Netbook computers are the hot gadget of 2009. After a weekend with my MSI Wind, I understand why.

Netbook computers are the hot gadget of 2009. After a weekend with my MSI Wind, I understand why.

Netbooks are computers designed mainly for wireless communication - e-mail, IM-ing, browsing the web - and "light, on-the-go" computing rather than the more heavy-duty computing required for PC gaming, creating PowerPoint presentations, using Photoshop and the like. Some 35 million Netbooks are expected to be sold this year, and this product category's sales are expected to quadruple as soon as 2013.

A mix of the terms internet and notebook, Netbooks typically have 10-inch screens, are powered by Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom processor, run Windows XP, weigh under three pounds, feature keyboards just shy of full size, communicate with the web wirelessly, are sized smaller than a magazine and cost under $500.

Familiar and not-so-familiar electronics companies offer Netbooks. On that list are HP, Sony, Dell, Samsung, Acer, Lenovo, Asus and MSI.

I purchased my MSI Wind (model U100-432US) for $380 on a recent trip to New York City, mainly due to its generous helping of on-board features in relation to the gadget's small price. Those features include:

- 160GB SATA hard drive

- Bluetooth

- built-in 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone

- LED backlight screen technology

- two-channel stereo speakers

- four-in-one card reader to accept memory cards from most cameras, MP3 players and cell phones

- three USB 2.0 ports

- a six-cell battery that goes for about five and a half hours.

MSI's Wind (short for "WiFi Network Device") is designed for mobility. Lightweight and energy-efficient, it's a perfect computer to take on trips or as a companion for note-taking.

Its keyboard is only 20 percent smaller than a full-sized notebook computer keyboard. The only annoying issue I've found with the Wind's keyboard are its half-size keys for the comma, period and forward slash, which cause me to overshoot the right shift key too often. Other than that minor complaint, the keyboard and touchpad on this gadget are quite similar to those on much larger and significantly heavier laptops I've used.

In today's Facebook-Google-YouTube-e-mail world, connecting to the 'net is no longer an option. While smartphones do a steadily better job of connecting their owners to the digital world, Netbooks are the better gadget for anything other than a quick check of e-mail or consulting the web for a fact or two.

Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend? E-mail gspot@columbusalive.com