The best way to use these little laptops is online. Which is why a cellular provider is subsidizing them

Illustration by Peter Arkle for TIME

For months, I've been fiddling with a variety of netbooks, trying to understand their burgeoning popularity. But I'm still mystified.

Netbooks are small, stripped-down laptops that are inexpensive ($400-ish) and lightweight (3 lb.--ish). But their screens and keyboards are too petite for my taste, and they tend to lack the all-important DVD drive. That said, the idea behind netbooks isn't a bad one: since just about every type of program we need is freely available online (from e-mail to PowerPoint knockoffs), why pay for expensive computers that run expensive software programs? Better yet, when you create a document using one of...

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