Acer TravelMate 8481T

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 Acer TravelMate 8481T

When it comes to battery life, Acer’s TravelMate 8481T is the laptop to beat. It’s not all that surprising when you see the battery protruding from the back of the chassis, practically doubling the breadth of the machine.

But, if you need to pack the TravelMate away, simply unclip the battery and it shrinks from 41mm thick to only 24mm. Our battery benchmark test – supplemented with looped high-def video – took 326 minutes to run down the TravelMate, so we’d expect that this machine would get you through a mains-free eight hour day with standard use.

Apart from the battery, there are other features that mark this laptop out as a travel device. Its 14-inch screen dispenses with Super-TFT reflective coating, instead opting for a matt-TFT finish. This means that, while movies and pictures won’t look as colourful or vibrant, the TravelMate can be used in bright environments – like airports or train carriages without annoying glare being reflected on the screen.

Even with the screen brightness set to maximum, the display is noticeably darker than other laptops. This is an extra way to maximise battery performance, as the biggest drain on any laptop’s power supply is keeping the screen bright.

There’s also a fingerprint scanner nestled between the click buttons below the touchpad, lending saved documents an extra layer of security.

Boasting Acer’s favoured raised keyboard, typing is also comfortable, thanks to a decent amount of travel, but not without some serious flex. Because the battery protrudes the way it does, you’re typing at a raised angle, much more comfortable than on a traditional flat laptop.

While we might be tempted to lump the TravelMate in with the Port

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Acer Aspire S3

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 Acer Aspire S3

Overview

The first-generation ultrabook war is getting bloody, with the Toshiba Satellite Z830 and Lenovo Ideapad U300S emerging from the pits to take on the Asus Zenbook and this machine, the Acer Aspire S Series. This four-way battle royale should be a fierce contest, but can Acer do enough to beat down the super-thin-yet-powerful laptop competition?

The Taiwanese company certainly has experience producing every variety of laptop, from the ultra-portable Timeline range of models such as the Acer Aspire Timeline X 3820TZ to the mighty Ethos multimedia machines including the Acer Aspire Ethos 5943G.

One of its dinkiest offerings yet, the 13.3-inch Acer Aspire S3-951 is an appealing prospect for regular travellers.

The Intel Core i7 2637M version we tested is priced at £900 in the UK and costs $1300 in the US (where it has the more specific name of Acer Aspire S3-951-6432), which is enticing, considering the impressive specs list.

A less powerful Core i5 model can be bought for £700 in the UK, while in the US there are three cheaper Core i5 machines, two of which cost $900, while one retails at $1199.

Acer aspire s3-951 review

At 1.38kg, the Acer Aspire S3-951 is a similar weight to the other ultrabooks and just slips in under Intel’s specified 1.4kg ultrabook weight. Even a skinny eight-year-old could carry this laptop around all day, although we wouldn’t trust some whippersnapper with a piece of kit like this.

With a thickness of 19mm at its widest point, the Acer Aspire S3-951 may not be as size-zero slender as the Toshiba Satellite Z830 or Asus Zenbook UX21, but it’s certainly thin enough to slide into a backpack, briefcase or even an oversized handbag.

However, even though the lid is impressively slim, it’s also tough enough to take a pounding. There’s almost no flex in the centre, so the display remains protected even when the laptop is bumping around in a bag. The brushed aluminium surface repels fingerprints and other marks, keeping it clean and shiny.

We were also pleased to see sturdy hinges, which hold the screen still even when you’re pounding the keyboard. This solid build quality continues throughout the rest of the chassis. We found no worrying weak spots, although we’re not convinced that the Acer Aspire S3-951 would survive a fall from a desk.

Acer aspire s3-951 review

One potential peril of compact laptops is that usability might suffer – the reduced chassis space means smaller keyboards, the nemesis of anyone with fat sausage fingers. Thankfully the Acer Aspire S3-951 doesn’t suffer too much from its stunted stature.

Shift and Ctrl keys are well-sized, although the Enter key is squashed into a single row and the arrow keys are almost comically tiny. Touch typing was a breeze. We bashed out emails and articles for hours at a time without our hands cramping up, and with minimal errors. While the shallow key travel is unavoidable, it isn’t as bad as the Asus Zenbook‘s (which feels like you’re tapping on a solid piece of plastic).

