Laptops

The seven worst netbooks ever

We've come across some truly terrible netbooks in our time. In this article, we'll identify the guilty machines, pull their tiny trousers down and expose why they're so awful

Over the years, we've seen more netbooks than we care to mention. Some have been good, most have been mediocre, and a few have been so bad, so unpalatably awful, that they made us want to rip our own eyes out and turn our backs on technology for good.

Over the following pages, we'll identify the guilty machines, pull their tiny trousers down and expose why they're so awful. Hopefully, this guide can save you some cash, the embarrassment of being seen in public with any of the offending netbooks, and the bother of having to return them to the shops. 

Without further ado, let the countdown commence. 

The Eee PC 701 was the machine that helped kick-start the netbook phenomenon. It introduced the form factor to the masses and showed that tiny, attractive laptops needn't retail for ridiculous sums. We, like the rest of the world, fell in love with it. But, looking back, it was flippin' pants.

What was wrong with it

We should have known something was up when Asus started marketing the 701 using a semi-naked lady on a beach. The ad screamed 'you'll be sexy if you buy one of these', but the marketing material would've been more accurate if Asus had photographed the product next to a five-year-old boy picking his nose, such was the plasticky, toy-like nature of the original Eee PC.

The 701's appearance wasn't the only downside. Its 7-inch screen had an unbearably low, 800x480-pixel resolution, its 4GB of storage was stingy compared to today's 160GB average, and its microscopic keyboard was more suited to the lilliputian digits of a pre-teen than those of us grown-ups. 

If you feel like making a massive mistake, you can buy a second-hand 701 for around £120.

Hate-o-meter: 3/10

The 2133 Mini-Note PC was supposed to be the anti-Eee -- a sleek, sexy alternative to the cheap and cheerful effort from Asus. Its aluminium chassis, large, 8.9-inch screen and wonderful keyboard belied its netbook heritage, but that's pretty much where the good times ended and the horror show began.

What was wrong with it?

The 2133 was expensive. At about £415, it cost over twice as much as the Eee PC 701, yet it felt like it offered about a tenth of the performance. This was mainly due to its use of Windows Vista and a 1.2GHz Via C7-M processor, which was so slow that, if you used the machine on your travels, it was entirely possible to reach your destination before the 2133 had loaded whatever application you'd tried to open. 

Even when the 2133 finally completed a task, there was no guarantee you'd be able to reap the benefits. Its much-lauded screen was so glossy that it essentially turned into a mirror upon exposure to sunlight. That's fine for applying make-up, but, in the real world, where people do real work, it was frustrating to say the least. 

Those who like beating their brains out in frustration can find a refurbished 2133 on sale for around £170.

Hate-o-meter: 5/10

If Gandhi and Princess Diana had adopted a child, and that child grew up to become a computer scientist, the XO-1 is the laptop they would've designed, after bringing about world peace and finding a cure for AIDS, obviously. Surely this goody-goody green marvel deserves some slack then?

What's wrong with it?

We hate the XO-1, but not because of its complete and utter joke of a keyboard, or because of its calculator-spec AMD Geode LX 700@0.8W CPU and paltry 256MB -- yes, that's megabytes -- of RAM. Our hatred stems from the cruel and unusual, Linux-based Sugar graphical user interface, which, despite being designed for people who've never seen a computer before, is nearly impossible to fathom. Trying to launch simple apps left us feeling like a monkey with a Rubik's Cube, so we're not sure how anyone's supposed to use its built-in programming language. Inflicting this kind of torture on small children is tantamount to child abuse.

You're unlikely to be able to get your hands on the XO-1 easily if you live in the developed world -- an excellent state of affairs.

Hate-o-meter: 6/10 

We were really looking forward to testing the Amilo Mini Ui 3520. It was the first netbook that had interchangeable covers, so it was almost guaranteed a place in our collective hearts.

What was wrong with it?

