Small does have disadvantages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 August, 1998, 12:00am

So what are the disadvantages of a mini-notebook? There seem to be three chief ones: Small screens. The biggest notebook PCs today have screens of up to 14.1 inches diagonally. That is equivalent to a standard 17-inch desktop PC monitor. Users can surf the Web comfortably, run graphics applications such as Photoshop, even do page layout. Not so with mini-notebooks. To keep costs and overall size down, mini-notebooks have LCD screens you might have to squint at. They range from the 6.1-inch Toshiba Libretto, to the Acer TravelMate's 8.4-inch screen, to the relatively huge 11.3-incher on the Sharp Mebius.

Petite keyboards. These typically measure about 70 to 80 per cent the size of standard keyboards. Men with large hands may have trouble touch-typing on a mini-notebook. As Danyll Wills, Technology Post contributor and owner of a Sony Vaio, put it, mini-notebooks can make users feel like they have 'sausage-sized' fingers. Women and two-finger typists may have an easier time. The Japanese keyboard also may bother users.

The character, usually over the '2' key, sits to the right of the 'P' key in the Japanese layout, for example.

The same applies to the feel of the keys, which typically are less crisp than fuller-sized keyboards.

Dongles. Surely, a mini-notebook may be lighter, but you gain in vital components that need to be connected externally. For instance, all mini-notebooks hook up to an external floppy drive. The CD-Rom hooks up via the PC Card slot and may be an extra, costing $2,000 or more.

Most importantly, some of the mini-notebooks lack vital ports like the parallel port (for the printer or the Zip drive), the serial port (for the printer or the mouse), and the PS/2 port (for the mouse). Instead, users must plug the mini-notebook into an 'external port replicator', which adds weight.