The Acer Aspire S3-951’s touchpad is also a decent size, but is cursed with integrated mouse buttons. Instead of having separate mouse buttons, you need to push the left and right corners of the pad down to simulate mouse clicks. Frankly, it’s a horrible experience.

Anyone who’s used one of these touchpads will know the deal. Often when you push the corners in to select a menu option, the cursor will skip across the screen, leading to incorrect menu selections. Considering how fiddly Windows menus can be, we came close to busting out the power tools and giving the Acer Aspire S3-951 a few new air vents.

Our advice is, stick to tapping the surface for mouse clicks. It’s a little hit and miss, but might save your blood pressure.

Specifications

Acer aspire s3-951 review

The Acer Aspire S3-951’s compact build means you’re stuck with a small screen, but the 13.3-inch display is perfectly serviceable for both business and pleasure. It isn’t the brightest screen ever, but the 1366 x 768-pixel resolution means images are sharp.

HD movies look crisp, if not particularly vibrant.

Although 13.3 inches doesn’t give you a huge viewing area for the latest blockbuster films, it’s perfectly fine when you’re on the move and sat right in front of your laptop. The sharp resolution is also perfect when you’re working on tables or spreadsheets.

However, the glossy Super-TFT finish is reflective, which is a hindrance if you want to use the Acer Aspire S3-951 outdoors. Anyone who’s regularly out and about will prefer the matt screen of the Toshiba Satellite Z830.

Acer aspire s3-951 review

Business users will be happy to see an HDMI port and two USB ports crammed onto the rear of the slender chassis. Accessing them is a little awkward, and fans of wired networking should check out the Toshiba Satellite Z830, which has a built-in Ethernet port. However, the Acer Aspire S3-951 is pretty much standard when it comes to ultrabooks.

If you have tons of files to lug around, you’ll need to use one of the USB ports to hook up an external hard drive. Despite the specs listing a 240GB solid state drive, the Acer Aspire S3-951 only reported 200GB of storage space available. This fills up far too quickly, especially if you’re hoping to carry some music or movies with you, although at least it gives you super speedy and reliable access to your data.

You also have an SD card reader for extra storage.

Aside from that, the Acer Aspire S3-951 is typically light on features. A 1.3MP webcam positioned just above the screen enables you to video chat with mates or colleagues, and that’s your lot. However, at least the Acer Aspire S3-951 doesn’t come laden with dozens of useless app trials that clog up your hard drive and constantly pester you with annoying pop-ups.

Performance

Acer aspire s3-951 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 8,827
3D Mark ’06: 3,279
Battery Eater ’05: 149 minutes

The real selling point of the Acer Aspire S3-951 is the impressive set of components stuffed in its tiny gullet. Gone are the days of clunky low-voltage CPUs plaguing ultra-portable laptops.

The dual-core Intel Core i7 2637M processor stormed through our Cinebench tests, proving well matched to any task we threw at it.

Backed up by 4GB of memory, we had no problem multitasking with all kinds of software. Applications loaded quickly (helped in part by that speedy solid state drive) and ran smoothly. In fact, the Acer Aspire S3-951 proved to be the most powerful ultrabook we’ve reviewed, narrowly beating the Core i7 Asus Zenbook UX31.

Acer aspire s3-951 review

Graphical performance is dependable, thanks to the flexibility of the Sandy Bridge chipset. Although the GPU is integrated, it’s still capable of running multimedia software such as photo and video editing suites, without suffering from glitches or crashes.

Of course, you aren’t going to get any serious gaming done on an ultrabook. Older games will run as expected, and you won’t have any trouble smashing your mates at a game of online Scrabble. But try testing it with a recent FPS game and you’ll meet a stuttering mess.

Even when we ran fairly demanding software, we were impressed by how cool and quiet the Acer Aspire S3-951 remained. The SSD obviously helps, because there are no spinning discs to contend with. The area around the vents (positioned at the rear of the laptop) remains cool at all times.

Acer aspire s3-951 review

Unfortunately the battery life was a lot less impressive. We ran HD video on loop and were disappointed when the Acer Aspire S3-951 died after just 149 minutes. This isn’t a disastrous performance, but it is below average for a modern laptop – we usually get around three hours of movie action before the screen fades to black.

Considering this is an ultrabook built for portability, the result is even more disappointing. The Asus Zenbook, for example, survived for over four hours with the same test. If you’re looking for a new laptop, you’ll have to seriously consider what’s more important to you – performance or longevity.

