Best netbook: Top 10 mini laptops rated

They bite less than a regular laptop but they nip where it hurts: web browsing. It's time to pick 2011's top dog from the netbook pack.

There was a time when choosing a miniature laptop was a fairly straightforward exercise -- you bought an Asus Eee PC. Now every manufacturer and its sister has released its own take on the affordable, stripped-down and ultra-portable computer. In short, there's a whole lot of choice out there.

But hey, quit your head-scratching because we're here to help. Having cast our critical eye over the majority of netbooks on the market -- not to mention run all sorts of boring benchmarking tests so you don't have to -- CNET UK has assembled a top 10 chart. And we've even put them in order of greatness for you.

So if you're in the market for a cheap PC that keeps you connected while you're on the go, ready your reading eyes and march on. See you on the other side, where we'll have hopefully helped you make a decision.

Asus Eee PC 1008P Seashell

10. Asus Eee PC 1008P Seashell, £315

Asus kicked off the whole netbook craze. After a few years of stiff competition, it's still in the game too. The super-stylish  1008P -- runner-up in last year's Netbook Showdown -- is a prime example of why that is.

Design and usability

Available in demure brown or shocking pink, we like the snakeskin-style pattern on the 1008P's lid. This netbook would look right at home being slowly withdrawn from a Gucci handbag outside of a café in Paris. It's very light too, weighing just 1.1kg.

The ports are covered with flaps, to preserve aesthetic uniformity. The battery is hidden within the chassis for the same reason, but this does mean that the juice box isn't as big as it could have been.

The keyboard and trackpad are really comfortable. The isolated keys should cut down on the chances of you making typos, while the trackpad is very responsive and supports multi-touch gestures.

Connectivity

The 1008P offers all the usual netbook connectivity options, but it's worth noting that there are only two USB ports. If you tend to use plenty of peripherals, like a mouse, keyboard and printer, you might find yourself having to invest in a USB hub device.

Performance and battery life

Inside, the 1008P has an Intel Atom N450 CPU, with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. As a result, it offers standard netbook performance. Expect it to handle document editing and a spot of web browsing with ease, but don't plan on playing any games or watching HD video.

The 1008P's battery life is also rather average. You can expect a minimum of 3 hours and 34 minutes, which is how long the battery held out for when we ran the CPU at a constant 100 per cent, like the sadists that we are.

Should I buy it?

The 1008P is a great little computer. Even though its battery life and performance aren't anything to write home about, it's still one of the most stylish netbooks around.

Read our full Asus Eee PC 1008P Seashell review .

Acer Aspire One 533

9. Acer Aspire One 533, £270

Most netbooks offer very similar performance, and will break into an uncomfortable sweat if you even so much as point an HD video in their direction. But last year's Netbook Showdown winner -- the 533 -- is made of sterner stuff.

Design and usability

This is a sleek, sensual little PC and no mistake. A dark grey, glossy finish across the lid complements the matte coating on the keyboard surround. The screen hinge has a curved, elongated appearance, which looks neat and also makes the netbook feel sturdy. At only 27mm thick, it's still one of the best-looking netbooks around.

The keyboard slants slightly towards you, due to the protruding battery that pushes the 533 up at the back. The trackpad sits flush with the wrist rest and is distinguished only by a grid pattern. It looks quite cool, and it's larger than most netbook trackpads too. Both click buttons are built into one single rocker button, which feels responsive.

Connectivity

The 533 offers a 250GB hard drive, plus three USB ports, VGA out, an Ethernet socket and a multi-format card reader. That's pretty much in line with every other netbook out there. The only thing we really miss is the lack of an HDMI port.

Performance and battery life

The absence of an HDMI socket is all the more disappointing because the 533 can play high-definition video. Indeed, it's surprisingly capable when it comes to performance, playing 720p videos without so much as a whimper. The 533 flexes its muscles courtesy of a 1.83GHz Intel Atom N475 CPU and 1GB of DDR3 RAM.

The netbook's graphics performance is still pretty rubbish, though. But, if you watch plenty of video or want a netbook that's relatively snappy when it comes to general multi-tasking, bear the 533 in mind.

The netbook's battery life is alright, but it's not as impressive as that of some other machines in this list. With its CPU running at a constant 100 per cent, the 533's battery managed to last for 4 hours and 11 minutes before conking out. You can expect longer battery life if you're not putting the netbook through the computational wringer like we did.

