General discussion

Are these inexpensive Windows CE Netbooks on eBay even worth looking into?

Mar 11, 2011 5:46AM PST

Are these inexpensive Windows CE Netbooks on eBay even worth looking into?

My name is Kim and my question may be stupid but here goes
anyway. (Lee's note: No question is stupid.) While on eBay
looking for a used or refurbished laptop/Netbook for my
friend, I kept coming across these Netbooks advertised as
non-branded Netbooks
Really cheap. What are they? The description is as follows:
128RAM, 2GB hard drive? Running Windows CE 6.0. What is Win
CE? Is the hard drive a 2.5 laptop model or something
different? Can the hard drive be upgraded? My friend wants
one but I don't think it is what I term as a "normal"
computer. I asked her to wait and that I would ask the CNET
community about the Netbook first. I'm hoping that someone
can explain what they are, and how they work. I don't want my
friend to be disappointed and waste her money. But I'm really
curious about them myself. I've never seen them advertised
anywhere else either. A 2GB hard drive seems excessively
small as well. All answers will be greatly appreciated. Thank
you CNET community.

-- Submitted by: Kim B.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Stay away!!!! --Submitted by: High Desert Charlie

I wouldn't go anywhere near them --Submitted by: darrenforster99

Not all Netbooks are created Equal --Submitted by: waytron

It all depends --Submitted by: Graupner

Thank you to all who contributed!

If you have any additional advice, opinions, or recommendations to offer or have had any experience with these types of Netbooks, click the reply link below and submit away. Thanks!

Discussion is locked

Reply to: Are these inexpensive Windows CE Netbooks on eBay even worth looking into?
PLEASE NOTE: Do not post advertisements, offensive materials, profanity, or personal attacks. Please remember to be considerate of other members. If you are new to the CNET Forums, please read our CNET Forums FAQ. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Reporting: Are these inexpensive Windows CE Netbooks on eBay even worth looking into?
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.
- Collapse -
Stay Away!!!!
Mar 11, 2011 10:15AM PST

Everything I've read regarding these cheap Chinese knockoffs has been BAD - BAD - BAD!!! It's a cute little oversize phone that doesn't work half of the time. If you want a smart-phone, then I recommend you get a smart-phone and pass this by.

Windows CE is what is referred to as an "Embedded" operating system. On most computers, the operating system is loaded on to the Hard Disk Drive, and the computer's BIOS finds the hard drive when it starts up and loads the system. With an embedded system, the operating system is actually burned into a memory chip on the computer. It could, and should make it a lot faster, but because of the limitations of these little pretenders, they're practically worthless. I would end up using up the hard drive in a week. And the hard drive is probably not upgradeable, because it is actually a memory module on the main board that cannot be replaced or upgraded.

I won't even get into all of the errors that users are experiencing with these machines. I think it's safe to say that even running a simple, minimal operating system like Linux, or the Windows CE 6.0, you are still going to be strangled regarding speed and actual usability.

Kim, if you're friend is trying to save money just remember that the cost of repairs on cheap computers is usually just as much as higher cost computers. The difference is that when you pay a few dollars more, you're going to end up with a computer that doesn't need constant attention from a technician. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but my recommendation is to stay away from these impostors.

Good Luck.

- Collapse -
Mar 11, 2011 10:58AM PST

You'll just be throwing money down the toilet!

- Collapse -
No Way!
Mar 11, 2011 11:43AM PST

You are absolutely right to be suspicious of this junk. These really are not worth it if they paid you to take them away!

Your friend would be much better off with a refurbished laptop or a netbook from a reputable manufacturer. Most of the major vendors have refurbished outlets, HP, Dell, IBM US.

I guess you are in the USA but in the UK, Bigpockets (yes, really!) has a refurb laptop centre. I've had a couple from them and they are excellent.

Here's an example

Or go to Bigpockets and select Laptop Finder.

Good luck.

- Collapse -
Big Pockets
Mar 18, 2011 11:56AM PDT

They don'tship out side the uninted Kindom and france

- Collapse -
It all depends
Mar 11, 2011 11:52AM PST

The shortest answer is: it's an inexpensive step between a smart phone and a netbook.

A slightly longer answer is it is made by companies that do not wish (or need) to be known and many are made in China by companies trying to get a foothold in the netbook market, so they are generally inexpensive. However, Caveat Emptor is true - let the buyer beware because sometimes you get what you paid for.

Should you get it? It depends if that's all you can afford, but I'd say usually, No. Instead, wait until you can afford an inexpensive smart phone or a netbook (both under 300 right now) and buy that instead. You get a manufacturer or a vendor you can go back to when you have questions or problems.

