It’s weird to look back on all the posts I made agonizing about whether or not to buy a netbook.

It was never anything I would have used on a regular basis, and I knew that (which is why I never went through with buying one). It would have been something I used on trips, mainly conventions, and only to overcome the shortcomings of late 2000s smartphones.

Mainly: photos and typing.

Photo by VIA Gallery from Hsintien, Taiwan - HP 2133 Mini-Note PC (front view compare with pencil) uploaded by Kozuch, CC BY 2.0
Photo by VIA Gallery from Hsintien, Taiwan – HP 2133 Mini-Note PC (front view compare with pencil) uploaded by Kozuch, CC BY 2.0
Back then, I always carried another camera to get the “good” pictures, because phone cameras were still crappy. So if I wanted to post something online, I had to get it off the camera, onto a computer, and then upload it. Today’s smartphone cameras and apps are so much more capable that they mostly solve the photo issues.

It’s still painfully slow to type anything of length on a phone, but tablets have emerged since then and are a lot easier to type on. Hybrids like the Surface Pro and add-on keyboards make it even easier.

Touchscreens have solved the crappy trackpad problem netbooks had.

Faster phones and cell networks, and a more mobile-friendly web, have made a lot more things possible directly on the phone.

Netbooks, meanwhile, are pretty much forgotten, at least in the form they existed in at the time. Chromebooks are doing OK, at least in schools, but they aren’t quite the same thing. You’d think “netbook” would refer to something more like the network-dependent Chromebook, but it typically referred to the tiny form factor of a mini-laptop.

Looking back at the Tori Amos signing that I mentioned in the series’ first post: These days I probably would have taken the pictures directly on my phone and posted to Instagram within minutes. As for the blogging, I might have powered through on the phone and added the pictures directly, or I might have done so on the tablet and added the pictures that would already have synced from the phone over WiFi.

I wouldn’t carry a laptop of any size around the convention floor, that’s for sure. And I probably wouldn’t bring one on a short trip at all unless I was planning on working during the evenings.

Comic-Con International is rapidly approaching, and you know what that means: it means I’m thinking about mobile computing again!

Right now, I’ve got a G1 Android-based phone, and Katie and I share a MacBook. The G1 is showing its age, and it would be nice to have a second computer to do things like manage photos with while traveling.

So. Options.

1. Upgrade the phone. I’d like to stick with T-Mobile, but unfortunately after being the first network to take a chance on Android, they kind of dropped the ball on high-end Android phones. It looks like they’ll be getting the Samsung Galaxy S as the Vibrant, which might solve that problem. (Downside: no camera flash, no physical keyboard, both of which are in the Galaxy S Pro — but I don’t know when or even whether it’ll show up on T-Mobile’s network!)

Also, this doesn’t solve the photo management problem…and if I get a touchscreen-only phone, it’ll really slow down typing until I get used to it.

That and the rumored launch date for the Vibrant is July 21: the day before Comic-Con! That’s not the best time to try to get used to a new device.

2. Get a tablet. As much as I love Apple’s laptops and think that tablet PCs are a great idea, I can’t get behind the iPad. I don’t like the walled-garden approach where Apple gets to choose what you’re allowed to install on your computer. As for other platforms, Windows and Android tablets don’t seem to be comparable just yet.

In short: not gonna happen this year.

3. Get a netbook. I keep coming back to this, don’t I? Last weekend I checked out the selection at Fry’s and Micro Center, and decided on several things:

  • Never, ever buy a netbook without trying out the keyboard first! I found one that was so bad that I’d rather type on my phone for an hour than this netbook.
  • Smaller is better (up to a point). There’s no point in getting a large netbook when I could get a more fully-functional small notebook.
  • A lot of netbooks have truly awful trackpads.
  • While I’d rather get one with Windows 7 than Windows XP, it’s not critical. (Vista, however, is right out. Not that I saw any Vista-based netbooks…)
  • I like the Splashtop instant-on mini-network OS. It’ll be sufficient for 90% of what I’d be doing with a netbook.
  • A big chunk of that other 10% would be photo management! Or at least pulling photos off the camera and uploading them. Managing stuff within Flickr should work.
  • Most netbooks are still above my personal “Oh, just buy it and get it over with” price point, which is $200. MicroCenter had two, one of which was the one with the horrible keyboard, and one of which had Windows XP, didn’t have SplashTop, and had a mediocre trackpad. I really had to think about whether it was worth it or not.

Even so, It’s going to be hard to justify a netbook and a newer phone, and if I have to pick one, it’s going to be the phone. At this rate, by the time I decide to go for it, a tablet may actually be more practical!

I briefly considered doing a fresh install on the old PowerBook to see if it could be used as a second laptop, instead of just wiping it to recycle, but quickly remembered that the reason we replaced it was a hardware problem.

Still, it would be nice to have two portable computers for when we travel. I have a horrible tendency to hog the laptop when we get back to the hotel.

The thing is, we don’t need a second laptop for normal use. So getting another MacBook, or even a full-size Windows laptop, is overkill. Would a netbook do the trick? What do I use a computer for when traveling?

  • Reading/writing email.
  • Managing & uploading photos.
  • Blogging & managing blog comments.
  • Twitter (and more recently Facebook).
  • Web access.

Yeah, I could easily get by on a netbook, freeing up the MacBook for Katie to use.

But do I even need the netbook?

Almost everything on that list is something I can do with my Android phone, assuming WiFi or a decent 3G signal. Not as quickly, perhaps. I type a lot more slowly on the G1 than a full-sized keyboard, and even at 3G speeds web browsing can be slow, especially on sites that don’t optimize for mobile use. And websites that require Flash still won’t work.

The real deal-breaker is (still) photo management. I can upload photos I’ve taken with the phone, but only one at a time — and I can’t transfer photos from the regular camera. The small screen size also makes it harder to look through a set of several similar photos and pick out the best one.

So I could manage with just my phone if I had:

  • A way to transfer photos from my camera to my phone. (The hard part. Android issue 738 is an enhancement request to be able to connect USB devices. It’s not clear whether the G1 hardware supports USB On-The-Go or not, but the drivers and Android OS don’t — at least not yet.)
  • An app to mass-upload photos to Flickr. (They exist, I just need to research and try a few out.)

I guess for now the best way to handle it is for me to just upload photos on the laptop, without taking the time to label them, then hand it over and move to the smartphone. Though if the network connection is particularly slow, like it was at Comic-Con International this year, that would still be problematic.

Of course, we don’t have any travel plans at the moment until next spring. Who knows? By then a netbook (or a newer phone) may be more practical.