Before you buy...
Would you rather have a tablet? With their state-of-the-art touch screens, tablet PCs are fab for surfing, watching videos, viewing photos and the like, but the minute you have to write a report, essay or even a long email, the lack of keyboard slows you down.
Netbooks have decent-sized keyboards and fold up to stow safely in a handbag for working on the move. They're capable of running the latest software as long as you don’t overstretch them with graphics-intensive games or major-league photo editing. And all have wireless internet (Wi-Fi) and webcams built in..
Think about storage space This is an important point of difference: some netbooks have large hard disc drives (HDD) like a desktop PC, others have much smaller flash drives. The latter are quick and energy-saving, but they're too small to store a lifetime’s music and your collection of hilarious kitten videos, so if you plump for a flash drive (8-60GB is standard) expect to store the bulk of your media online in 'the cloud'. Choose a HDD of at least 120GB if you want to store video and music files.
Measure up size, weight and battery life The average netbook weighs 1.3kg and has a 10.1in screen, but the smaller the screen, the smaller the keyboard will be, so make sure that the size and spacing of the keys isn't so cramped it's not comfortable to work with. Batteries are available as three or six cells, with six-cell batteries lasting six to 10 hours — but the bigger the battery pack, the heavier the netbook.
Make sure it's well connected SD card slots can be used to transfer photos straight from your camera, while at least two USB ports are handy for charging gadgets on the go and hooking up printers and external hard drives. Also check out the operating system — Windows 7 Starter is all you'll need for basic tasks, but if you're planning to stream music and movies via Windows Media Center, you'll need to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium.
Photograph by Jon Day/Country Homes and Interiors/IPC Syndication