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Netbook vs Laptop: What's the Difference

Netbook vs Laptop: What's the Difference?

Linsey Knerl
Reading time: 10 minutes
Have you heard the phrase “netbook computer” and wondered what it meant? It’s a word that sometimes gets used in place of “laptop,” but this can be misleading. While netbooks are considered a type of laptop, and they share similarities, this category of electronics has its own benefits and uses.
Understanding the differences and the favorite tasks for each is essential for anyone in the market to buy. Before you pay good money for either, learn the facts so you can make a more confident purchase.

What is a netbook?

A netbook is a type of laptop that is slimmer, lighter, and offers a more simplified set of tools. It’s often referred to as a “notebook,” but many people call it a “laptop” as well. In fact, many netbooks actually have the term “laptop” in their name. The important thing to remember is that it’s usually the lightest and most affordable offering from a company, and it’s typically favored by students and beginning computer users.
Netbooks vary by the operating system, but most run on software that’s designed to work from the internet. With most of the functionality happening online, there’s less to store on the computer’s hard drive. This allows the netbook to have a more modest processor and less memory, too. With a slimmed-down set of features, it usually costs much less than its full-sized laptop counterparts.
These computers are usually much smaller as well and weigh just a few pounds. They lack the heavier components that make gaming laptops or business workstations so bulky, making them a favorite tool for those who like to travel light.

Netbook vs laptop explained

Depending on whom you ask, you may get different definitions of a netbook and laptop. The widely-accepted rule about what makes each type of product different is size and functionality. Netbooks are often considered a subcategory of laptop. You may hear people call their netbook a laptop, and that’s because they are designed to do similar tasks.
In practical terms, the netbook has certain advantages over a standard laptop. They are usually:
While they do have their drawbacks, their popularity in the market is significant. Schools, libraries, and non-profits have widely accepted netbooks as the go-to laptop choice for buying in bulk for use by students and the public. Many school districts require students to use netbooks for completing homework, reading educational eBooks, and digitally communicating with teachers. This is because they are so affordable and easy to master.

When is a netbook the better choice?

Netbooks are designed to be slim, weigh next to nothing, and give you the perk of a smaller screen size. Because they run mostly on cloud-based apps, they don’t require software solutions for use. They are perfect for those who want to browse the web, post updates on social media, or use office applications to create and edit documents.


Another advantage is the price. Because they come with slimmed-down software solutions and leaner processors, they are less expensive than other laptops and notebook computers. Even so, they still offer many popular features that students and casual computer users are most likely to enjoy. If you don’t need high-end graphics and processing, you only pay for what you’ll utilize.

Easy to use

They are also easy for entry-level computer users to master. With fewer software installations, they give you a simplified computing experience that’s perfect for children, students, and older adults. If there is a perfect “Computer 101” product on the market, the netbook is it. Maintenance tasks are minimal and are handled by the operating system itself.

What are netbook disadvantages?

For as many perks as netbooks offer, there are some downsides, too. They don’t have very advanced processors or graphics cards, so they can’t run demanding programs. They aren’t adequate for many of today’s video games, and they aren’t designed to handle video editing or rendering

Cloud storage

Netbooks usually offer less storage, too. You can keep most of what you need online, so this isn’t usually an issue. If you want to download or store large files offline, however, netbooks may disappoint.

Ports, upgrades, and optical drives

These computers lack some of the ports and extras that larger laptops offer. They don’t have optical drives, for example, so they can’t play DVDs. Upgrading them is not common, either. They rarely support different operating systems than the ones they came with from the manufacturer or store.


Additional customization beyond case color or screen size isn’t usually possible. You have a choice of one or two versions of each model in most cases. Ordering more memory or an additional drive option is not usually a possibility.

Can you use both?

If your budget is small, it may not be possible to own both a full-sized laptop and a netbook. For those who travel for work or like having two devices available, owning one of each makes sense. For instance, you could use a laptop for more intense processes, such as design or editing, and a netbook for word processing and browsing the web.
Many professionals like keeping their laptop at home and opt to bring their netbook along on business trips. If you use similar tools on both, such as the Google Chrome suite of tools or Windows OneDrive, it’s easy to sync between devices. Cloud-based storage and apps create a seamless transition between the two products.

5 best netbook computer choices from HP

Because they are usually smaller and more portable, an HP netbook is a favorite choice for writers, academics, and anyone who travels often. The modest weight makes it an easy choice to toss into a backpack and can be used easily behind even reclined airlines seats. Here are the top picks for those who prefer this style of computer.

1. HP Stream 14 laptop

While few netbooks give you a touch screen experience, the HP Stream 14 netbook comes with a responsive touch screen. This allows you to watch videos and play online games without using your trackpad or keyboard. With your choice of colors, you can show off your personality, too.
HP Stream 14 Laptop
This popular netbook gives you the option of adding Office 365 Personal to your workflow. Use the one-year subscription to access Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, and Access to create new projects and collaborate with others.
You’ll also get Skype time every month and improved offline functionality for when you can’t connect to the internet. There’s 1TB of OneDrive storage included too, freeing up your netbook to do more work.
The netbook stays quiet and cool thanks to a fanless design. It’s light at just 3.42 lbs and has a battery life of up to 14 hours. Additional specs for this model include:
  • Intel® Celeron® N4000 dual-core processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics 600
  • 4GB DDR4-2400 SDRAM memory
  • 32GB storage
  • Plenty of ports, including a single HDMI, single headphone/mic port, single USB 2.0, two USB 3.1, and an SD card reader
  • Microphone and webcam
Get all of these features in a small package with a full-sized keyboard, too.

