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Technology: Small Computing Devices – from MLA News

Posted by Editor on August 5, 2010

Submitted by Leigh Mihlrad, Dahlgren Memorial Library, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC; edited by Lynne M. Fox, AHIP in the MLA News

Laptops have become progressively smaller and thinner. Over a period of several years, small computers, such as netbooks and Apple’s iPad, have become more common. Computers that can be carried easily are especially popular. Small devices now make up 25.0% of the market [1]. Netbook shipments were expected to rise 68.5 % in 2009, with growth continuing over the next few years [2].

Netbooks are loosely defined as portable computers with fully functional operating systems, screen sizes of less than 12 inches (traditionally, 8–10 inches), and wireless Internet access. According to CNET’s Quick Guide to Netbooks, base specifications of 1 gigabyte of random access memory (RAM) and a hard drive of 150 megabytes are common [3]. Windows XP and Windows 7 are common operating systems for netbooks.

With less RAM and hard drive space than traditional computers, these machines are not suited for resource-intensive activities, such as video or photo editing, tutorial creation, and so on. They are most appropriate for simple tasks, such as Internet surfing, word processing, or other document editing. As such, many people purchase these machines as supplements to their main computer. With more computing taking place via “cloud computing,” using services such as Google Docs, Zoho, or Microsoft’s Office Web Apps (part of the company’s Office 2010 suite), today’s computers require less intense processors.

The advantages of small computers are easy to see. Portability and a lower price are key benefits. Their small size easily permits users to work on the road or carry their computers with them. These machines, with less robust processors, tend to have better battery life (over four hours) than more traditional laptops.

The disadvantages of these devices are numerous and may outweigh the attractiveness of their portability for certain people. These include a smaller screen and keyboard, less processor speed and disk space, and lack of peripherals (CD-ROM, DVD, USB ports, webcam). Keyboards on some models have alternative key layouts to save space, but these can be a nuisance for touch typists. Some models feature nonstandard video graphics array (VGA) connectors and require adaptors for connection to data projectors, adding to the cost of purchase. Because of smaller storage capacity, some users also feel the need to invest in peripheral drives for data storage.

Most companies that produce traditional laptop computers also make netbooks. This includes Dell, Toshiba, Samsung, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard (HP). The Taiwanese brand Asus essentially created netbooks, and it offers many models of smaller computers. In the wake of the success of the iPad, other computing companies are developing touchscreen tablets, including Asus and Dell.

Apple’s iPad, which debuted in the spring of 2010, is a new product in the small computing world. Two versions are sold: one that features both WiFi and 3G, and another that has only WiFi access. The iPad weighs one and a half pounds and has a display of almost ten inches across. It features a touchscreen display, with additional peripherals available to add on. The iPad boasts an enviable battery life, connects easily to WiFi, and provides sharp images for reading and multimedia viewing. Some iPad users find the screen-based keyboard limiting, as it is not easy to touch type, but a peripheral keyboard is available. Another disadvantage is lack of printer connectivity, although third-party printing applications are available from some wireless printer manufacturers, such as Canon and HP [4].

Almost all of the 200,000 Apple App Store applications can work on the iPad, which is essentially a larger version of the iPhone, minus the phone capability. Many applications have been adjusted for the larger-scale screen real estate, but many are still sized for the iPhone.

Apple’s iPads offer a lightweight alternative for those who like to read or view multimedia, do puzzles or email, or participate in social networking. Small format computing is not for everyone, especially gamers or those with resource-intensive work responsibilities. However, netbooks have become a popular alternative to carrying larger, heavier laptops for presentations or for work travel.

To top of page References

  1. Keizer G. iPad vs netbook: the battle continues. Computerworld [Internet]. 2010 May 8 [cited 28 Jun 2010]. <http://www.pcworld.com/article/195898/ipad_vs_netbook_the_battle_continues.html&gt;.
  2. Olenick D. Back to the future for netbook sales. Twice: This Week in Consumer Electronics [Internet]. 2009 May [cited 28 Jun 2010]. <http://www.twice.com/article/255497-Back_To_The_Future_For_Netbook_Sales.php&gt;.
  3. Ackerman D. Computing resources center: CNET’s quick guide to netbooks [Internet]. [cited 28 Jun 2010]. <http://bestbuy-cnet.com.com/4351-13747_7-6667568.html&gt;.
  4. How to print from your iPad. PCMag.com [Internet]. 2010 Apr 9 [cited 28 Jun 2010]. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2362451,00.asp&gt;.

NOTE: Only noncommercial websites are linked.

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