As to your technical questions:
1. WinCE is the basis OS for Windows based smart phones (Windows Mobile, Pocket PC, etc.) and began in the early days of the Windows based OS for what we used to call a PDA. It's a good OS for small devices (many people think CE stands for Compact Edition). It works well in small platforms like netbooks and smart phones.

2. Although some may argue with me here, but I believe if it's used mainly for surfing - 128 RAM and 2G hard drive, while small - is not excessively small. ASUS led the way for the netbook revolution with the EEE PC. The First EEE PC from ASUS came out with a 2GB Hard drive and a 256 MB RAM - both can be upgraded - but not for newbies. People loved them so much a niche market was born and netbook is now a recognized term. (I myself prefer the linux version) Now, if you need it for anything else, requiring greater processing power or memory or if you want to store lots of stuff (songs, videos, etc.) on it, then this is not for you as the 2 GB will be small. After the OS (and apps) are loaded, you'll have (actually only 1 after the OS is loaded you'll do well to have 1GB left for storage.

I've had many PDA's until smart phones caught up to them, and WinCE and the smaller specs were never really an issue. On my latest phone I waivered between the iphone, a droid and a phone using Windows Mobile (based on the WinCE platform). In the end, I stayed with my carrier, but believe all 3 would have met my needs.

Note: This post was edited by forum moderator to break up giant paragraph, for ease of reading. on 03/18/2011 on 9:52 AM PT

- Collapse -
It's all in the name
Mar 19, 2011 7:42PM PDT

In my opinion the value of these cheap netbooks is all in the name of the O.S. WINCE. I know this because I wince whenever I try to use mine!

- Collapse -
I wouldn't go anywhere near them
Mar 11, 2011 3:24PM PST

Windows CE is a version of Windows operating system that was designed mainly for mobile computing. It has never really made any headway into it though as it's just not very good at all.

CE is just another version of Windows like XP, Vista or 7, however one major problem with this operating system is that there is very limited driver support for it."

The only real use that CE has is to be used just for internet browsing and sending/receiving e-mails. Anything else like running Office, watching DVD's, movies, etc is out of the question as you'll be lucky to find software for CE to run any of this. Even browsing the web can be a bit tricky with CE as there is no Flash player for CE, and therefore many sites that use Flash wont work, also at present I'm not aware of any HTML5 compatible web browser for CE which as more and more websites switch to HTML5 could cause major incompatibility problems.

One major problem with CE is that it can't use standard Windows software, or drivers, so you have to try and locate special software for it. Even things like 3G mobile broadband dongles don't work with it.

CE never really took off and so the support really isn't there, probably the most famous thing it was used in was the Sega Dreamcast (which shows how old this operating system is - and considering how much of a failure the Dreamcast was, how bad it was)

With the price of tablets you would probably be far better investing in an Android tablet like the Motorola Xoom, HTC Flyer, Samsung Galaxy Tab (or if you really must the iPad - although that does have one major disadvantage - no Flash player!)

Note: This post was edited by forum moderator to edit member's post to reflect their correction. Reply has been removed. on 03/18/2011 on 9:49 AM PT

- Collapse -
Your Wrong!
Mar 18, 2011 10:47AM PDT

CE never really took off and so the support really isn't there...

Windows CE is still sold in mass, It was created for mobile devices such as bar code scanners (motorolla brand, Intermec) and use in Reatil and warehouse operations world wide. The cell phone version was a pioneer in bringing in smartphones to us as well, though dated as compared to the New Windows Phone 7, or Iphone, Android, it was great in it days!

My company has hundreds of "symbol" Mc70's and Mc90's we use everyday and like walmart and every other retailer there are no other acceptable replacements.

As far as a cheap laptop running this, to most people it would be useless unless you have special software to run on theese made for this os

- Collapse -
Might of took off for industry usage, but not for home
Mar 18, 2011 7:07PM PDT

It might be used massively in industry but not for home usage, therefore it didn't really take off too well for the general public to use.

Same as saying to a home user that DAT tapes or DVD-RAM took off, they did in film studios (DVD-RAM) and radio stations (DAT), but most of the time never come across by home users - instead MiniDisc and DVD-R/+R took the lead. CE is in the same league, only useful for companies, where as for home use XP and 7 take the lead.

- Collapse -
Not quite Windows
Mar 11, 2011 3:58PM PST

I just wanted to read my PDF books. Doesn't work with Windows CE. Has to be converted to something else. No pictures, graphs, tables or dots. Useless for my needs. You will be able to view pictures, just not embedded with text.
Another warning;
One of my first purchases on eBay. Won for only $50 but paid another $58 in shipping from China.
The battery was pre-charged. Once the charge was gone the battery wouldn't recharge. Tried to buy another battery. Nothing compatible sold locally. It only works while plugged into the wall.
Pay more but get a LOT more use with another choice.

