Top Five best-value netbooks money can buy

Buying a netbook is a minefield but to help you make a decision here is our choice of the five best-value netbooks available in the UK today. We've had hundreds pass through our hands in recent months. We've selected the top five on the strict criterion of value for money.

Netbooks based on Intel's next-generation platform, combining the Atom N450 with low-power Intel NM10 Express chipset, are beginning to appear in the shops and online. The 45nm process will enable Intel to deliver Atomic volume and netbooks built around the platform will go mainstream in the coming months.

In the meantime, these are what we Thinq are the five best-value netbooks you can buy right now.

It’s doubtful if even Asus had an inkling how big a monster it was creating when it launched the first Eee PC, the 700 series on an unsuspecting world back in 2007 on an Intel stage at the Computex show in Taipei.

Since those far off days, every notebook manufacturer worth its salt (and a good many others, too) has either at least one netbook in its product portfolio, or did have one, made a hash of it, and quietly left the arena.

Now, of course, much of the new stock heading for the shelves comes with the cut down Starter version of Windows 7 installed.

So what do you look for in a netbook? Well if buying a notebook is a very personal thing, acquiring a netbook is even more so. The things you should look out for are good keyboards, screens and - first and foremost - battery life.

If your chosen netbook doesn’t come with a six-cell battery but one is offered as an option - take it. Although it will bulk up your purchase, the advantage of longer battery life is more than enough compensation. And take care as there are a few manufacturers who offer multiple SKUs of the same system, so be sure to check the specifications very carefully.

Although some netbook prices are now reaching the £400 mark and beyond, there's never been a better time to buy one as there are so many deals being offered, including 'free' machines with mobile broadband contracts and even cash-back offers.

1. Acer Aspire One 751
Price £279.97

So, if its got a 10-inch screen and Atom power it’s a netbook right? Well Acer would like to disagree with the first assumption and, to prove the point, the firm produced the Aspire One 751 boasting a large 11.6-inch screen.

It is one of the thinnest netbooks around at just 25mm at the rear, tapering down to the front, but this brings a downside in that the screen is just 8mm thick and does flex a lot.

You need to make sure that the 751 gets well protected if you carry it around in a bag. Our review sample's larger six-cell battery does increase the 751’s footprint, as it sticks out of the back of the system. But, then again, it does give you something to hold onto.

Our sample had the usual glossy piano black finish loved by both manufacturers and fingerprints, but you can also get it in white, red or blue. Although the keyboard is a good size and the keys are comfortable to type on, the keybed itself has a degree of flex to it that you really only notice if you are one of those people who like to hit the keys hard when typing. Below the keyboard sits a small multi-touch touchpad and two equally small mouse buttons.

If you only buy the 751 because of the screen you won’t be disappointed. The LED backlit 1,366 by 768 pixel display has a 16:9 aspect ratio, giving really sharp vivid colours thanks to its glossy screen coating. The coating has a downside however, reacting poorly in extreme light conditions.

The Aspire One 751 is built around the Z520 Atom processor, runs good old XP Home, and has 1GB of RAM as standard.

Our sample came fitted with a 4400mAh six-cell battery so, as you might expect, battery life is very good. We managed to get just over seven hours of power when testing the 751.

Good: Screen. Design. Battery life
Bad:
Screen flex. Small trackpad

Go to page 2 for Asus, Dell, Samsung and Toshiba's offerings

2. Asus Eee PC 1005HA
Price £234.97

No roundup of netbooks would be complete without at least one example from the company that started it all.

The Asus Eee PC 1005HA is one of the cheaper members of the, oh-so-stylish Asus Seashell range. It differs from the flagship 1008HA by having a slightly beefier design without all the port covers and a removable six cell battery.

Our review sample 1005HA came with Windows XP Home edition installed on a 160GB hard drive and without Bluetooth, but it’s also available in a couple of other versions which come with Windows 7 Starter, 250GB hard drives and a choice between with Bluetooth or not.

While it might not be as thin and sexy as its sibling, (you still get the fingerprint-magnet glossy finish), its chassis and keyboard still offer the same degree of build quality, which is underlined by its chunky 1.16kg (1.4kg with the power adaptor) weight.

The 10.1-inch screen is very good and, as an added bonus, doesn’t have the glossy coating that the 1008HA has, making it better to use in the office environment or outside on bright days. This does mean sacrificing the sharp vivid colour reproduction that the glossy coating offers.

Built into the screen bezel is a 0.3MP web cam. Despite its price tag, the 1005HA comes with very good 92 per cent keyboard which has well laid-out, large keys which are firm to the touch and good to type on. The multi function trackpad takes a bit of getting used to as the deliniation between the pad and the buttons is marked out by tiny bumps and defining where one ends and the other starts takes a bit of time.

Although you may not get Bluetooth, you do get 802.11b/g/n WiFi along with 10/100 Ethernet and three USB ports.

