at a premium. Granted, you can F11 it for full screen with other browsers, but it’s better if you see your menus and tabs. Chrome allows you to do this easily.
If you’re using Firefox the tabs will munch up vertical pixels easily, and so will IE 8. Chrome gives the most vertical space because the status appears as a bar that fades in but isn’t locked – and that’s good. And when you open up new tabs, no extra vertical space is taken up either.
It’s the best browser to use on a netbook, period. And coming from me, that’s saying a lot.
2. Spend quality time with your mouse configuration program.
No matter what model of netbook you use, you will probably hate the touchpad. And I mean really hate it. That’s okay because most people do. The netbook format at this point hasn’t exact found the happy medium for a mouse design, so to speak.
Side note: I do know the perfect design for a netbook’s touchpad – no touchpad. It should be the rubber eraser-tip style thing Thinkpads have. This would work perfectly on the netbook format. Yes, you lose your mouse gestures but I’d happily give them up for the mid-point joystick and two tactile buttons below the keyboard.
Fortunately on the Dell mini 10v and all other netbooks, you can control every single thing it does. It even has sensitivity recognition, so not only does it detect touch (obviously), but also how hard or soft you touch.
It is required for you to sit with this and spend a good amount of time tweaking the settings. There is no fast n’ easy way around it. Fortunately once done, it’s done and you don’t have to do it again.
Or if you still hate it, spring for a laptop mini-mouse.
3. Spend quality time with your monitor settings.
Like with the touchpad, this will take time to set correctly as well. In my situation, the screen was just too bright and too blue. And this wasn’t fixed by putting the brightness setting down a few notches. I had to manually go into the config program for the colors/brightness and set it that way. Once I did, I said to myself, “Okay, that’s the way it’s supposed to look.”
The Dell mini 10v in particular has a really, really bright screen. This is a good feature, but it’s set to FULL-ON BRIGHT out of the box.
4. Know your keyboard.
On more or less all netbooks, certain keys on the keyboard do double duty. On the mini 10v this is seen in the function and arrow keys. This is a non-standard layout, and you won’t take it to like a fish to water. For example, I use PgUp and PgDn a lot – but these are on the arrow keys whereas I have to do Fn+Up to page up and Fn-Down to page down. Being that I’m a keystroke freak, this takes time to get used to.
It should also be noted that most netbooks do not have the faux number pad, that being where the right-side keys serve as number keys when Fn is pressed.
5. Purposely seek out lightweight apps.
It’s not that the “heavy” apps won’t work on a netbook as they’ll work fine. But whenever you can use less processing power, the better because it increases battery life and they obviously run faster.
6. Purposely seek out apps that can be installed with no media required.
This means to use apps that can be downloaded and installed rather than something that requires a CD/DVD installation method. You could get around this by purchasing a 50-dollar USB external optical drive or creating ISOs and virtually mounting disks within XP, but that’s a pain to do. You’re better off if you use apps that can be downloaded. Sourceforge will be your best friend here.
7. Spring for the 6-cell battery.
This screen shot speaks for itself:
This is not Windows XP making a mistake as to how long the battery will last for. It literally will run for over 5 hours on a single charge. And that’s with wi-fi enabled! You can easily get 6 if you decrease the screen brightness a few notches and disable wi-fi when you don’t need it.
8. Know your wi-fi hotspots.
Most people don’t bother taking their laptops with them to open wi-fi hotspots because the laptop is too big, too heavy and barely holds a charge over 2 hours and 30 minutes. The netbook gives you over 5 hours with a 6-cell battery and it’s under 3 pounds, so yeah, you’ll want to hit more wi-fi spots.
How to find them? There’s two ways:
First way: OpenWiFiSpots
Punch in your ZIP code and you’ll see the closest wi-fi spots near you.
Second way: Searching for “wifi” in Google Earth.
Use the Google Earth software and position the map close to where you live, then search for “wifi”. Both business and user-contributed wi-fi listings will appear.
Obviously both ways are dependent on where you live. If you live in a more metro area, you’ll find more spots. For example, the metro downtown area of Tampa Florida has an entire area covered for wi-fi called the S.U.R.F. Zone.
9. Get familiar with netbook specific resources for your model.
Each netbook offering has at least one independent web site that is dedicated to what you use. The Dell Inspiron mini for example has www.ubuntumini.com. If you wanted to know everything and anything about Ubuntu on the Dell mini, well, there you go. No matter which make/model you decide to go with, chances are there’s a world of informational resource available to you outside of the company’s web site who manufactured it.
This happens because there’s almost a cult-like following for netbook computers. Except this is a really good type of cult.
10. Know your operating system choices.
The most popular OS on netbooks right now is Windows XP. However Ubuntu does have a “Netbook Remix” version of their own OS. The best part? You can install the whole thing to a single 1GB USB stick and test it out if you like. I’ve done so on my Dell mini 10v and yeah, it runs great.
You can expect other Linux flavors to offer “remix” versions of their own distributions in the near future.
Side note: You’d be surprised how much faster a netbook remix version runs compared to the ‘full’ version of a Linux distribution. If you have an older laptop, you may want to check it out.