Verdict

Acer aspire s3-951 review

We’ve tested the first generation of ultrabooks, and so far we’ve liked what we’ve seen.

This attractive blend of performance and portability might not be new (as Apple fanboys will be quick to point out), and we’re not sure why it’s taken Intel’s intervention to stimulate manufacturers into producing mini laptops such as the Acer Aspire S3-951. However, for anyone who’s a regular road hog, the ultrabook is an enticing prospect.

We liked

The Acer Aspire S3-951’s slender chassis may not be as stupefyingly thin or sleek as the Asus Zenbook, but it’s still compact enough to fit in almost any bag. It’s also impressively tough considering the girth, with a firm lid and tough body.

We were impressed by the excellent Intel Core i7 processor performance, and saw next to no slowdown when running several applications at once. Multimedia software runs fine, and the ultrabook starts up and shuts down in no time at all.

If you need a machine to bash out emails and documents on the move, the Acer Aspire S3-951’s keyboard will do the job. It isn’t too cramped, despite the compact frame, with the exception of the miniscule arrow keys.

We disliked

Unfortunately, for a laptop marketed on its portability, the Acer Aspire S3-951’s battery life is pants. Just two and a half hours of movie playback on a single charge is below average, even for a bog-standard entry-level laptop.

We also had massive issues with the touchpad. Those integrated mouse buttons are a massive pain, and we resorted to tapping the surface to select menu options instead.

Anyone with a huge media collection will need to cart around an external hard drive, because only 200GB of storage space is available on the 240GB SSD.

Final verdict

While the Acer Aspire S3-951 is a well-built and powerful ultrabook, which offers good value for money, we were more drawn to the Toshiba Satellite Z830 and the Asus Zenbook. However, a cut-price Core i5 version of the Acer Aspire S3-951 can be had if your budget is tight, and nobody will be disappointed by the excellent performance of this Core i7 model.

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Samsung RF511

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 Samsung RF511

The Samsung RF511 is a mid-range laptop which offers solid yet unspectacular performance, at a less than inspiring price. With so many great laptop bargains on the market this year boasting new Intel chips, we reckon that Samsung has missed the mark with this middle-of-the-road outing.

With its muted grey metal trim around the keyboard and austere black-on-silver keys, the kind of room which would suit Samsung’s RF511 will have black leather couches and smoked glass tables. It’s a world away from the designer minimalism of something like the Asus Zenbook and a design that will repel as many as it attracts.

But once you look at the glossy baked plastic lid, you begin to wonder who exactly the RF511 is aimed at. Is it a workhorse machine for open plan offices? Or something that could be a desktop replacement for the family home? We’re just not sure – and the problem is that Samsung doesn’t seem to have the answer, either.

If you’re shopping around, there are two versions of the RF511 available: one has a discrete graphics processor supplied by Nvidia for extra gaming power; the other relies on Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 GPU that’s built into a Sandy Bridge chip. This is the latter incarnation, meaning that the latest games are going to be beyond your aspirations.

Like the Packard Bell TS13HR, you’ll be able to get some older games running at a playable rate, but forget your secret ambition to be a soldier in Battlefield 3 if you choose to arm yourself with the RF511. Far Cry 2 runs fairly well on it, though.

Samsung build

So, if it’s not extra games performance that Samsung is offering punters, how does it distinguish itself from the almost £180 cheaper Packard Bell TS13HR? For the extra outlay here you get a Core i5 processor (rather than the Core i3 in the Packard Bell) and an extra 250GB of hard drive space.

It’s not much lighter, though, and the battery life isn’t any better if you’re running video or doing anything more challenging than browsing the web.

We can report, however, that the RF511’s screen is an improvement over the TS13HR. The contrast levels are even better for richer colours all round, but it’s not that much better. Certainly not £150 so.

Limited benefit

So what about those differences between the Core i5 and Core i3? With the former, you get Hyper Threading and Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. That’s reflected in the benchmarks, but they don’t have as much real world benefit as you might imagine – certainly not unless you’re encoding a lot of video or doing the kinds of high intensity workloads that this laptop really isn’t otherwise designed for.

TechRadar Labs

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Battery Eater ’05: 168 minutes
Cinebench: 9960
3DMark 2006: 4740

As far as using the the RF511 or the TS13HR for photo editing, watching videos, surfing the web and office suites, there’s not a huge performance advantage to be gained by spending the extra money.