Good: Build quality. Eight hours plus battery life
Bad:
Screen colours look a little grainy

3. Dell Inspiron Mini 10v (N00B1002)
Price £228.99

Like most of Dell's product lines there are a few Inspiron Mini 10vs to choose from, including a model with an 8GB SSD drive and with a Ubuntu O/S (£199 inc VAT) and each model can be further tailored to you own needs via the Dell online shop.

The model we looked at was one with Windows XP installed (Windows 7 versions are now available) which comes with Dell's own version of the Stardock interface and you also get Microsoft Works 9 which doesn't include Word.

Inside the Mini 10v's diminutive chassis (it just measures 261 x 183 x 30mm) its standard netbook hardware all the way; Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 memory, 160GB hard drive and 802.11b/g WiFi.

The 10.1-inch screen has a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution and a high gloss coating which makes for great movie watching and photo displaying but will drive you crazy with light reflections in a brightly lit office.

When it comes to typing on the Mini 10v, the keyboard has large useable keys but it doesn't have the feel of many of its competitors. The biggest drawback, however, is the trackpad. The pad itself is fine, good and responsive but for some reason only known to Dell, they have built the mouse buttons into the left and right hand corners of the pad and in use it can get very, very frustrating.

The major problem with the Mini 10v is that it comes with a 24Whr three-cell battery, if you want the bigger 56Whr six-cell battery you have to add another £40 (ex VAT) to the price and that puts the Mini 10v into the same price bracket as much more desirable netbooks. With the three-cell battery we could only squeeze just over four hours battery life, which is pretty miserable compared to some of its competitors.

Good: Screen
Bad: That trackpad. Battery life.

Go to page 3 for Netbooks Four and Five, plus battery test results

4. Samsung N140
Price £279.34

When Samsung unleashed the NC10 on an unsuspecting world in 2008, it rapidly became the netbook against which all others were judged and, in many respects, that still holds, true even now.

Like Asus and MSI, Samsung has a wide range of netbooks, any one of which could find a home in our top five ranking.

The N140 is one of the latest models based on the original NC10 design and has been tweaked so it’s a little more compact and lighter that its sibling N120. Although the styling appears a little dated when compared to Asus’ Seashell range (and what doesn’t), it still isn’t a bad-looking beastie.

There’s not much to say on the internals of the N140 other that it’s standard netbook fare and you all know how that goes; Intel Atom N270 processor clocked at 1.6GHz, 1GB of DDR2 memory (upgradable to 2GB via the single SO-DIMM slot) and Intel’s GMA950 integrated graphics. Add to that a 160GB hard disk with Windows XP Home and 802.11n WiFi and you have the full story.

One of the things that stood out on the NC10 was the keyboard and, thankfully, Samsung have resisted any urge to tinker with the one in the N140 as it appears identical to the original, but they have changed the trackpad to a larger, easier to use and more responsive one.

The one stand-out feature of the N140 is its huge 5,900mAh six-cell battery, which Samsung claims is good for 11 hours of use. When we tested it, we got seven hours 40 minutes but that was with pretty heavy use, in normal day to day applications and tweaking the power savings you should get a bit nearer to the manufacturers claim.

Good: Keyboard. Battery life
Bad:
Narrow mouse buttons

5. Toshiba NB200-11L
Price £263.91

The least said about Toshiba’s first venture into the netbook market, the NB100, the better, but to the company's credit, Toshiba went back to the drawing board and came back with the NB200 series, a much more stylish and desirable clutch od netbooks all together.

Thankfully Toshiba has forsaken the shiny scratchtastic finish of many netbooks and notebooks, instead the NB200 has a matt lid and screen bezel. The keyboard has Scrabble tile keys which, despite being smaller than some, have a feel and spacing which makes typing a pleasure as is the large touch pad and mouse buttons under it.

Under the hood the NB200 is the same as the vast majority of netbooks available currently; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 processor, 1GB of DDR2 memory, 160GB hard drive, SD Card reader, 802.11g WiFi, Bluetooth and 10/100 wired Ethernet, but Toshiba has also added a couple of features which make the NB200 standout a little from the crowd.

The hard drive has a G-sensor to protect the delicate innards, so if you drop your NB200 or it gets violently jolted, the drive heads are parked to prevent damage to the disc surface. A neat idea for a mobile device like a netbook is that one of the three USB ports is permanently powered so you can recharge USB devices even if the notebook is turned off. The 10.1in screen with the familiar 1024 x 600 pixel resolution has crisp-looking text and rich, vivid colour reproduction thanks to its high brightness and glossy coating.

Battery life is impressive too, thanks to the large 63Wh battery, it’s easily capable of lasting over seven hours.

Good: Build quality, battery life
Bad:
Very tinny single speaker

Battery test results

(Battery Eater classc test, screen 50% brightness WiFi off)

Battery Life Results (in minutes)

Asus Eee PC 1005HA 484

Samsung N140 460

Toshiba NB200-11L 445

Acer Aspire One 751 436

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v 243