2009 Netbook and Notebook Buyer's Guide

Article Index

Tablet PCs, Niche Notebooks

If you've stumbled into this section, you can consider yourself in the PC Twilight Zone. An area where nothing is off topic and nothing is too bizarre to consider. Need a 2"-thick machine that can withstand rain forest conditions? It's here. Need a notebook that flips its screen around so you can doodle on it? We've got that too. Need a flat PC with no keyboard whatsoever? Yup, it's here as well.

More than anything, this section is designed to bring enlightenment to the masses who may be unfamiliar with some of the more elaborate and unique mobile PCs currently available. All you see in marketing materials these days are the average, cookie cutter designs, but if you hunt a little, you'll find a wide world of atypical machines waiting to fill a specific need. Take the tablet PC, for instance. While once hyped, the low volume sales figures persuaded companies to not push these devices so hard, but many are still being produced. Heck, Asus has even integrated tablet functionality into a netbook with the
Eee PC T91.

Asus Eee PC T91 - a tablet and a netbook; click image for review

There's also a whole slew of machines out there with rugged shells and waterproof keyboards. Obviously these machines aren't for everyone, but if you do lots of field work, having something like a Toughbook can really save the day. Another niche is the slate PC, which generally boasts only a touchscreen (and no keyboard) and can be carried around like a purse. These are generally most useful in working environments, but those who need to be ultra mobile yet maintain a decently large LCD may find something to like.

It's hard to break each and every niche down, but generally speaking, it's easy to decide if one of these oddballs is right for you. Ask yourself what you'll be using your notebook for. Will you be required to doodle/sketch frequently? Do you need a carry handle on it? Will you be taking it into the wet, wild forest to work? Answering the most basic usage questions can help you either rule out or rule in one of these off-the-wall machines, and once you've decided, the challenge is price shopping the competition until you find something within your range.

Duros 8404 Tablet is built for extremes

We should also take this opportunity to mention Apple's lineup of notebooks. The company's MacBook Pro line is sleek, stylish and very capable, though they are generally considered to be more expensive that PC counterparts. Still, don't undervalue the software suite that these come with, not to mention best-in-class battery life and superior thinness. Even the 17" MacBook Pro is just an inch thick. Good luck finding a, equivalent PC that can say that (with a straight face). If you're planning on buying a highly customized, highly upgraded PC anyway, it's worth considering a Mac. If you're dead set on the low end, don't even bother. But we've found that most higher-end Wintel notebooks actually are in line with Mac pricing, making Apple's line a worthy rival at the top-end of the range. They are available in 13", 15" and 17" sizes, and all are usually considered to be built thinner and sturdier than Wintel opponents at the same price point; of course, migrating to a new OS is a challenge, but with Apple's retail presence growing by the day, it's probably worth your while to stop in and see if you dig it before making a purchase either way.

Apple's MacBook Pro - click image for 13" MBP review

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