Ten Tips for Scoring a Netbook On Black Friday

Last year I told you the “10 Black Friday Secrets Retailers Don’t Want You To Know.”

All these secrets still apply (and the retailers still don’t want you to know them). What’s different this year is that Black Friday will be dominated by netbook deals. Here’s why:

First, unless the Grinch finds a way to keep Christmas from coming, the holidays will soon be upon us. Netbooks make perfect gifts because the cost is low, the value is high, and everybody wants one. Unlike other gadgets, netbooks are popular among all age groups, from 9 to 99. They’re even great gifts for people who already own desktop, laptop and other netbook computers. You can never be too rich, too thin or have too many netbooks.

Second, the economic downturn means belts are tightening. Some who might spend $500 or more on gifts for immediate family members might downsize the budget to less than $350 this year. In previous years, bargain hunters might buy big-ticket items, like $1,800 high-def TVs. This year, the downturn will favor smaller purchases, like $300 netbooks.

Third, ASUS proved that a hit in the netbook space sprinkles magic pixie dust on other products in the form of positive brand reputation. Because of the runaway success of the ASUS Eee PC line, now gadget enthusiasts are more inclined to take a chance on ASUS’s desktop PCs and random gadgets. That means minor players will be taking advantage of Black Friday to discount netbooks below cost to generate better word-of-mouth.

Fourth, free Wi-Fi is a lot easier to come by this year. Starbucks, Peet’s, McDonald’s and other major chains offer free Wi-Fi, which is ideal for netbooks that are easy to carry everywhere.

What You Need to Know

The deals are already leaking out. The best known of these is that Dell’s Black Friday ad shows that the new Mini 9 netbook will cost $299 on Black Friday. And some are speculating that prices may drop for some netbooks to as low as $199“! So that’s the range we’re talking about here: $199 to $350 for basic models. (My first “netbook” was an OmniBook 300 back in 1993. It cost $3,000 and had 2 MB of RAM!) It’s a wonderful time to be a cheapskate.

Here’s what you need to know in order to take full advantage of the many Black Friday netbook deals coming our way:

1.) Supplies won’t last. Electronics superstores will offer super-low prices to get you in the store, but to avoid losing too much money, they’ll make sure inventory runs out super fast. There tends to be an inverse relationship between demand and inventory — the higher the demand, the lower the inventory. A store might stock only 10 units of a super-hot netbook at a crazy low price, but stock 300 units of a loser netbook. The plan is to lure you in for the bargain, then get you to settle for the other one.

2.) Shop early. Check for Black Friday opening times, which could be 5 AM or even midnight after Thanksgiving. Black Friday morning is no time for sleeping in.

3.) Watch for scams. Unlike many Black Friday consumer electronics, netbooks are computers. That means they’re targets for one of the most common Black Friday scams: They can come with garbage software you’ll be required to purchase in order to get the advertised price on the hardware. Be prepared to walk away if they spring this on you at the register.

4.) I’ve created this custom search for checking Black Friday netbook deals. The results for this search will change every day between now and Black Friday, so add it to your browser “Favorites” and check it early and often. Note that some deals aren’t posted until Thanksgiving itself.

5.) Watch out for old-and-busted netbooks that companies may try to unload on Black Friday. The new hotness will be available for about the same price, so don’t settle for any old netbook just because the price is right.

6.) Some deals advertised in stores are actually available online, too, or exclusively online. You may not have to get up early or go to the superstores at all.

7.) The competition is so fierce this year that some stores aren’t waiting for Black Friday. Wal-Mart is already selling a full-size laptop, for example, at a netbook price. You can buy a Compaq CQ-139WM with a 15.4-inch screen, 2GB RAM and a 160GB hard drive for $298! Best Buy is already selling the MSI Wind for $350.

8.) Watch out for Linux. The cheapest netbooks tend to come with Linux. Don’t get me wrong. The Linux implementation that comes on most netbooks is fine, and may even be preferable to Windows. But check before you buy, especially if you have Windows software you want to run.

9.) Watch out for Vista. Windows Vista is the latest Microsoft operating system, but XP is the best for netbooks, in my opinion.

10.) Watch out for the Big Three Netbook ‘Gotchas’. The biggest complaints people have with netbooks are screen-size, keyboard size and battery life. Even though you’re getting a bargain, these limitations can still annoy. A netbook with a 9-inch screen is twice as good as one with a 7-inch screen. The keyboard is going to be much smaller than a laptop keyboard, but good design can mitigate cramped layout. And try to maximize battery life.

Look, resistance is futile. You’re going to buy a netbook (or two, or three) this year on Black Friday. These prices are just too good to pass up. Just make sure you know what you want, plan ahead, get up early and buy smart.

In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows magazine. He can be reached at mike.elgan+datamation@gmail.com or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.

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