If there has been one technology hit during the past six months, it's the so-called netbook computer.
Companies are expected to ship 35 million netbook computers this year, according to ABI Research. That number is estimated to grow to 139 million by 2013.
Netbooks won't win performance awards. These machines, built by Acer, Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and newcomers like MSI Computer, feature slow processors and screens smaller than 10 inches diagonally. Microsoft's (MSFT) Vista operating system won't work on most models.
Low prices are netbooks' saving grace. Some sell for less than $400. Still, that's not much cheaper than entry-level laptops, which hover around $500. The argument for buying an e-mail and word processing appliance in the age of the BlackBerry has been hard to make at those prices.That might change as cell phone operators enter the scene. AT&T (T) and Verizon Communications (VZ) have started selling netbooks directly or through other retailers at steep discounts. The HP Mini, for example, which Verizon started selling earlier this month, costs $199, about 70% less than what you would pay on H-P's Web site. AT&T offers an Acer Aspire One for $79 at my local RadioShack (RSH). The catch, of course, is the customer must sign up for the pricey service plan that comes with these units. I have been testing an Aspire One netbook to see how the cell phone company models compare with those of traditional vendors. If your performance expectations are reasonable, they could offer real value.
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