Typing Speed: Tested

I decided to do an informal test of typing speed on these netbooks to see exactly how much you give up by going to the smaller, awkwardly laid out keyboard. I went to typingtest.com and tested myself on all five typing tests, averaged the results and compiled them here:

  Average Net Speed over 5 Tests Average Accuracy over 5 Tests Peak Speed / Accuracy
Apple Al Keyboard (Reference) 106.8 wpm 97.8% 118 wpm / 99%
ASUS Eee PC 901 (Run 1) 92 wpm 95% 100 wpm / 96%
Dell Inspiron Mini (Run 1) 81.4 wpm 95.2% 96 wpm / 100%
ASUS Eee PC 901 (Run 2) 87.8 wpm 95.4% 103 wpm / 98%
Dell Inspiron Mini (Run 2) 91.2 wpm 97.8% 104 wpm / 100%

 

My reference was the standard Apple aluminum keyboard I type most of my articles on. I netted just under 107 wpm with an average accuracy of 97.8%. I only did one pass on the Apple keyboard but two on the Mini and Eee PC; I figured I was most used to the Apple keyboard and I could use a few more tries with the two netbooks.

On the first run through all five tests my speed on the Mini wasn't anywhere near as good as on the Eee PC, but accuracy was slightly higher. My peak accuracy was higher on the Dell, while my peak speed was higher on the Eee PC.

The second run switched things for me. My scores improved dramatically on the Mini, and dropped slightly on the Eee. Accuracy on both improved however, it seems like I was trying to be more patient on the Eee PC and as a result dropped my speed a bit.

At the end of the day it looks like either of these netbooks let's me type at around 80 - 85% the speed of me on my desktop, which isn't bad but it's slow enough for me to be frustrated if I'm trying to do real work on them. I wrote parts of this article on the Mini and I've written things on the Eee PC as well; while I can do it, I prefer not to. None of this data should be surprising, I'm just trying to convey the idea that you shouldn't try to use the Mini for something it's not intended for: typing out novels or really long reviews of netbooks.

What We Need: Predictive Text Entry on Netbooks

Perspective is important, so I took advantage of the fact that I've got a friend (let's call him Ben) who spends parts of his days playing around in my lab while I work.

I sat Ben in front of the Inspiron Mini and the Eee PC. His hands are a bit bigger than mine and I wanted to see how well he could do on the same typing tests I was running. On a standard keyboard he was averaging between 70 and 80 words per minute, shifting to the Eee PC and he was down in the single digits, eventually giving up. He said the keyboard was simply too small for him to use. I asked him to try the Dell and while he could only muster around 20 words per minute on the Mini's keyboard, he felt it was at least workable. The Eee PC in his mind was too cramped, and while the funny apostrophe key location on the Dell was annoying, he could use it. What followed however was the best suggestion I'd heard about one of these devices: it needs predictive text input.

When Apple set off to develop the iPhone it also came up with a fairly ingenious way of predicting user text input. The virtual keyboard on the iPhone is small, but the software can look at the keys you're hitting and at least guess at what letters you may have meant to hit based on a combination of word-length and the letters surrounding the one you actually hit. Using this data, the iPhone can figure out what you may have wanted to type and correct it accordingly. Apple assumes you're going to make typing errors and attempts to figure out what you meant to type - when you don't have the flexibility of a full hardware keyboard, use the software to make up for it.

I think Ben may be onto something here, the true potential in these netbooks lies in the user interface. If you try and use the Mini as a standard notebook or desktop you'll be sorely disappointed, but combined with an easy to use application launcher interface it all of the sudden becomes quite acceptable. It's what I've been arguing for years: in order to work in a new form factor/usage model, you need a new UI. Microsoft figured this out with Media Center and yet we've seen most companies (MS included) forget this lesson in nearly everything mobile, Apple being the exception.

Whether it comes from the open source community or from someone like Dell, what these < 9" netbooks need aside from a good keyboard is good predictive text software. The standard QWERTY keyboard layout hasn't really changed, we know where the keys are supposed to be, if we mess up because they aren't there on a cramped netbook keyboard, we need software to make the appropriate adjustments on the fly; it's a much better alternative than just having to put up with cramped keyboards.

Innovation at the Keyboard Level A Display That’s Not Half Bad
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  • jrinco11 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    for those interested in how it is w/XP, I wrote a bit about it here http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...">http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...

    in my opinion, it matches the acer aspire one except for it's better battery life and webcam (in low light), but the keyboard layout kinda sucks
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    I got my inspiron mini yesterday. 16 gig ssd version. it had 1 gig of ram but i swapped in a 1 gig ram stick (should've ordered 512 megs and saved $25). with webcam and bluetooth it came to $430 after an employee discount coupon.

    my thoughts? i love the system. it is a lot faster than the acer aspire one that i played around with at circuit city (but granted that was the low end 4 gig ssd linux version). it takes 20 seconds to boot up and comes out of sleep mode in 3-4 seconds. the acer takes 30 seconds to come out of sleep mode (and on linux no less).

