I thought the answer to this question was pretty straightforward, to be honest, in that a netbook was smaller, cheaper and less powerful than a notebook. That was until this press release about a couple of new Toshiba models arrived in my inbox which kind of muddies the water somewhat.
You see Toshiba has released a couple of what it is calling 'Mini Netbooks' into the mix. No problem, you probably think, so these are really tiny then. Indeed, you might imagine the Mini Netbook would have the form factor of one of the late but not at all lamented UMPC devices that the likes of Sony were telling us was the future before the future arrived without them.
But who would want a 6" screen netbook? And to be a 'mini' one has to believe that these new Toshiba devices must be smaller than the first wave of netbooks which, if my memory serves me well came replete with screens varying in size between 7" and 8.9" at the most. As people became more interested in the notion of a netbook, and more manufacturers entered the market, in order to differentiate themselves they started increasing the screen size to 10" and beyond.
The answer to 'who wants a netbook like that' could well be me. A 6" screen but still coming "packed with features" and "boasting an 11 hour battery life" the press release from reseller IT247 proudly boasts. After conceding that netbooks have "struggled to make an impact in the computing market" claiming that allegations of "limited capability and low battery lifespans" could be the guilty parties, the release then goes on to blow the Toshiba trumpet regarding the NB300 and NB305 mini netbooks.
"The Toshiba principle of packing as much as possible into as small a space as they can certainly seems to have paid off this time" says IT247 laptop specialist Rob Woolley, adding that the real bonus is the 11 hour battery life which means "you can do a full day’s work without having to be tethered to a power point – perfect for business users on the go".
What else does the press release tell us about the Toshiba Mini NB300 and 305 machines? Well, they come with either XP or Windows 7 Starter and that six-cell battery. Under the hood you'll find an Intel Atom 1.66GHz processor (with integrated graphics card and memory controller) plus up to 250GB of storage and WiFi.
Sounds pretty much like any other netbook, apart from the size. So just how small is the screen on these things? Oddly the press release doesn't mention that, so I ventured online to do a little more digging to get the dimensions of this truly tiny 'mini netbook' that will surely start a new revolution in mobile computing - at least while we wait for the Apple iPad to arrive that is.
Er, well, maybe not. These mini netbooks have 10.1" screens it appears.
Ah, so actually, despite admitting that netbooks have not exactly set the IT world on fire what these devices actually are, are netbooks. In fact, given the screen sizes you might be forgiven for thinking that they are more accurately described as ultra-portable notebooks.
My current netbook sports a 10" screen, which makes it feel more like a cheap and cheerful netbook than the small (and if I am brutally honest rather cramped) netbook that it replaced. Indeed, when you start getting into 10" screen territory I'm not actually sure that the netbook or notebook question should even be asked: to everyone but the marketing folk these are notebooks. I believe we used to call them budget notebooks considering the spec. Certainly to call the new Toshiba netbooks 'mini netbooks' to try and pull them out of crowded marketplace and elevate them into a whole new sector is, well, stretching credibility just a tad.