Should I buy it?

The 533 is a good-looking machine that offers above-average performance without being more expensive than most of its rivals. Despite the fact that some competitors offer better battery life, the 533 is a great machine in just about every respect.

Read our full Acer Aspire One 533 review .

Asus Eee PC Lamborghini VX6

8. Asus Eee PC Lamborghini VX6, £470

The supercar of the netbook world, it's packed with more power than the average netbook, but at a big ticket price.

Design and usability

It's fair to say the VX6 is a little different from the average netbook. Firstly, it's larger, with a 12.1-inch screen, it's heavier, weighing 1.5kg, and it's bigger, measuring 297 by 29 by 204mm. But it also stands out on its looks. There's a Lamborghini logo on the lid, which is styled to look like a car bonnet. It even makes an engine noise when you hit the power button. Fun? Silly? You decide.

The larger size does mean you get a roomier trackpad and a bigger, more comfortable keyboard.

Connectivity

There are three USB ports (two of which are ultra-fast USB 3.0), microphone and headphone jacks and a card reader. There's both VGA and HDMI video outputs, giving you a welcome choice if you want to connect the VX6 to an external screen. Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth round-off the list. There's 250GB of hard drive space, although a 320GB version is available should you require extra room.

Performance and battery life

With 2GB of RAM, a dual-core Intel Atom D525 processor and an nVidia Ion graphics card, the VX6 is more powerful than most netbooks -- although that isn't saying much. Despite its impressive specs -- and the presence of a turbo mode, it'll struggle to play newer 3D games. Even HD video clips can be a little stuttery on occasion. Basic tasks such as web browsing and email are handled ably, but at this price you'd be forgiven for expecting a lot more oomph.

By netbook standards, the screen has a high resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. This gives a sharper, more detailed image and brightness levels keep things vibrant. Audio gets a boost thanks to the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers, which serve up better sound than we've come to expect from a netbook.

Our intensive battery test saw the VX6 keep going for just under 4 hours and you'll get much more life out of it with lighter use. That's pretty impressive given the larger screen.

Should I buy it?

The Asus Eee PC VX6 is refreshingly different from the crowd, but then it does cost twice as much as most netbooks, which pits it against the power of a full-size laptop for the price.

Read our full Asus Eee PC Lamborghini VX6 review .

Samsung N350

7. Samsung N350, £320

This dual-core netbook is skinny and light with a comfortable keyboard and a bright and vibrant anti-glare screen.

Design and usability

While some Samsung netbooks are curvier than a wartime pin-up, the N350 is a fairly dour and boxy affair, livened up only slightly by the brushed aluminium effect on the wrist rest.

On the plus side, it's incredibly light and skinny at a shade over 1kg and 264 by 23 by 189mm. The chiclet-style keyboard, with each key isolated, is comfortable to use and the trackpad buttons are pleasingly responsive.

Connectivity

The socket selection is standard issue: three USBs, VGA for outputting video to an external screen, headphone jack, Ethernet socket and card reader. There's no HDMI video output, sadly. Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi cover off the wireless networking elements, and a 250GB hard disk drive ensures you've got plenty of space to store documents and media files.

Performance and battery life

This is a dual-core netbook running on an Intel Atom N550 clocked at 1.5GHz. If you think that extra core makes the N350 some kind of portable processing powerhouse you're heading for disappointment. It can handle basic tasks such as web browsing and email just fine, but ask it to multi-task and it doesn't impress. We suspect this could be down to the 1GB of RAM -- an extra GB would improve performance drastically.

The integrated Intel graphics processing is pretty dire too, so if you want to play 3D games you're limited to 10-year-old classics rather than the latest shooters.

On the plus side, the 10.1-inch, 1,024x600-pixel screen is bright and vibrant and benefits from an anti-glare coating.

In our Battery Eater Classic benchmark test, the N350 topped out at 2 hours and 44 minutes -- a somewhat unimpressive result. While you'll likely get a lot more use out of it in real world situations, there are netbooks that last a lot longer for less money.

Should I buy it?

At this price, the N350 faces stiff competition from several cheaper rivals, but it's not a bad netbook at all.

Read our full Samsung N350 review .

