As a professional writer I am on a perpetual hunt for two things. One, is more places to sell writing, or otherwise earn money writing, and the other is more time to write. No matter how hard one looks, there can never be enough of either.
The constant pursuit of writing excellence can be enhanced with certain tools for writers. Some of these writing tools are technologies or gadgets that can help do some aspect of the writing business better, faster, easier, or cheaper. Other writing tools are old standbys that have helped writers for many years. The latter includes writing books like the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, a good dictionary, a good thesaurus, and a good old notebook and pen.
When it comes to technology based writing tools, finding great tools for writers can be hit or miss. The grammar-checker in Microsoft Word can be customized to be a powerful writing tool, but by default is very annoying, for example. Many things that sound like they would be enormously helpful end up being only moderately helpful, or not helpful at all. Other things that sound like they would be wasteful gadgets end up being a writer’s best friend. Determining which is which in advance is tricky.
Acer Netbook Aspire One D250
For quite some time, I’ve given a lot of thought to purchasing a netbook. A netbook, is an inexpensive and highly portable computer. The trade off is, of course speed. A powerful sub-three pound notebook will run you a $1,000, while these 2 lb. and change netbooks can cost much less than $300, a much smaller investment.
If you looked at netbooks when they first came out like I did, you probably came to the conclusion that they were not usable for serious writers. You were not wrong.
Things like improperly placed SHIFT keys and tiny non-tactile keys made them impossible to touch-type on, which makes it worthless for most pro writers. Ironically, such things were ignore by the click-and-browse crowd. On one forum, a poster actually commented that they didn’t use the Right-Shift key all that much anyway! (What, you don’t capitalize any words that start with s, t, a… ?)
However, technology moves fast, especially in competitive arenas like computer hardware and laptops. Newer netbooks come with keyboards that have most of the keys in the right places. When a solid Acer Netbook hit the one-deal-a-day website Woot.com, I jumped on it. I’m glad I did.
What finally tipped the balance in favor of buying a netbook?
Basically, while at a Starbucks with my car parked 5 blocks away, my laptop locked securely in the trunk because this was a food, drink, and shopping excursion downtown, an idea that I had been fumbling around with the wording on gelled in my mind as I was waiting for my latte. Fortunately, I have a notebook and a pen for just this sort of occurrence, but this particular instance called for pulling up some previous research, doing a little bit of current events research and incorporating it all.
On my laptop, this is not a problem as I just keep opening windows and programs as the ideas flow, giving each one its start and then returning to the original document, or moving on to the next thought. Unfortunately, with a notebook, all you can do is jot down each of these items, and as you do, you lose momentum, and that train of thought becomes a train wreck of notes that you will be lucky to decipher with any meaning later.
I tried to use my mobile phone’s Internet connection, which is fine under normal usage, but it withers under pressure. I can’t open more than one window (even with a tabbed mobile browser like Opera, more than 2 or 3 is suicide) and I can’t type fast enough. I ruefully wished that I could have something like my phone that I could carry around everywhere but that would have enough power to run a real web browser and that would have a keyboard I could touch-type on. It occurred to me that a netbook is the closest thing out there. Nothing smaller is really possible because then you would lose the touch-type possibility.
I didn’t have much hope of it working out when I re-examined some netbooks. The keyboards are tight, but workable. The screens are small, but perfectly fine for typing and basic research, and the Wi-Fi offers close-enough to anywhere connectivity.
Netbook Keyboard Comparison
How does a netbook keyboard compare to a regular keyboard? It is smaller. Duh! We all knew that. How MUCH smaller? That’s a trickier question to answer. Many netbooks report their keyboard size based on how much it is compared to a full-size keyboard, as in 94% of full-sized keyboard.
There are two big problems with this measurement. First, I have yet to be able to find exactly what constitutes a full-sized keyboard, so for all we know that is 94% of something that none of us use.
The second issue, is that percentages can be deceptive. Consider this. My Logitech MX3200 wireless keyboard is 11 1/4 inches across from the left-most edge of the CAPS LOCK key to the right-most edge of the ENTER key. That means that 90% of my keyboard would be 10 1/8" or one and an eighth inches smaller. That doesn’t sound like much except that each of the letter keys is 5/8" wide, meaning that in a keyboard that is just 10% smaller than full sized, is the equivalent of 2 whole letters narrower. In other words, one percent matters a lot when you are talking about keyboard size. Don’t let that 94% number fool you, the difference is HUGE.
However, based on standing there typing on the demo netbooks, it seemed like I could make it work, although, the only way to know for sure is to use one in the real world the way a freelance writer uses a laptop or other computer. Unfortunately, that can be a pricy experiment.
Luckily, with the Woot deal, I got an Acer Aspire D250 netbook with the 160 GB Hard Drive and the 1 GB of RAM (this one can be upgraded to 2 GB supposedly) and most importantly, with the bigger battery (what’s the point of getting a sub 3 lb. notebook if you’re just going to add 1/2 lb. of weight and a bunch more bulk to carry around a charger) for just over $200 including shipping.
It is refurbished and a far cry from the best of the best netbooks out there from what I understand, but in the handful of days I have owned it, it has proved that the netbook can be a valuable edition to an author’s collection of writer’s tools. I’ll update in the coming days and weeks as I get a better feel for what it can and cannot do. Hopefully, this will allow other writers to find netbooks that fit their needs.