What you do get for the extra money is a lot of bundled software. Unfortunately, most of this borders on the intrusive rather than the genuinely useful. Internet security pop-ups and notifications about Wi-Fi also have a habit of knocking out other running applications. If you’re after a no-frillls 15-incher, there’s little reason to buy the RF511 over the cheaper TS13HR.

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Samsung Series 3

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 Samsung Series 3

Overview

Hot on the heels of Samsung’s Series 7 and Series 9 laptops comes the more budget-friendly Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI.

This AMD-powered portable PC uses less powerful components than its older siblings, but comes in at half the cost too, making it better suited to families and users with more basic needs.

After reviewing a long line of black and silver laptops, the Samsung Series 3 was immediately refreshing, with its friendly blue design. This colourful metallic finish covers the lid and the keyboard, with a white interior giving it a fresh appearance.

Anyone with small children will be relieved to hear it’s solidly built too, so can withstand a bashing by tiny fists. The Samsung Series 3 laptop’s palm rests are firm, and we only noticed a little flex around the DVD drive. The screen is held firm by some strong hinges, while the lid itself is rigid enough to absorb any bumps, to protect the display.

Samsung series 3 review

As usual, the laptop’s isolation-style keyboard is comfortable for all-day typing. Keys are firmly mounted and spaced apart to prevent typos, and none of them are particularly crushed – even the arrow keys are given generous space, instead of being crammed into a single row.

Spreadsheet lovers rejoice – the Samsung Series 3 laptop also has a numeric keypad for those sweaty number crunching sessions.

We did find the very centre of the board a little spongy, but while this cheapens the feel of the overall quality, it doesn’t impair your typing in any way.

The touchpad is similarly well-endowed, covering the full width of the palm rests. The smooth surface is responsive, and supports multi-touch gesturing for zooming in and out of photos and documents. If you rub your finger up and down the right-hand edge, you can also scroll through files.

At 2.5kg, the Samsung Series 3 is fairly average for a 15.6-inch laptop, proving light enough to throw in a backpack and carry around all day.

Specifications and performance

Specifications

Samsung series 3 review

If you’re constantly on the move and want a portable computer to keep you entertained or productive, the Samsung Series 3 is a great option. One massively useful feature is the matt 15.6-inch screen, which lacks the shiny gloss coating of many modern laptops. This might not seem like a big deal, but the difference when you’re outside is impressive.

While glossy Super-TFT displays are a massive pain to use outside, reflecting light straight back into your eyes, the Samsung Series 3’s screen is almost completely non-reflective. You can work on it even in hideously bright conditions.

This is also helped by the brightness levels of the display. Turned to maximum, the panel is comfortable to use even for extended periods. It’s vibrant enough to bring your photos and movies to life, although viewing angles are a little tight.

Cinephiles can enjoy HD movies on this PC laptop, with 1080p videos playing perfectly. Of course the 1366 x 768p resolution doesn’t produce the sharpest visuals, but we didn’t notice any grainy-looking images.

However, the Samsung Series 3’s built-in speakers are typically rubbish, lacking any real oomph. A gunfight in The Dark Knight sounded more like a barrel of damp firecrackers going off.

We love carrying our entire media collection with us wherever we roam, and the Samsung Series 3’s dual hard drives don’t disappoint. You get 750GB of storage – enough for hundreds of HD movies and hundreds of thousands of music albums. It’s definitely a generous amount, considering the relatively low cost of this laptop.

Features are a little slim on the ground, but you get three USB ports for hooking up your own peripherals, and both VGA and HDMI options for attaching an external monitor. Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi means you can hook up to the internet.

Performance

Samsung series 3 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 7,198
3D Mark ’06: 5,330
Battery Eater ’05: 136 mins

The Samsung Series 3 laptop slashes its price by using budget components, compared to the Sandy Bridge-powered Series 7. This laptop features an AMD A6-3410MX quad-core processor, running at 1.6GHz, backed up by 6GB of RAM.

Our Cinebench tests confirmed that the Samsung Series 3 isn’t much of a performance heavyweight. You can happily browse the web, tinker with word processing documents and enjoy your media, all at the same time, but anything more strenuous causes the odd stutter.

This will suit most families fine, but don’t expect a laptop that’ll last you for years to come.

