What's the difference between notebooks, netbooks and ultra-mobile PCs?

The Future of Mobile Computing

New products will blur the lines further between netbooks, notebooks and UPMCs. At CES 2009, Asus showed off the Eee T91 and T101H computers. These devices are a cross between tablets and netbooks. They feature screens mounted on a pivot -- you can turn the screen around and fold it back over the keyboard. A touchscreen interface allows you to use the netbook as a tablet PC. These products will hit the market in 2009. At the time of this article, Asus has not made an official announcement regarding the price of these products.

Smartphones also have the potential to make the mobile computing landscape more confusing. As smartphones become more powerful, they begin to fill the same niche as netbooks. In general, smartphones range in price from around $199 to more than $900. They're very portable and multifunctional. Companies that design applications for smartphones may incorporate more cloud computing strategies in their products in the near future.

At the same time, some netbook manufacturers are partnering with cell phone carriers to include cellular technology in their products. Some netbooks can access 3G, EDGE and other cellular networks for data transfers. While data transfers using these protocols tend to be slower than WiFi, the infrastructure for cellular networks has a stronger foundation than WiFi networks.

One thing is for certain: mobility is important. People want to be able to access applications and data any time and anywhere. They may want a device that has its own spacious hard drive or a netbook they can use to log into a remote data storage service -- or they may not know what they want.

While netbooks accounted for a significant percentage of computer sales during the 2008 holiday season, the return rate on netbooks is relatively high. That may be due to consumers misunderstanding the purpose of netbooks. The devices aren't as powerful as notebooks, laptops and desktop computers. They also tend to have smaller keyboards and some people have trouble typing during an extended computing session. And people who choose netbooks running on Linux may become frustrated with an unfamiliar operating system (OS).

Despite the return rates, the popularity of netbooks and other portable computing devices continues to grow. The convenience of these devices coupled with tough economic times may mean the days of the super-powerful and expensive desktop PC are numbered.

To learn more about portable computers, take a look at the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Apple. http://www.apple.com
  • Asus. http://usa.asus.com/news_show.aspx?id=13980
  • Broersma, Matthew. "Linux 'teething problems' affect netbook returns." ZDNet UK. Oct. 10, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009) http://www.builderau.com.au/news/soa/Linux-teething-problems-affect-netbook-returns/ 0,339028227,339292575,00.htm
  • Erdos, Zoli. "Netbook or Notebook? It's Not Only About Size." Cloud Ave. Oct. 31, 2008. (Jan 28, 2009) http://www.cloudave.com/link/netbook-or-notebook-it%25e2%2580%2599s-not-only-about-size- 31-10-2008
  • Flynn, David. "Four times the return rate for Linux netbooks compared to XP." APC Magazine. Oct. 7, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009) http://apcmag.com/xp_leads_linux_in_the_netbook_stakes.htm
  • Hamblen, Matt. "Netbook…notebook…oh, let's call it a mobile PC." IT World. Oct. 29, 2008. (Jan. 29, 2009). http://www.itworld.com/hardware/56910/netbook-notebook-oh-lets-call-it-mobile-pc
  • Lenovo. http://www.lenovo.com/US/
  • Malik, Om. "For Amazon, Netbooks Are a Smash Hit." GigaOm. Dec. 26, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009) http://gigaom.com/2008/12/26/for-amazon-netbooks-are-a-smash-hit/
  • Microsoft. "Ultra Mobile PC." http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/umpc/default.mspx
  • Samsung. http://www.samsung.com/
  • Toshiba. http://www.toshiba.com/