Review: 4 'large' netbooks -- are they better or just bigger?

Netbooks have been the small wonders of the mobile world. But are the latest models getting too big to deserve the name?

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Lenovo IdeaPad S12

Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 is the heavyweight of his netbook foursome. Weighing in at 3.4 lb., it's several ounces heavier than the Samsung NC20, and at 1.1 by 11.7 by 9.0 in., it's half an inch wider. Compared with the Acer Aspire One, the IdeaPad is positively huge. Add the system's AC adapter, and you've got a 4.1 lb. package.

Like the Samsung NC20, the IdeaPad S12 is built around a 12.1-in. screen that shows 1280-by-800 resolution graphics. It packs Intel's one-two netbook punch of a 1.6-GHz Atom processor and Intel GM945 graphics accelerator. Lenovo sells a version with Via's Chrome HC3 graphics engine and the Via Nano processor (the same used on the Samsung NC20) for $50 less and plans to have an IdeaPad with Nvidia's Ion combination of an Atom processor and an Nvidia graphics chip that should raise its performance potential.

Large netbooks
Lenovo IdeaPad S12

The weight pays off in one way: The IdeaPad is the only system of the bunch that has an ExpressCard slot for adding accessories such as a 3G data card. The rest of the configuration includes 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and plenty of ports for connecting the IdeaPad to accessories and the world. Along with a flash card reader and microphone and headphone jacks, the IdeaPad has a connector for an external monitor, an Ethernet adapter and three USB slots. The IdeaPad lacks Bluetooth.

With 18.9mm keys, the IdeaPad is comfortable to type on, although I preferred the larger keys on the Acer Aspire One. The system has dedicated buttons for volume up, down and mute, as well as tiny speakers up front. Above the screen is a webcam.

The IdeaPad delivers a nice balance of performance and battery life, although its screen was not as bright as the Aspire One's. It achieved a 237.4 on the Passmark PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark, loaded my test PowerPoint presentation in 18.9 seconds and ran for 4 hours and 46 minutes on its six-cell 4,700 mAh battery pack, putting it in the middle of this group. Its 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection had a range of only 95 feet, quite a bit short of the best.

In addition to Windows XP Home, the IdeaPad includes a program for sticky notes and a copy of Norton Internet Security with 60 days of updates.

The stand-out application is Device VM's Splashtop quick-start Linux software that brings up a choice of seven apps in about 10 seconds. It's great for making a Skype phone call or for quickie Web research, but to get to Windows and its apps you need to reboot the machine.

The IdeaPad lists for $500 and comes with a one-year warranty, second-best compared with either the MSI or Aspire.

At over 4 lb. with its AC adapter, the IdeaPad is ultimately too big for grab-and-go mobility. Don't get me wrong -- it has positive features, but the IdeaPad is just too big and bulky to be an effective netbook.

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