Getting a 3520 for Christmas would be like ripping into an immaculately wrapped gift box, only to find that it contained somebody else's dirty laundry -- the 3520 looked great but, on closer inspection, it was pretty horrific. Its tiny keyboard was actually painful to use and we still think its mouse, with its side-mounted buttons, was some sort of parting joke from a disgruntled Fujitsu Siemens designer.

Come to think of it, the interchangeable-covers idea was rubbish, too. Such covers may have been acceptable on mobile phones ten years ago, but they more or less died out for a reason -- nobody wanted them. The final nail in this netbook's coffin was the fact that it really wasn't cool. No amount of fancy black and white plastic or swappable lids could cover up the fact that it had a Fujitsu Siemens logo on it.

Buying one of these would make you as unpopular as a lurgy-infested school kid, but you can still have the dubious privilege for around £280 if you look online.

Hate-o-meter: 6/10

The Inspiron Mini 12 was a true netbook pioneer. Whereas many of its rivals offered 8.9- or 10-inch displays, it bucked the trend with a relatively massive, 12.1-inch screen and a chassis large enough to accommodate a full-size keyboard.

What was wrong with it?

The idea of a creating an oversize netbook wasn't a bad one -- there's a market for low-power, low-cost, lightweight laptops that are larger than the norm. Unfortunately, Dell seems to have taken the 'low-power' part too literally. Our test version of the Mini 12 used a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU, which struggled with even simple tasks, like running iPlayer. It could start Windows XP and perhaps an instance of Notepad, but only if the moons and heavens were aligned just so. 

Admittedly, Dell also sold a faster version, equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, but consumers still weren't impressed -- a machine of its size really warranted something altogether faster. Unsurprisingly, production of the Mini 12 was stopped and the world was suddenly a better place.

If you want to buy a Mini 12 as a Christmas present for your worst enemy, you may be out of luck -- tracking it down online is no easy task. 

Hate-o-meter: 7/10 

Packard Bell had a great opportunity to capitalise on the Eee PC 701's shortcomings with the EasyNote XS. It offered several advantages, including a digital (DVI) video output port and more storage than any other netbook at the time.

What was wrong with it?

We'll give the EasyNote XS props for its 30GB hard drive and DVI output, but it had almost nothing else going for it. We find anything that uses the almost ubiquitous Atom N270 CPU immediately tedious, but the EasyNote XS' Via C7-M chip was so rubbish we'd have sold our own children to have the N270 back.

The dwarf-friendly keyboard was bad, too, but nowhere near as infuriating as the stamp-sized mousepad located at the top right of the keyboard, and its equally miniscule selector buttons, located at the top left. Because of this arrangement, using the netbook comfortably actually involved picking it up off the table and using it like some sort of giant portable games console

Masochists are likely to be disappointed by the news that it's very difficult to find anywhere that's still selling the EasyNote XS. Everyone else should be delighted.

Hate-o-meter: 8/10

If the Elonex Websurfer looks familiar, it's because it's the bastard cousin of the EasyNote XS. Like its relative, the Websurfer also brought something new to the netbook table -- a removable VoIP phone, housed to the right of its 7-inch display.

What's wrong with it?

The Elonex Websurfer goes by many names, including the Via NanoBook and Everex Cloudbook, but it's so atrocious that it won't be long before you address it purely in expletives. Whoever designed this monstrosity must have had a stake in Bupa or Specsavers. The screen, keyboard and trackpad are so small that carpal tunnel syndrome and damaged eyes can only ever be a few clicks away.

The Websufer's designers could have easily installed a larger display, but they chose instead to leave room for a bizarre expander slot. In our test model, this housed an embarrassingly tacky VoIP phone, but it could also accommodate a GPS sat-nav, 3G WWAN module, or, erm, a world clock. Tell you what, Elonex, if we want any of those things, we'll pop in a third-party USB upgrade or go nuts and put on a watch, yeah? Cheers.

You can buy the Websurfer for around £180, but you'll want to repeatedly punch yourself in the face when you realise how stupid you've been.

Hate-o-meter: 9/10