- Collapse -
Windows CE
Mar 11, 2011 10:48PM PST

Windows CE is a distinct operating system and kernel, rather than a trimmed-down version of desktop Windows.* From the Wiki page. That being said, these devices are not like a smart phone. They more closely resemble a very large GPS. Flash is available it is called Flash-lite, but it is usually bundled with the OS.

Also you would be able to use google for cloud computing, like google docs, for office type apps.
It will be slow, and very hard to find applications that are made to work with windows CE 6.0. You would be limited to those applications run in a browser, or made for older PDA's.

For using as an EBook reader, there is a version of windows reader that is supported, it reads the .LIT file format. And you can use calibre to convert to that format for free, but would need another computer to do that.

As a main computer this would be a frustrating experience. As a netbook used occasionally to view websites, or read a book or something, it would be ok, but I agree with most, better to get a full functioned laptop.

Check, or, they have sales every week it seems like for refurbished or off lease laptops, at very good prices.

- Collapse -
Don't buy!

My neighbor bought one of these (it was the only thing he could afford, being unemployed, and his nice computer got destroyed by a fire). Let me put it in short terms, without the language he yelled at it:
He hated it.
He couldn't download any real programs, because it turns out, CE is just a base for several mobile device platforms (like Pocket PC and Windows Mobile). And, he couldn't upgrade memory or the "hard drive" (which is actually a tiny memory chip built into the system, making it impossible to upgrade without rebuilding the motherboard, which would be so expensive). And, it broke down within 2 days of it arriving.
Bottom line-unless you're friend develops programs for mobile OSs, and has plenty of patience and cash to upgrade it and repair it, don't buy!

- Collapse -
If you ask, good but that's a sign
Mar 12, 2011 12:12AM PST

You need to stay away. While I owned own for a time to test out if our Windows Mobile and WinCE apps ran on such these units are so limited that it's not worth the money.

Don't bother unless you have a very good reason.

- Collapse -
You get less than you pay for!
Mar 12, 2011 1:08AM PST

Looks like everyone is against these "Netbooks" you were looking at' I agree! Generally a Netbook is a striped down laptop. They remove all the drives except a Hard Drive and basically give you a Modem, some memory and a slow processor ( 1 - 1.6Ghz or less). Unless you really need a small light-weight computer, with a small screen "Just for going on the Internet" they make no sense to buy. A used laptop will give you more for your money, includes a CD or DVD drive and more memory, storage and cost less. Most come with WiFi built in. Check the auction sites.

- Collapse -
Consider an ASUS
Mar 12, 2011 4:55AM PST

I was looking at these cheapies as well. I wanted something to contact to my desk top via Wi-fi to read email etc.

I bought a used Eee ASUS. I loaded Linux and it works fine. Down sides; small screen & keyboard.

Windows CE is more or less a castrated version of windows. Little support, few drivers. I wouldn't recommend it.

Your friend would probably be much happier with a "real" computer.

- Collapse -
window ce
Mar 12, 2011 5:58AM PST

i don;t know but i have got notebook from ebay it came from china whit window ce, the notebook wireless does know work, trying to get my money back from paypal, the seller sail I never mail it to them, so check if it from other country,it was a small notebook,it was like a toy.but is sound like it was unbrand too, hope this help, so don't buy it, I think it the same thing, on ebay it show 3or 4 different color, black and white, I think I got it for $179

- Collapse -
It's a computer.
Mar 12, 2011 6:11AM PST

You could install Debian to it, use gnash, and have a working environment.

- Collapse -
It's a badly-made toy, not a computer.
Mar 16, 2011 10:45PM PDT

<<You could install Debian to it, use gnash, and have a working environment.>>

Assuming it doesn't just stop working entirely, of course, and lots of these do precisely that, within hours or days.

- Collapse -
"Cheap" netbooks
Mar 12, 2011 7:56AM PST

I don't blame you for being skeptical; usually a deal that seems to be too good to be true, is. After searching eBay on these, the 2 GB hard drive is listed as a SSD (solid state drive), which is like a memory card. Not upgradable. Most of them appear to have an SD/SDHC card slot, with a 8-16 GB limit. In addition, there is no optical (CD/DVD) drive available to install software, like an office suite or anti-virus software.

Also, many of the listings caution the buyer to ask questions before bidding, anad to make sure they understand the limitations of the device; one or two even state that there will be NO cash returns.