The Samsung Series 3’s AMD chipset also handles graphics, and the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6480G GPU is surprisingly capable. Our 3D Mark score was comparable with many low-end dedicated graphics cards, and the Samsung Series 3 laptop can comfortably run older games.

New releases will struggle, however, so gamers should look to up their budget to find a computer with dedicated graphics.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is edit your photos and movies, and watch the occasional HD film, the Samsung Series 3 is a dependable laptop.

If you’re strapped for cash but want a more powerful machine, we’d recommend the Acer Aspire 5750G, which comes kitted out with Sandy Bridge processors. Not only that, it costs roughly the same as the Samsung Series 3.

Sadly, the battery life is less impressive. We were hoping for over three hours of life from a charge, as we got with the Samsung Series 7, but the Samsung Series 3 died after just 136 minutes of playing HD video on loop. This is below average for budget laptops like this, and means you’ll have to drag the adapter with you on longer journeys.

Limit yourself to less intensive activities, such as office software and web browsing, and you’ll eek out three hours. It’s still unimpressive, and definitely disappointing.

On a more positive note, the Samsung Series 3 is a quiet machine. And we didn’t notice any hotspots during use – keep the vents clear and it stays reassuringly cool.

Verdict

Samsung series 3 review

The Samsung Series 3 is a cut-price laptop that banks on the latest AMD quad-core technology, but does it set itself apart from the budget laptop hordes?

We liked

The Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI’s design is appealing, considering so many laptops at this price point feature a dull black or silver finish. The metallic blue lid and keyboard stand out among its peers, and the Samsung Series 3 is solid enough to survive a reasonable amount of abuse.

Just as colourful is the 15.6-inch widescreen panel. It’s also comfortably bright and shuns a glossy coating, making it perfect for working outdoors.

The keyboard is comfortable to work on all day, or if you’d rather kick back with a film, the Samsung Series 3 plays HD films smoothly.

The integrated AMD graphics are surprisingly capable, and while you can’t play recent games, you can certainly waste hours on older or more basic titles.

Video editing is also perfectly possible.

Finally, you can carry a sizeable media collection, thanks to the 750GB of internal storage.

We disliked

However, the AMD processor is still highly limiting, and will quickly become out of date. This isn’t uncommon for a budget machine, but the likes of the Acer Aspire 5750G offers Intel Sandy Bridge performance for the same price.

We were also massively disappointed by the Samsung Series 3’s battery life, which barely lasts long enough for a two-hour film. If you suffer a long commute like us, you’ll need to carry your charger and power it up at work.

Final verdict

By cutting down the specs of the Series 7 laptop, Samsung has produced a more pocket-friendly laptop that should appeal to families and anyone looking for dependable budget performance.

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HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea

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 HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea

Overview

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea comes at an interesting time for portable PC laptops. Traditional laptops have had a turbulent ride of late, with a number of threats appearing to erode their market.

The first threat – netbooks – has been seen off pretty comprehensively. The diminutive machines offered a smaller, lighter and cheaper alternative, but at the cost of power and features.

In the end netbooks failed to capture the public’s imagination, despite the efforts of some great products, such as the Toshiba NB520-10U.

Tablets, however – especially the Apple iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – haven’t had this problem, and have surpassed netbooks to become the laptop’s biggest threat. Sales have rocketed so that tablets have succeeded where netbooks failed. Offering slick interfaces, a huge selection of apps and usually attractive and portable designs, tablets are a force to be reckoned with.

Their Achilles’ heel at the moment is price. Top range tablets go for around £300-£400. You can get cheaper models, such as the Binatone HomeSurf 705 and ViewSonic ViewPad 7e, but they’re not very good.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

A new front has now opened up from the high end of the laptop market, with Intel’s ultrabook format. These new laptops are incredibly thin, light and beautifully designed, as well as being powerful. The standout models of ultrabook is the Asus Zenbook UX31 and the Acer Aspire S3.

So where does this competition leave standard laptops in general, and the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea in particular? Does it do enough to stand out in an already crowded market, and does the audience for that market even exist any more? The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea starts with a strong foundation, with Hewlett Packard remaining a trusted and respected manufacturer of laptops.

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s stablemate, the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa, has impressed as an ultra-portable laptop that doesn’t make too many sacrifices when it comes to performance. But now the spotlight is firmly on the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea.