Acer Aspire One 522

6. Acer Aspire One 522, £230

A tack-sharp screen and a cavernous 250GB hard drive are this netbook's talking points.

Design and usability

Available in either black or green finishes, the Acer Aspire One 522 cuts an elegant figure. It's very lightweight at 1.2kg -- this three-cell battery version was, at least.At a mere 259 by 26 by 185mm, it's impressively svelte to boot.

The solid build quality extends to the keyboard, which doesn't rattle when you give the 522 a shake. The Enter and Delete keys are on the tiny side though, which could get irritating.

Connectivity

This edition of the 522 comes with a cavernous 250GB hard drive. If you don't need that much storage space, a cheaper 160GB version is available.

There are three USB ports, headphone and microphone sockets, a card reader and VGA video output. Most impressively, there's also an HDMI socket, allowing you to swiftly and simply lash the netbook up to your TV and transfer not only video but audio to it.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and Ethernet are also on board.

Performance and battery life

Despite the presence of that HDMI output, you won't be pumping pristine HD videos from the 522 to your telly. Why? The netbook just can't handle it: you'll need to dial video down to lower quality if you don't want it to fall over.

There's a 1GHz dual-core AMD C-50 processor here, and it handles the simple things such as social networking, email and web surfing with ease. It doesn't take so well to multi-tasking, however.

The 10.1-inch screen is mightily impressive. Not only are colours vivid and bright, but everything is beautifully sharp: the resolution of 1,280x720 pixels is higher than on most netbooks in this price range.

One area where the 522 really disappoints is battery life. As we mentioned above, it has a three-cell battery (a six-cell version is also available), and this only lasted 1 hour and 36 minutes in our benchmark test. The test is intensive, so you'll likely get a lot more out of it with normal use, but it's still a poor showing.

Should I buy it?

The design and screen are definite plus points here but underwhelming processing power and battery life limit the Acer Aspire One 522's on-the-go chops.

Read our full Acer Aspire One 522 review .

Toshiba NB500

5. Toshiba NB500, £250

A budget netbook with a keyboard that's a joy to use and plenty of storage on a 250GB hard drive.

Design and usability

The NB500 gets zero points for styling originality, offering the same boxy looks as its predecessors the NB520 and NB305. The only 'exciting' aspect (if you can really call it that) is the lid, which is rubberised and available in a selection of different colours. Its 1.3kg weight and 262 by 36 by 190mm dimensions are standard for a 10.1-inch netbook.

At least the keyboard is a joy to use, with its large, sensibly laid-out and pleasingly springy keys making touch typing a cinch.

Connectivity

There are three USB ports on offer, none of which, sadly, are compatible with 'sleep and charge', so you can't charge gadgets while the NB500 is turned off. There's also a VGA output for connecting to an external display; we prefer HDMI as it's digital and also carries sound, but wouldn't expect to see one on a model this cheap.

Ethernet, Wi-Fi and a headphone socket round off the connectivity. Bluetooth is left off the list, presumably because -- like HDMI -- Toshiba has reserved it for pricier models.

250GB of hard drive space means plenty of room for music and movies.

Performance and battery life

The single-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom N455 processor and 1GB of RAM offer performance that's on a par with similarly-equipped rivals. That means you can rely on the NB500 to tackle the simple things like email, web surfing and updating your Facebook profile -- but don't expect much more than that. Multi-tasking will push the netbook to its limits, and the on-board graphics processor isn't suited for anything except the oldest of games. Even HD videos on YouTube stutter along irritatingly.

The 1,024x600-pixel screen is bright, with rich colours, but doesn't excel when it comes to a wide viewing angle.

Battery life topped out at 4 hours and 23 minutes in our Battery Eater Classic test. That's not hugely impressive -- the similarly-specced Samsung NF110 managed 5 hours. Less intensive use -- the sort of tasks the NB500 was designed for -- will give you a fair bit extra.

Should I buy it?

There are better equipped, better performing rivals out there than the Toshiba NB500.

Read our full Toshiba NB500 review .

Samsung NF110

4. Samsung NF110, £240

This curvy netbook sports a marathon battery and eye-pleasing screen.

Design and usability

The Samsung NF110 couldn't be further removed from the accepted idea of netbooks as being boxy and boring. Its curvaceous, organic styling and use of three colours in the body make it a bit of a stunner. It's adequately light and compact at 1.3kg and 265 by 29 by 189mm.