2. HP Stream 11 laptop

With all of the same internal specifications as the larger HP Stream 14, this scaled-back version offers a smaller screen size and more modest weight. You can carry the HP Stream 11 netbook with you anywhere because it tucks neatly into a small purse or messenger bag.
HP Stream 11 Laptop
You will enjoy more than 12 hours of battery life anywhere you need to stream, write, chat, or game. It’s the perfect netbook for those who value flexibility and value but still want to get things done anywhere there is a reliable wireless connection.

3. HP Chromebook 14 notebook

HP Chromebook is a popular name in netbook computers. Also a popular option for schools and libraries, the 14-inch model gives flexible computing with the beauty of a vivid screen. It’s a lightweight tool with just 3.74 lbs of weight to carry around. Features include:
  • Intel Celeron dual-core processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 500
  • 4GB memory
  • 16GB storage
  • Plenty of ports, including two USB 3.1 Type-C™, two USB 3.1 Gen 1, a single headphone/microphone combo, and a microSD card reader
  • Microphone and webcam
HP Chromebook 14 Notebook
While the HP Stream family of netbooks works from Windows-branded software solutions, the HP Chromebook family opts for Google’s suite of tools. Since so many of us already use YouTube, Google Docs, and Gmail, this is a streamlined way to do work on the road from an affordable and lightweight netbook.
With the Google Chrome browser growing in popularity, you can log in to your Chrome profile on this device and have instant access to the bookmarks, history, and other related information you’ve stored on your connected devices.
Because this netbook laptop has less storage than larger models, you’ll need to store things on the cloud. HP has thought of this in advance, however, and offers up to 100GB of file storage included as part of the 2-year Google Drive access that comes free with your purchase. You’ll also get 90 days of Google Play music, letting you listen to your favorite tunes on-the-go from any synced device.

4. HP Chromebook 11 notebook

Looking for the same perks but on a smaller device? Get all of that HP Chromebook goodness with the HP Chromebook 11 notebook. Like the larger netbook, the 11-inch version offers HP TrueVision HD webcam technology that lets you chat with friends or record a video, even in the lowest light. You can see your HD screen from any angle, too, with optional Corning® Gorilla® Glass touch capability.
HP Chromebook 11 Notebook
This slimmer netbook weighs just 2.63 lbs and has a battery life of over 11 hours. The lightning-quick loading time gets students from power to performance in less time than other laptops. With more classrooms embracing the netbook, it’s also a solid choice for business professionals who need a simple solution for working on-the-go.

5. HP Chromebook x360 11 G1 EE notebook

For a different configuration than the original HP Chromebook 11, the 11-inch HP Chromebook x360 offers an innovative design and touch screen capability. A popular choice for classrooms, students can use their finger or compatible HP x360 11 EMR Pen to draw, take notes, write, or even learn a new language.
The 360-degree hinge gives the user the chance to use it in tablet mode, as a notebook, in tent mode, or in a collaborate standing position. The full-sized, spill-resistant keyboard is ideal for young users learning to type but still prone to accidents.
HP Chromebook x360 11 G1 EE Notebook
There are more than a few HP netbook options to enjoy. When deciding which is best, consider size, memory, and storage. The higher-priced models often have more performance power, but don’t cost much more for the added benefits.

Why consider a netbook vs a tablet?

There’s another class of computing options that you may want to consider: the tablet. This portable device has the computing power of a netbook with the touch screen of a mobile phone. The larger screen size makes it better to use for everyday tasks than a smartphone, but it’s typically smaller than the netbook.
Consider a tablet if you prefer to play games, use social media, or like the benefits of a touch screen for your favorite apps. A netbook computer may be more your style if you like the look and perks of a laptop, including a durable case, keyboard, USB ports, and robust speakers. Expect to pay more for a high-end tablet with enough memory for popular programs.
You can buy one of each and use them individually for the tasks they handle best, or you can choose a convertible netbook that folds into tablet mode. The choice is yours.

How to shop for a netbook

Even after knowing more about netbooks and how they work, it can be challenging to identify them in the store or online. Very few netbooks are sold with the word “netbook” in their name. They may be referred to as a laptop, a notebook, or even a workstation.
Sometimes, the only way to know if a computer is truly a netbook is to know more about it. Ask the right questions to get an idea of what a product offers. Be sure to inquire about processor speed, memory, operating system, storage options, and free tools that come with your purchase.
After you see what the computer can do, it’s easier to determine if it’s an actual netbook. Also, while you may not be as concerned about what a product is called, you’ll want to get the right computer for your needs. If what a traditional netbook offers is ideal for you, it won’t matter if the word is in the name or not. The price, portability, and features will speak for themselves.

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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