I spend two hours a day (minimum) on a train every day commuting to and from work. I spend another two hours each day getting to and from the train stations, so schlepping around a full-size laptop NEVER appealed to me. However, sitting for two hours getting nothing done drove me crazy, so despite my initial bad luck with an ASUS Eee PC, I bought another netbook. It ended up being a refurbished Gateway unit, and cost me only $200. That was two years ago.
I ended up doubling the RAM to 2 GB, and have recently upgraded to an SSD drive (120 GB). I run Windows 7 Ultimate on the device, along with a 4G wireless USB stick, and despite carrying the unit to and from work almost every day for two years through 90+ degree summer days and below-zero Midwest winter days, the unit just keeps on humming, like an Energizer bunny! I listen to my music, read eBooks occasionally with Kindle for the PC, and Remote Desktop into my home and work networks virtually every day, turning my two hours of confinement on uncomfortable public transportation into productive work time.
An iPad? If all I wanted was entertainment to and from work, I'd probably spring for one. However, being able to seamlessly connect to work with Remote Desktop, while still carting around only about 3 lbs. of hardware, has given me a netbook addiction that would be hard to shake at this point. I'll probably only switch if Windows 8 comes out in some handy and equally inexpensive form factors.
I think your dissatisfaction for netbooks as a class should be properly attributable to store demo models.
Uncaring and even malicious fingers tend to make mincemeat of store demo machines -- desktops, laptops, netbooks, Kindles, iPads, whatever. The only way to harden a device against the sort of abuse store demos get is to replace it with a mock device -- a dummy -- that just sits there, looking pretty, but does absolutely nothing.
I'm a netbook owner -- used largely on trips, runs XP, has but 1 GB of RAM, and needs to digest and install a whole slew of updates when we get it ready for the next trip, but has done just fine on the road with no failures/freezes/whatnot whatsoever. (Acer ONE, that one happens to be.)
I just wanted to say that I have owned an Acer Netbook, running XP, for three years now and I love it! I made sure to buy them before XP went off the shelf, if only to ensure compatibility with my older (OK, now ancient) desktops.
It not only is still running, but running well, and on the same battery that it came out of the box with. It is fantastically portable and no heavier than a hardcover book (actually, lighter than, say, a hardcover edition of a Harry Potter novel).