The keyboard features isolated keys and, while they're small, their spacing and responsiveness makes typing a pleasant experience.

Connectivity

There are no surprises when it comes to the NF110's socket selection: you get three USB ports, Ethernet for wired networking, a headphone jack and a card reader, plus a VGA port for connecting the netbook to a television or monitor. The latter is a tad disappointing -- we'd have preferred a more up-to-date HDMI socket tackling external video duties.

Wireless capabilities come in the form of Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi, and storage duties are handled more than capably by a roomy 250GB hard disk drive.

Performance and battery life

The NF110 sports a lovely screen. It's not the sharpest -- the resolution is a standard, non-HD 1,024x600 pixels -- but the matte finish means you can use it outdoors without pesky sun glare spoiling the view. Colours and bright and punchy.

Audio quality is decent too, thanks to the larger-than-normal speakers. They won't be giving hi-fi manufacturers any sleepless nights but they're adequate for general listening purposes.

A single-core Intel Atom processor clocked at 1.66GHz handles processing duties, backed up with 1GB of RAM. Performance is acceptable. Basic tasks aren't a problem, so if you require your netbook mainly for email, word processing and web browsing, it won't let you down. Ask anything more of it -- HD video decoding or 3D games, for instance -- and it'll fall over.

Battery life, however, is very decent. In our tough benchmark test the NF110 lasted 5 hours, putting it up there with some of the longest-running netbooks around. You'll get more life out of it with normal use too.

Should I buy it?

The keyboard, screen, styling and battery life all combine to make this one of the better budget netbooks on the market.

Read our full Samsung NF110 review .

Samsung NC110

3. Samsung NC110, £240

The spiritual successor to Samsung's first ever netbook, the NC110 is a budget model with bite.

Design and usability

This is a great-looking laptop. Available in a range of colours, it sports a swish glossy lid, swooping curved profile and gorgeous white keyboard with a chiclet design (every key is isolated).

This keyboard layout means you don't hit adjacent keys by mistake and typing feels responsive. The large trackpad gives you plenty of room too, so overall this is a lovely netbook to use.

At 259 by 34 by 180mm and 1.3kg, it's standard in terms of portability.

Connectivity

A 250GB hard drive means there's bags of space for storing files. There's a 4-in-1 card slot on board too. On the socket front, you get three USBs, including one 'sleep and charge' port for topping up the battery on your mobile phone while the NC110 is turned off. There's a headphone jack and a VGA output for connection to an external monitor or TV. We'd have liked an HDMI for the latter but it's a rare find on a budget model.

Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 round off the connectivity.

Performance and battery life

A dual-core Intel Atom chip clocked at 1.5GHz, backed up with 1GB of memory, provide the processor power behind the NC110. This is a run-of-the-mill setup for a netbook -- our benchmarks showed it to be marginally less speedy than the similarly equipped Toshiba NB520. It's more than up to the task of web surfing, emailing and other simple tasks, but it huffs and puffs when asked to perform anything more intensive such as multi-tasking.

Its graphics performance, like all Atom-powered netbooks, is weedy -- 3D graphics aren't worth bothering with here. Even HD video decoding is a struggle, with 1,080p YouTube movies stumbling along at an unacceptable frame rate. It's a shame because the 10.1-inch, 1,024x600-pixel screen serves up punchy colours.

Audio quality through the speakers is fine but you're better off rigging up your headphones if you want good performance.

The battery life topped out at 4 hours and 52 minutes in our Battery Eater Classic benchmark test, which is impressive. This test is very intensive, so you'll get a lot more use out of the NC110 in real life situations. In fact, Samsung claims 10.7 hours.

Should I buy it?

The stylish design and keyboard are the Samsung NC110's standout features, but it performs adequately for a budget model and should definitely come under consideration if you're looking for a cheaper netbook.

Read our full Samsung NC110 review .

Toshiba NB520

2. Toshiba NB520, £270

Toshiba's Atom-powered netbook offers plenty of thrills for the price, including top-class speakers.

Design and usability

If it's excitement you're after, the NB520's styling might not be for you. Its coloured, rubberised lid coating is a nice touch, but the abundance of matte black plastic elsewhere is pretty unappealing. At 1.3kg and 262x36x190mm, it's average in terms of portability.