Of course, the final decision is based on the intended use. If email is all that needed, these may be useful. I would be cautious, however, and remember that many computer stores will have refurbished or clearance notebooks w/ 2 GB ram and 250 GB hard drives for about $200-300.

- Collapse -
Compac Pocket CE
Mar 12, 2011 1:13PM PST

I bought one of these on eBay. The OS can not be upgraded and the "hard drive" is a non-replaceable memory chip. The tiny display is black and white. The only external port is a USB 1.0 which is supposed to plug into a desktop computer to download your files. It does come with a version of MS Works and a couple of games. Mine is branded Compac, a division of Hewlett Packard. I caught a great sale on an e-Machine netbook at Walmart and use it while traveling and regard the Compac as a toy.

- Collapse -
Mar 18, 2011 8:15PM PDT

Sometimes, slimeballs will market under a name that sounds oh so similar to a good company.

I hope you machine is indeed spelled Compac.

The HP division is spelled Compaq.

- Collapse -
Not All Netbooks are Created Equal
Mar 12, 2011 5:51PM PST

Please do not confuse these cheap Windows CE devices with other normal Netbooks from ASUS, HP, Acer, Toshiba, Dell and Lenovo that have real 160GB to 250GB hard drives(or use smaller Solid State Drives) and run Windows XP, Windows 7 or Linux. These Windows CE devices a pretty much worthless and are really more similar to having a large PDA or Palm Pilot that doesn't really work. I suppose you could relate them to having a large Smart Phone, without the Smart, without the phone and very few apps. They use a revised version of an archaic embedded operating system call Windows CE which you will not be able to find much in the way of drivers, software or applications other than the ones that come with it. You can not upgrade the Hard Drive (which is not a real hard drive but rather just a memory chip). You would be much better off putting the money toward a real Netbook running Windows XP or Windows 7 or even a low cost Notebook which can be had for under $350 now. You could even look at refurbished laptops but I do have to caution you that like used cars, you never know what you are getting and it is not uncommon to have the hard drive fail after just a few weeks with a used or refurbished machine. If you are capable of replacing the drive yourself and reinstalling the operating system then this is may not be that big a deal but if you need to send it out to be repaired it could run you $200 or more.

I would like to mention that normal Netbooks, not the CE devices, can be very useful depending on your needs. I have used one everyday for the past 2 years to remote into my Desktop computer to check my email, schedule and client accounts. I can surf the internet and create or edit Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. I can also use it as a tool to setup networks, test monitors and train clients. It has a 9 hour battery life, is small and easy to carry and I could not live without it. And since I use it to remote into my main computer, if I break it or it gets lost or stolen, there is no actual data on it and I could run out and pick up another one and be back up and running in less than 10 minutes. For me, it is an ideal tool. You do have to be careful to keep them clean and not overloaded with complex applications and avoid some of the more resource hogging security software. I have many clients that find them to be the perfect choice when a smart phone is just not enough and a full size laptop is too much to lug around. I always recommend upgrading the memory from the normal 1GB to the max which is usually 2GB, which will run you about $40 more. The line between Smart Phones, Tablets, Pads, Slates, Netbooks and Notebooks is really starting to blur and it is becoming more and more difficult to tell them apart and even more difficult to decide which one is best for you. But if you think it is bad now, just wait until all the new ipad competing tablets start rolling out in the coming months. You have seen nothing yet?

Wayland Computer

- Collapse -
just to thank you
Mar 19, 2011 3:06AM PDT

Hi Waytron

Just to thank you for your contributions......I read most of your letters and find your advice very useful.
Keep up the good work...

- Collapse -
WIndows CE Netbooks
Mar 13, 2011 12:55AM PST

Others may have different view but I believe that these are some of the very first generation of laptops/netbooks that came out. It depends really what your friend want but there are two issues. The RAM (in this case 12Cool is the speed with which the computer process information that is sent to it. One way of looking at it is like a road where 128 Ram would be like a small country road. Todays laptops/netbooks have at least 1 GB and this would be like a three lane motorway (the american interstate). SO they are slow and I mean really slow. The Windows CE is an early operating system. Computers have developed a lot since then and there would be limits to what you can do with it - Whilst Windows Vista can handle stuff set up on Windows CE it would be near impossible for thinks to work the other way around. Most websites today use codes that were simply not as developed (if invented) so you would struggle with surfing on the internet. Cheap yes but I would not buy one.

- Collapse -
Errors in terminology
Mar 20, 2011 10:30AM PDT

RAM is not "the speed with which the computer process information that is sent to it." RAM is the amount of system memory for running the OS, applications, and holding data being processed in memory.

