Netbooks disappoint consumers, says survey

Buyers expect a netbook to equal a notebook, are unhappy when that's not true

Netbook owners are more likely to be disappointed with their machines than people who purchase larger and more expensive laptops, a retail research firm said today.

Just 58% of consumers who bought a netbook rather than a notebook said they were very satisfied, compared to 70% who admitted they planned to buy a netbook all along, according to a survey of 600 American adults conducted by the NPD Group.

The disappointment with netbooks -- NPD analyst Stephen Baker preferred that term rather than "dissatisfaction" -- stemmed from expectations that a netbook was the same, more or less, as a laptop. Six out of every 10 netbook buyers, said Baker, thought that the two were equivalent, and figured that their new netbook would have the same functionality as a laptop.

Notebooks generally sport larger screens, larger keyboards, larger hard drives and more memory than do netbooks. They also run different operating systems. Microsoft, for instance, sells its aged Windows XP Home to netbook makers, but markets Windows Vista to laptop OEMs. Rival Apple doesn't even play in the netbook category, and instead aims for the higher end of the laptop price spectrum.

"OEMs aren't marketing [netbooks] properly," said Baker, "because consumers think they can use it just like a notebook."

One age group was especially unhappy with netbooks. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, an important demographic to netbook sellers, who tout low prices to the money-challenged college-aged crowd, 65% said they expected better performance than they got from their netbooks. Only about one in four, 27%, said their netbooks performed better than anticipated.

Of the factors that netbook buyers prized, portability was tops, with 60% of those surveyed putting it at the No. 1 spot. But even there, consumers said one thing and did another, since that same percentage said that once theit netbook was home, it never left the house.

"I was impressed with the number of people who chose a netbook because of the mobility factor," said Baker. "That means that at least some of the marketing message [by netbook makers] is getting through." 'The attraction of mobility, even if it's a chimera to most buyers, gives OEMs something to work with, said Baker. "There is a value proposition to mobility, and the CULV stuff will address the mobility piece in a form factor that people might appreciate more than a netbook."

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