That said, the sturdy build quality, accurate trackpad and well-spaced keyboard are huge plus points, and arguably more important than snazzy looks.

Connectivity

As with most netbooks, there are three USB ports on offer here. Handily, one is a 'sleep and charge' port that'll top up your phone or MP3's battery even when the NB520 is turned off. There are 3.5mm headphone and mic sockets too, and an SD card slot, as expected. Video output is limited to a VGA port -- there's no HDMI port here. That's a shame as it would have been useful for hooking up the netbook to your HDTV.

Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 round off the connectivity, and a 250GB hard drive provides plenty of storage space.

Performance and battery life

The NB520's dual-core Intel Atom processor runs at a speedy-sounding 1.5GHz. There's 1GB of memory too. Together this makes the netbook fairly adept at juggling basic tasks like email, web browsing and document editing. Push it further and it struggles, while its 3D graphics talents are disappointingly limited in comparison to its AMD-powered stablemate, the Toshiba NB550D. Needless to say, don't opt for this model if you plan on playing any 3D games, as they may well cause it to explode.

Dual-core processors are notoriously power-hungry, but Toshiba has neatly sidestepped this problem by fitting the NB550D with a 10-cell battery. The extra capacity allowed the netbook to last an impressive 5 hours and 15 minutes in our Battery Eater Classic benchmark.You'll get much longer out of it in real-world use.

The 1,024x600-pixel, 10.1-inch screen doesn't excel in terms of size or resolution. But it does come with a semi-gloss coating that makes colours appear richer than on a matte screen, without being annoyingly reflective at the same time.

The Harman Kardon speakers deliver far louder sound than we've come to expect from a netbook: you might actually use them to listen to music, for once!

Should I buy it?

The NB520 doesn't excel when it comes to raw power, but given its cheap price tag it, performs well. Plus the classy speakers are very welcome indeed.

Read our full Toshiba NB520 review .

Toshiba NB550D

1. Toshiba NB550D, £270

A well-rounded 10.1-inch model that boasts powerful graphics performance.

Design and usability

The NB550D isn't the most inspiring netbook in terms of its looks, with dull matte black plastic dominating the exterior. Only the pleasingly rubberised lid offers a splash of metallic colour (copper and blue are the choices).

At 1.3kg and 262x36x190mm, it's not especially light or skinny, but it does feel sturdy and built to last. The keyboard is nicely spaced too and, while a touch on the noisy side, the springy keys feel comfortable and responsive.

Connectivity

An HDMI output lets you swiftly hook the NB550D to an external monitor or HDTV. It's joined by a trio of USB ports. One of these is 'sleep and charge', allowing you to charge a phone or MP3 player while the netbook is turned off. Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 are also on board, as are a 3.5mm headphone jack and SD card slot. There's an impressive amount of storage space on offer thanks to the 250GB hard drive.

Performance and battery life

The NB550D packs a 1GHz dual-core AMD C-50 processor and it's a beauty. In standard benchmarking tests it slightly outperforms Toshiba's Intel Atom-powered NB520, but when it comes to 3D video performance it absolutely destroys its rival. Don't get us wrong -- it won't ace Modern Warfare 3 with all the settings turned up to high -- but it'll handle lighter 3D games adequately. That's something most netbooks will not do.

Video decoding is similarly impressive, with 1,080p HD YouTube clips ticking along nicely. You won't be able to view these at full resolution on the non-HD 1,024x600-pixel screen, of course, but  you can output them to an HD telly or monitor, thanks to the HDMI port.

This graphics grunt does have some effect on battery life, which is shorter than on many of the NB550D's peers: it topped out at 4 hours and 7 minutes in our intensive Battery Eater Classic test. That's not terrible for a dual-core model, mind you, and with normal use you'll probably get a lot longer out of the battery.

The Harman Kardon speakers also mean sound is beefier and clearer than on the average netbook -- in fact the audio performance here trounces some full-size laptops.

Should I buy it?

Look past the unappealing styling and the Toshiba NB550D is a truly impressive netbook. Its processing, graphics and audio performance outstrip rival models and make it an outstanding all-rounder.

Read our full Toshiba NB550D review .

 

ARTICLE DISCUSSION

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

Hot on CNET

The Next Big Thing

Consoles go wide and far beyond gaming with power and realism.