Down with 3-Cell Batteries: Netbooks Should Have 5+ Hours of Battery Life

I count AC adapters. When I walk into a Starbucks the first thing I check out is not the blend of the day, but the number (and the brand) of the laptops being used by the fellow java chuggers, along with if they are plugged into the limited wall sockets. Waiting for a friend to meet me at a local Starbucks last week I took notice of the two netbooks—an ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and an HP Mini 1000 – in the shop. The ASUS Eee PC 1000HE's owner drank her Frappuccino without an AC adapter awkwardly hanging from the table. The 1000HE, which is outfitted with a high capacity six-cell battery, got over 7 hours of battery life on our Web surfing battery test. The lady with the HP Mini 1000 (with a 3-cell battery) however, had a power cord stretched across the table and connected to the wall (I suspect that her coffee had turned cold by the time the table next to that socket freed up). That netbook, while more compact than most on the market, gets only 2.5 hours on a charge. There are a handful of netbooks, including the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and the Samsung N110, that don't have to be accompanied by their power cords for a day trip, because their standard six-cell batteries provide over five hours of battery life on a single charge. And it is that type of netbook that should be standard in this crowded market. But it isn't. Many netbook manufacturers, including Dell, HP, and  Lenovo,  seem reluctant to ship devices with extended batteries, saddling users with 3-cell systems that last just over two hours. Currently, Dell only offers its Mini 9 and 10 with a 4-cell battery. HP does offer an upgrade to a 6-cell for $79, but most models come standard with a 3-cell battery. The reasoning behind this? The reigning theory is that it has to do with price, but manufacturers also seem to think that people don’t want to use undersized netbooks with 10-inch screens and cramped keyboards for more than a few hours at a time, so what does it matter, anyway? But that is just not the case. Even if you won't use a netbook for more than two hours at a time, one of the best use cases for netbooks involves pulling it out of your bag to shoot off an e-mail or surf the Web for an hour and simply tossing it back in your bag when you are done.  It is anywhere, anytime computing, and that “where” often includes places where there are outlets. A few months ago, we asked LAPTOP readers in an online poll how much battery power was enough for a netbook. The overwhelming answer was 5 to 8 hours. Some of the largest notebook vendors are crippling their netbooks by bundling them with 3-cell batteries. Are they doing this on purpose to prevent cannibalization and make their larger laptops look good? Consumers want longer battery life. If the cheaper netbook doesn't provide adequate run-time for, let's say, a plane ride from New York to California, they will inevitably pick one of the longer running mainstream laptops in the company's lineup. On the other hand, they might just choose a vendor like ASUS, Acer, or Samsung, all of whom offer solid 6-cell systems. Highly mobile laptops should run for at least five hours, and all netbooks should come standard with six-cell batteries. Not only will end users be happier, but I won't have to count as many AC adapters.