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Netbooks for Photographers Asus Eee PC and others
I found a better way to back up my photographs in the field.
Since laptops are too heavy to carry around all day, I used to rely on image tanks for backup outdoors. That strategy works very well for me, but it did lack the capability of viewing images. That is where expensive image tanks with RAW viewer such as the Epson P6000 come in. Since the P6000 costs about $600 at the time of this writing and this photographer is always looking for better deals, I never bought one.
I ended up carrying my laptop on many trips so that I could connect to the internet and manage my websites. Outside, I simply swapped flash memory cards and back in the hotel room, I ran backups to my laptop and my image tank. I carry the image tank into the field, in case I run out of memory.
Asus to the rescue
So far, I have ignored the Netbook market as child’s toys, but that changed with the introduction of the Asus Eee PC 1000 series. I am now the proud owner of an Asus Eee PC 1000HE, a miniature laptop that claims to operate 9.5 hours on battery and deliver an entire day of cordless computing. The “super hybrid engine” delivers this performance in power savings mode with Wi-Fi off.
Power savings mode is fast enough to type this post while surfing the web (Wi-Fi on) and doing some basic photo editing. With Wi-Fi enabled, I still get between 7.5 to 8 hours performance out of this small computer.
This little Netbook is exactly what I need for my trips since it is an excellent photo backup solution. I can install a RAW viewer, an Office Package, an Image Editor, and an FTP program to keep my web business running while traveling or search for information from my hotel room. Google Earth makes it possible to scout without being there.
Keeping within the airline weight limits is hard for travel photographers. Expensive lenses have to stay at home in favor of universal zoom lenses. Saving weight for computers will help me to optimize my carry-on luggage.
Netbooks have grown up
The 1000HE has a 10-inch screen size with a native resolution of 1024x600 pixels, a usable keyboard that is comfortable enough to type this article, a 160GB drive, several USB ports, and one of the best touchpads in this class of computers. It looks very classy, except that the lid attracts fingerprints just as my iPhone does.
The Eee PC will be my new travel companion instead of my laptop. It came with a nice soft pouch to carry it. It will be great for visits to libraries and bookstores without having to hunt for power outlets.
Being able to work all day without having to plug the computer in is one of the main reasons I bought this particular model. I hope never to run out of power in an airplane or to look desperately for seats next to power outlets in an airport again. I should be able to keep working even on long haul flights and long layovers.
The Asus 1000HE comes with Windows XP. I have installed Microsoft Office via an external drive, since I did not like to learn the included Star Office.
For my photo editing needs on the go, I am using PhotoScape, a freeware program. Photoshop is too heavy for this laptop and my license only permits installation on two computers.
Later I will buy a copy of Photoshop Elements since I do not like the RAW converter of PhotoScape. It only allows a direct conversion without editing capabilities.
The better backup system
The Epson Image Tank is smaller, yet more expensive and has less capacity. It is an excellent technology to have, but I already own a much cheaper Wolverine. The Eee PC fills the gap between my mobile devices like the iPhone and my laptop and it can serve as an Image Tank. It already includes a SD/MMC card reader. I wish it had a compact flash reader as well, but my USB card reader works nicely.
I chose the Eee PC 1000HE for its low price and longevity of the battery. Getting a computer that runs for 9 hours on battery with a price tag of $375 shipped (at the time of this writing) is outstanding.
Other manufacturers have come up with Netbooks of their own, trying to take market share from Asus.
Some of the main competitors
The latest Lenovo S10 Netbook: It is Lenovo, which by itself makes it worth to look, but its battery lifetime did not convince me. If battery life is not your main concern, this may be a good alternative.
The newest Acer Aspire One AOD150 is another good choice. It comes with a 6-cell battery vs. the Lenovo 3-cell and has a decent run time. Its touch pad and keyboard are not as good as the one from Asus, but the Netbook is slightly smaller.
The HP mini 1035 has the best keyboard, but it does only come with a 60GB hard drive. If you do not need to back up more than 20GB of photographs in the field, this may be a very good choice for you.
If you do not wish to back up any photographs and just need an ultra portable and fast computing solution, get a Netbook with Solid State Disk. They do not even have a hard drive but flash memory instead. Currently they have 8GB models or 16 GB models that are very cheap and offer 40GB models for a little bit more.
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