Smartphones and Chromebooks

Updated 20-Sep-2023

Blast from the past, this request for smartphone/netbook recommendations comes from May, 2009. Updated below with comments from July, 2018. Note that we've updated the title from Netbooks to Chromebooks.

Help! Too Many Choices

> Jeff, I am in need of a portable device for accessing email when I'm on the road. Of course it would be nice to have access to the internet in general and stuff like a GPS, etc. So I'm thinking it may be time to get an IPhone. The 8G is only $200 and the 16G has come down to $300. I heard there is a new one that is supposed to be Verizon capable. > > However, it is not the easiest thing to type on (I hear) and everyone says if you are primarily going to use it for email, get a blackberry. But if that's the case, maybe I should look into mini notebooks which seem really cheap and I could watch movies on the plane! What do you think about what's out there and what's coming soon. > > Help! Too many choices!

Dear Help

The Iphone is very expensive as it requires a high speed data plan (and 2 year contract). The question is how much email do you need to do as well as other full-screen needs (how much working on documents, accessing websites, etc.).

Smartphone (2.5-3.5" screen)

Update 21 July 2018 - Nowadays a 4.5-6" screen is more the norm, and even the smallest iphone available is a 4" screen. What a difference 9 years makes.


  • Small screen
    • Update: less so
  • Thumb-board instead of keyboard
    • Update: wireless/detachable keyboards and swiping keyboards
  • Limited app support (e.g., Office apps)
    • Update: a lot more apps supported, though amazingly less than one would think for 9 years


  • Very portable (essentially replaces current phone)
  • If you get a good high end one with camera/video can replace your current camera for greater portability (sell camera on craigslist). Note that the iPhone does not actually take video (very cheap camera in it) but high end Nokia, Samsung, and Blackberries do have 3mp+ video cameras in it (Sony is too expensive as well).

Netbook (10.2" screen)

Update 21 July 2018 - Nowadays the Chromebook has taken over the 10" market, with a slew of competitors in the 12-14" screen size.


  • Have to manage it like a laptop (e.g., app installs, configuration)
    • Update: Chromebooks mitigate this somewhat, but overall still an issue of management for anything with a complex set of apps
  • One more thing to carry around (though 3 pounds is not bad)
    • Update: Ha, now we can do this for 2 pounds in a Chromebook
  • Apple doesn't have one of these, and when they will, it will be expensive
    • Update: The 12" Macbook and even moreso the entire tablet ecosystem has grown up in the past 9 years.
  • External cd/dvd only (another thing to carry)
    • Update: External cd/dvd?


  • Prices are getting lower (5 hours out of the battery even with wifi
  • Full operating system/computer, can do anything desktop can
  • They now have 120gb and bigger drives for lots of video/audio collection (update: the cloud makes this less important)
  • Can act as desktop if plug in monitor, keyboard, mouse, sound


  • Get a smartphone AND a netbook. That way you have two options, are fully portable, and are 2k10-ready. Put everything up on Craigslist (phone, camera, desktop) to recover some of the money.
    • Update: still a valid recommendation. For specifics as of July, 2018 try the Asus C101PA for around $250 (and can run Android and Linux aps) and Xiaomi Redmi 6 (~$250) or Xiaomi Mi 6 Ceramic (~$350).
      • Update: as of mid 2019, the Xiaomi Mi Play is probably the best for price point

Asus C101PA

Xiaomi Mi 6 Ceramic