    The keyboard? well due to the strange way i type, typing letters on my left hand is flawless, words that primarily rest on the left side i type fast and without typoes. right hand side on the other hand is a disaster. i have trouble getting used to anything that requires the right pinky other than the enter key. and i have trouble hitting the o and p keys. i hate where the ' key as well, as i have to pause and consciously find it in order to use it.

    however i feel like i can get used to it. after all, i'm not using this thing for anything other than web browsing, including working on docs in google docs. the hard drive space is a nonfactor, i still have 11 gigs out of 16 free and i don't see myself using much more since any local docs/images/music/etc that i download i am putting on a 16 gig sd card and most of my important docs are online on my box.net storage acct and in google docs. and my email is done in gmail because its way more convenient than using a local email client.

    no 3g? well I didn't want to pay $50 a month for slow internet anywhere, anyway. there's tons of wireless hotspots in austin.

    I would also recommend that anyone who gets a mini to put 2 gigs of ram in there, as it seems to considerably help in the # of apps you can run, or browser windows you can open.

    Overall, i love this system and dont regret paying extra for it when i could have gotten a cheaper, but inferior, acer aspire or asus eeepc.
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    whoops, in the first sentence, meant to say that i swapped a 2 gig ram stick in. it was only $46 from crucial.com

    Reply
  • DeadpanScience - Saturday, September 13, 2008 - link

    I't looks really nice. 8.9 inch screen, LED backlighting, convertible tablet mode, all for $699. Plus none of the reviews from laptop mag/umpcportal have really gone in-depth with their reviews. Give me some numbers please! Reply
  • J Beck - Sunday, September 07, 2008 - link

    Nice review, well done!! As others suggested, you ought to look at the Acer Aspire One. I have the Atom processor, XP, 120GB HDD, 1GB "150" model, for the same $349. It is killer. The only limitation is battery life as I have the 3 cell version and get only about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. But, I rarely use it "unplugged" anyway and a 6 cell battery is available. It lacks built-in Bluetooth, but a tiny Kensington Bluetooth usb dongle took care of that and with 3 usb ports, no worries.

    I can touch type very easily with no adjustment or learning curve and I am 6' with fairly large hands. The keys are all in the right places (it has regular punctuation and "F" keys and with great key sizes (especially the right hand "enter" and "shift" keys being larger as with full size keyboards). The touchpad has this amazing function. In addition to scrolling (along the right edge of the touchpad), you can zoom using touch strokes like the iPhone and Mac Air.

    The 120GB drive makes this really usable for the long run. I can't imagine 4GB, 8GB or even 16GB. My iTunes library alone would almost use any of those that. The screen is a backlit LED screen and it is super at the same resolution as the Dell. The build is as good as my newly acquired Dell XPS M1330.

    I thought this was going to be a toy or for really occasional use as this review sort of suggests the netbook category "must be". But, when I started using it, I found I can put everything I do on it and virtually carry my office anywhere around my house, my office or, for that matter around the world. The 120GB (with 2 memory card slots to boot!!) allows me to do that and not worry about a connection to the web or the security issues of "Cloud computing".

    Reply
  • kenbx84 - Friday, September 12, 2008 - link

    Sorry but this review is all wrong on prices. EEE PC 901 is now $499 with more bells and whistles and the EEE PC 1000H is $449 now with a lot better specs. Reply
  • ed21x - Sunday, September 07, 2008 - link

    With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same. Add in $50, and you can step up to a 10'' screen and larger keyboard (Asus 1000H) which is a much better deal, and makes more sense, as that extra inch really makes the keyboard feel like a fullsize. I think comparing the prices of a low-spec'ed Dell to a full-spec'ed Asus is definitely biasing against the Asus. Reply
  • Igor37 - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    ed21x wrote: "With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same."

    Personally, I like having the option, since I don't need Bluetooth or the camera, and could care less about upgrading the RAM or having a larger battery.
    Reply
  • Pixy - Friday, September 05, 2008 - link

    Despite the recent improvement I still like the design of the HP Mini-Note.

    I am still waiting for the Netbook market to mature before I casting aside my Sony SZ. Hopefully the internal hardware will improve enough for a fanless version which produces little heat to come out soon. Two things I hate most about laptops: heat and noise!

    I wonder whether Nvidia could have an advantage here because of their CUDA concept. Basically, it would create a Netbook with superb graphics capabilities and is able to run simple program, which is what the average consumer needs anyway.

    Intel and VIA, hurry up with the new chips. AMD... keep trying... and hopefully you can surprise me.
    Reply
  • weihlmus - Friday, September 05, 2008 - link

    dell already tried the fanless approach on the latitude X1 and for all the whole system was only using 10W or so (no battery) according to my power meter it still got feindishly hot after a few hours use - theres nothing worse than trying to type on a small format laptop with sweaty fingers!

    also when reviewing netbooks can you compare the power adapters? its one think having a 1 kilo netbook but then having the best part of a kilo of power adapter and leads to carry around is another... sureley the atom laptops can run from a wall wart not a standard 60W laptop power pack?!
    Reply

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