It's difficult to go wrong when buying a netbook. Most miniature laptops do exactly what they promise -- they're small, they let you browse the Internet and they're great for enjoying movies and music on the move.
Despite this, there are several factors to consider before parting with your hard-earned cash. Firstly, you'll need to decide which operating system you prefer. Most netbooks give you a choice of Windows XP or Linux -- a free, open-source alternative. Though it might seem alien to many of us, the latter is probably the wisest choice as it takes very little time to get used to, and the money you save by ditching Windows is not insignificant.
Next, decide whether your chosen device is too small or too big for your requirements. The smaller it is, the lighter and more portable it is, but larger mini laptops have the advantage of being more comfortable to use. It's up to you to decide on the perfect size, but as a guide, we'd say anything weighing more than 1.3kg has eaten too much porridge.
The next thing you'll need to think about is the screen size. Many early netbooks -- such as the Eee PC 701 -- used 7-inch displays with low resolutions, but these don't really cut the mustard. Web pages won't fit the screen properly, meaning you'll have to manually scroll left and right to see them in their entirety. Ideally, you'll need a netbook with a minimum screen resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. While we're on the subject, try to avoid screens with a glossy coating -- they're a nightmare to use outside due to their high reflectivity.
The keyboards is equally important. If typing on the go is a requirement, you should probably stay away from the Eee PC 701 and 900. Ideally, you should go for a machine with as large a keyboard as possible -- the MSI Wind and Acer Aspire One both have excellent keyboards, and their respective 10-inch and 9-inch displays lend themselves well to everyday use. Beware the mouse trackpad on the latter, though. The selector buttons sit on either side of the trackpad, which can take some getting used to.
Netbooks are notorious for having small hard drives -- some as little as 2GB. If you've got loads of media you want to take with you on your travels, you should consider investing in an external hard drive, or a large SDHC memory card to increase the room you have to work with.
Finally, you should be aware that mini laptops don't offer fantastic performance compared to their larger counterparts. Don't expect them to run 3D games or be fantastic multitasking devices -- they aren't. Instead, you should focus your attention on how much battery life you'll get out of each one, since you're quite likely to be away from the mains when using them.
Our final piece of advice here is to put preference on devices that use Intel -- preferably Atom -- CPUs, as these offer the best blend of performance and long battery life. Here are four of the best, including an Eee for reference.