PC OEMs are finally beginning to plug a year-old hole in their consumer notebook lineups. It's a hole so big that you have to wonder why they haven't bothered to fill it sooner. They had the opportunity to do so. The shortcoming centers on a feature at the lower-end, high-volume, mainstream consumer price points: battery life. Or, more precisely, the lack of it.
The mainstream stack made sense until late last year, when mini-notes (or netbooks, in the Intel vernacular) started garnering a noticeable presence in retail. Before that, you got what you paid for. If you paid less for your computer, you got less. Less performance. And less battery life.
Then along came the mini-notes. They cost a couple of hundred dollars less, and they offered lower performance--just as they were supposed to. But they also offered better battery life.
Built around low-cost X86 processors such as Intel's Atom family, mini-notes scared the top-tier OEMs so much that they gave the systems their own category. They saw to it that the mini-notes were set aside in a different aisle from the notebooks. And they still chafe at the term "cheap notebooks," because it ties the category more closely to their bread-and-butter products than they'd like.
Their fear is understandable. For years, they have been trying to dam the swell of momentum for good-enough computing, a philosophy that has sent average selling prices for notebooks ever lower.
In the meantime, battery life has become more important. Laptops have been shipping with built-in Wi-Fi capability as a standard feature for several years now, and consumers increasingly are making use of the technology, working and playing on their computers disconnected from wall outlets. That, in turn, is fostering demand for longer battery life.
So there you have it. On the netbook shelf of your local retailer (many have adopted Intel's naming convention), you'll find a mini-note for about $300. It boasts basic Internet capability and up to four hours of battery-powered operation.