One of the things that is new on our BETT stand this year is a netbook “Wall of Cool”, with a dozen netbooks to look at and compare. Although there are loads of suppliers at BETT, all showing off their latest mini laptops, you can’t visit a stand elsewhere where they are all lined up together. So you can compare them side by side, and you’ll be able to see how their speed, graphics, weight and design vary between manufacturers and price brackets.

Side by side netbook comparison

And last night, we thought we’d do a true Top-Gear style road test. We loaded as many as we could get into a laptop bag (a big laptop bag, but could still only fit 7) and trundled them down to a local hostelry with a group of teachers and network managers.

They passed the first test – they were all working still when we got there!

And after we’d achieved the necessary preparation (minimum 2 glasses of wine/beer in order to judge!) we set off trying to arrange them from Seriously UnCool to Sub Zero.

There was plenty of debate as I handed them around – with lots of opinions on keyboard size, style, colour, which paint job was best/worst etc. And although the middle of the chart moved around during the debate, there was no serious debate about the winner and the loser in this discussion:

image

Our hero turned out to be the Samsung NC10 (Link), which people thought looked good, felt good, and had the right keyboard and screen. One of the schools there had decided to standardise on it for next year (but kept that quiet until after the judging!), and we could all certainly see why.

And then in order, came:

  • The Asus Eee PC 1000H (Link) which pipped all of the other similar devices because of its smart pearlescent paint job.
  • The Toshiba NB100 (Link) which divided opinion – some complaining the keyboard and screen was too small (noticeably smaller than the others), but others thinking that made it more convenient.
  • Then the Elonex Webbook in Black (Link), with a flecky metallic finish, followed closely by,
  • The Elonex Webbook in White (Link) which was exactly the same spec, but didn’t have street cred of the black one.
  • Falling a little further behind was the HiGrade Notino L100 (Link), which wasn’t saved by its “England” football team branding.
    (The lone voice of the Welsh on the panel didn’t shift the vote too far backwards!)

But the device that created the most discussion (but not debate) was the Fizzbook from Zoostorm (Link)

It started off well, with somebody observing that it looked like it might be good primary schools, because it “looked like it could take a battering”, and its in-built carrying handle would be “natural to take to class”. But then opinion moved around quickly. After the observation, put kindly, that it is “astonishingly retro”, and looked a little too “Fisher Price”, one of the teachers observed that in the hands of secondary school students, the handle would be a problem “The kids will feel like they’re being told to carry it by the handle, so they simply wont”. And the final nail in the coffin came as one panellist loudly declared “I’m not touching that, it looks like a handbag”. So Fizzbook, you might have a cooler name than some, but the panel simply couldn’t pull you out of the ‘Seriously Uncool’ box!

So well done Samsung NC10, you stood out a mile. And sorry Fizzbook, better luck next time.

This wasn’t the most scientific process, and we might even have been unfair to our losers. But it did illustrate that there are netbooks, and there are netbooks, and it pays to look around before deciding which one is right for your students.

Thanks to the panelist – Mike, Dave, Dave, Alan, Sharee, Mark, Pippa, Stuart, Chris and Rory. And thanks to all of the people that lent us the netbooks.

Oh, and sorry for the beer stains on the keyboards…