Netbooks are a category of small, lightweight, legacy-free, and inexpensive laptop computers.
At their inception in late 2007 as smaller notebooks optimized for low weight and low cost — netbooks omitted certain features (e.g., the optical drive), featured smaller screens and keyboards, and offered reduced computing power when compared to a full-sized laptop. Over the course of their evolution, netbooks have ranged in size from below 5″ screen diagonal to 12″. A typical weight is 1 kg (2.2 pounds). Often significantly less expensive than other laptops, by mid-2009, some wireless data carriers began to offer netbooks to users “free of charge”, with an extended service contract purchase.
In the short period since their appearance, netbooks grew in size and features, and converged with smaller, lighter netbooks and subnotebooks. By August 2009, when comparing a Dell netbook to a Dell notebook, CNET called netbooks “nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks,” noting, “the specs are so similar that the average shopper would likely be confused as to why one is better than the other,” and “the only conclusion is that there really is no distinction between the devices.”
By 2011, the increasing popularity of tablet computers (particularly the iPad)—a different form factor, but with similar computing capabilities and price range—had led to a decline in netbook sales. At the high end of the performance spectrum, ultra-light portables with a traditional keyboard and display have been revolutionized by the 11.6″ MacBook Air, which due to its significantly higher cost, made fewer performance sacrifices. Capitalizing on the success of the MacBook Air, Intel promoted ultrabooks as a new high-mobility standard, which has been hailed by some analysts as succeeding where netbooks failed. As a result of these two developments, netbooks of 2011 have kept price as their only strong point, losing in the design, ease-of-use and portability department to tablets and to ultrabooks in the features and performance field.