But tiny little netbooks are growing more robust, at least as far as their batteries are concerned. Here's a look at some recent models that can keep you plugging along for nearly a full workday.
Asus Eee PC 1000HE
This recent netbook from Asus--the company that started the current netbook trend--is earning kudos from many reviewers. Currently, it's number one on our Top 10 Netbooks chart. Among its attractions is a standard six-cell battery that, in our tests, kept the netbook running for 7 hours, 9 minutes.
You can micromanage how the netbook uses power, too, a feature most travelers will appreciate. For example, hitting the Function key and spacebar together (or a programmable quick-launch button) brings up the netbook's power management control, which allows you to toggle between four different settings: Power Saving, Auto Power-Saving, High Performance, and Super Performance.
In my informal tests using the Super Performance setting, the netbook battery ran for nearly 6 hours, at least half of which involved Internet surfing with Wi-Fi on and the screen's brightness at its highest level. Given those conditions, the Asus battery's longevity is impressive. At 3.2 pounds, however, this Asus model is a little heavier than the average netbook. The Asus Eee PC 1000HE starts at about $380 online.
Samsung was a latecomer to the U.S. netbook and laptop market, and the company seems determined to make up for lost time. One of its latest netbooks, the N110, did a stellar job in PC World's battery tests, lasting 8 hours and 23 minutes on a charge. Even better, the N110 comes with a six-cell battery that doesn't add bulk, as some six-cell batteries are wont to do. (The netbook weighs 2.7 pounds.)
I haven't gotten my hands on an N110, but our reviewer Darren Gladstone says the $470 netbook is a bit pricey but would make a "great choice for your next road trip." Currently, the N110 is number two on our Top 10 Netbooks chart.
Acer Aspire One AOD150
With its standard six-cell battery, the Aspire One AOD150 (about $260 and up) lasted 6 hours and 38 minutes in our tests. Some models hit store shelves in the U.S. with a beefier battery that lasted an even more impressive 8 hours, 34 minutes. This latest netbook from Acer (weight: 2.9 pounds) earned a number three spot in our chart.
HP Mini 2140
In our tests, the HP Mini 2140 ($424 and up) lasted 6 hours, 50 minutes with a six-cell battery. When configuring a system online, upgrading from a three-cell battery is only $25--an excellent value, as you'll likely go twice as long on the six-cell. However, the six-cell is fairly bulky and awkwardly protrudes.
HP claims you can recharge the netbook's battery up to 90 percent in 90 minutes, faster than the 4 to 5 hours that other batteries can take to become fully resuscitated. I also like the 2140's keyboard more than those on most netbooks. The keys are a bit wider, so typing is a little faster.
The Wrap Up
Netbook battery life is bound to get even better as the product category continues to evolve. But if you need a netbook now, and you travel frequently without access to a power port, any of the four models I've profiled here should get you where you're going.
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Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.
Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. You can follow him on Twitter. Sign up to have Mobile Computing e-mailed to you each week.