CPU speed or frequency is the correct term to match your description. CPU frequency will show a measurement in mhz or ghz, not MB or GB.

- Collapse -
You Get What You Pay For!
Mar 16, 2011 10:32PM PDT

You're right to be leery about these--they are cheap, and therefore badly-made, toys. The fact that the makers refuse to put their name(s) on them tells you all you need to know about them. The fact that they run Windows CE, a primitive and obsolete PDA and/or phone OS, tells you the same thing.

There *are* netbooks that work reliably, but they are all branded. Even those, in my opinion, aren't worth buying. If I got one as a gift, I'd try to sell it, or give it to someone I don't like a whole lot. Your friend can get a decent, low-end notebook for under $600, with 4GB RAM and a 320GB hard drive, running Windows 7, and s/he won't be throwing the money down a rat-hole.

- Collapse -
win ce netbooks
Mar 18, 2011 10:45AM PDT

Hold your horses. I read the first few posts and there is not much real info (I didn't read the entire thread). Windows CE is a PDA operating system. @gb hdd yes, CE doesn't use much at all. For an entertainment machine, it lacks. But for things like email, typing and general non-flash (read: no youtube afaik) web browsing it's okay.

It has its place, just not a powerhouse of any kind. It has the bells and whistles of a netbook, sans camera afaik, and a PDA is a PDA bettter when it has a full keyboard. NOT a gaming machine, yes, it is expandable but only through it's own USB and maybe an SD card slot. Wireless, sounds, small games (no Halo for this thing) and a great note taking device. I have messed with one, and all in all not so bad. But not a high end machine by any means.

Very basic, like a 486 online these days.


- Collapse -
I'm totally guessing here...
Mar 18, 2011 10:58AM PDT

...but I'm assuming your friend wants a small computer for end-use, but not for hobby or software engineering use?

If that's the case, then I echo what the other folks on this thread are telling you - suggest your friend have a look at the Eee PC from Asus, or the Aspire One from Acer (we have one of these - my wife _loves_ it). The Aspire has a modern, dual-core processor chip and is quite capable. We got it on sale from Costco for $299. Obviously the iPad is a good choice but certainly more expensive.

If your friend is a little more adventurous or perhaps used to using a smartphone, but he/she isn't interested in an oversized phone device, there's the Motorola Xoom tablet, which is also a dual-core processor and now available as WiFi only device (i.e., no cell-phone capability). The Xoom runs a new, tablet-optimized version of Google's Android OS called "Honeycomb." It's a very nice device. I've heard a friend at a large retailer tell me that they'll be discounting the WiFi Xoom at $399. Not uber-cheap but still less than the $599 iPad.

There's also the Dell Inspiron Duo which is both a netbook and a tablet with a funky-cool swivel screen cantilever display. It's pretty nice but also expensive ($599).

- Collapse -
Mar 18, 2011 11:20AM PDT

I got seduced by the pricing and size of one of these on a deal a day site. I got the B I C 7 inch model. It came to me drop shipped from China. It is absolutely useless. it is slow and relatively non functional. I tried everything to find something that it does well, but it was to no avail.NOTHING well.. After a week of on and off utter frustration, it has been back in its box for about 3 months. Its totally limited function is hampered by it's slowness,yes it has WiFi but it is as slow as an old 500 baud modem..Despite my cable connection. If you still want it after reading this I will sell you mind absolutely dirt cheap. probably better to find a reconditioned early netbook for a few bucks more!!! At least it may work..whatever you do, do not buy one of these P.O.S. things. they're a total waste of hard earned cash.

- Collapse -
"Jolicloud" fixed my problems
Mar 18, 2011 1:23PM PDT

I have an Asus EEE 901 that came with Windows pre-installed. No matter how few programs I would have running, its web connection was PAINFULLY slow... I mean - 3 minutes just to connect to home page, for example? I then upgraded my memory from 1Gb to 2Gb last month at a modest cost. Well, it helped a tiny bit with some of my resident programs, but had zero effect on the web. I started erasing program after program to streamline it as much as could be done, but nothing helped. Like you, I finally relegated it to its box.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a big chance that worked out. I downloaded JOLICLOUD, which is a simple OS with a few nice perks. I decided to erase my entire hard drive when I installed Jolicloud (having already transferred my few important things onto a thumb drive.) Jolicloud did erase everything for me and installed itself.

My little netbook is now about as fast as my 8Gb RAM desktop computer! True - Jolicloud is NOT Windows, and I am still adjusting to it. However, the adjustments are well worth it! It's fast fast fast! I highly recommend you check it out. Good luck!

CNET Forums

Forum Info