Specifications

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea is certainly a small laptop, with dimensions of just 29.2 x 21.5 x 3.2cm, and a weight of only 1.6kg. This makes it almost as small and portable as the much maligned netbooks but, crucially, it also has enough power to handle most tasks.

Packed onto the small chassis of the laptop are VGA, HDMI and Ethernet ports. There’s a combined headphone out/microphone in jack and three USB 2.0 ports. It’s a bit disappointing that there are none of the faster USB 3.0 ports included, since these are becoming increasingly common on new laptops.

To keep the computer small, there’s no optical drive for reading CDs or DVDs, so you’ll have to rip music and video to a USB stick to make the most out of this laptop’s media-playing capabilities.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

HP bills the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea as an “Entertainment Notebook PC”. This conjures up expectations of a machine that’s capable of handling media with ease, and maybe even a few casual games. Where the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa was let down with its handling of high-definition content, we expect the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea to have no such trouble.

On paper, things don’t look too bad. The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea uses an AMD Radeon HD 6320M integrated graphics card. It comes with some automatic overclocking tools to give it a bit of a needed boost, and with DirectX11 support, it can handle low- to mid-range games.

Graphically demanding newer games are definitely a no-no, though. This is because while the AMD Radeon HD 6320M inside the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea can theoretically use up to 1.92GB of memory for graphics, it doesn’t actually have dedicated graphics memory, so it needs to share memory with the rest of the PC.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

This means if you’re running a few graphic-intensive programs, along with other applications that need memory, the strain is going to show. The 11.6-inch screen has a resolution of 1366 x 768, which is fine for high-definition movies.

Although there’s a lack of dedicated graphics memory, HP has been very generous by including 4GB of DDR3 RAM with the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea. This is more than enough for most applications, and it’s nice to see that HP hasn’t hobbled the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea by cutting the RAM to 2GB to lower costs.

Processor-wise, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea comes with a 1.65 GHz AMD Dual-Core E-450. This processor has been specially designed by AMD to work in laptops, with lower power consumption that leads to greater battery life and saves the components inside the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s small body from overheating.

While it’s no competition for the Intel Core i5 and i7 processors found in higher-end (and much more expensive) laptops, this dual core processor is meaty enough for a lot of tasks, and pleasingly powerful, considering the size of the laptop.

Performance

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

3D Mark: 2,602
Cinebench: 1,433
Battery eater: 2 hours 59 mins 26 seconds

As with many laptops around this price range, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s performance really depends on what you’re using it for. Day-to-day computing on this laptop, such as writing on a word processor or browsing the web, is accomplished with little fuss, although there is a faint lag when starting up programs. We found that a bit of patience is required when selecting options or launching applications, with pauses of a few seconds sometimes.

Even with 4GB of RAM, multitasking can slow down quite a bit, especially if you’re browsing the internet while running a number of graphic-heavy programs at the same time, such as watching a movie or video editing.

The 320GB hard drive offers plenty of space but has a speed of just 5,400rpm (revolutions per minute). The faster a hard drive can spin, the faster the computer can open, move and edit files stored on the disk. With faster drives out there achieving 7,200rpm and even 10,000rpm, it does feel like the drive is a bit of a weak link.

The trade-off with a slower hard drive, however, is lower overall cost and a longer battery life.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

Graphics performance was OK, but nothing spectacular, with a 3D Mark score of 2,602, which is on the low end even for laptops, and lower than the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa‘s score. The Cinebench score of 1,433 using multiple cores was better, but still less than the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa’s score of 1,985.

Despite the lacklustre benchmarks, our real world tests were more positive. Media playback itself was good, with no stuttering on standard-definition movie files.

The 11.6-inch screen displayed colours well and animations in particular looked great. The 1366 x 768 resolution actually benefitted full HD movies files, since the 1080p source was nicely downscaled to run on the smaller resolution, resulting in a sharp image. High-definition movies also play very well, with just a hint of screen tear, but no noticeable stuttering.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

Much has been made of the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s sound capabilities, with the inclusion of Beats Audio technology, exclusive to HP laptops. The built-in speakers sound great – definitely the best we’ve heard in a laptop from this price range. Audio is clear, with plenty of depth and none of the tinny qualities that often plague laptop speakers.

Battery life was a pretty standard three hours of intensive computing. That’s not awful, but we’ve seen laptops – such as the Acer Timeline X – with much longer battery lives.

Verdict

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea is a strange beast of a laptop indeed. On the one hand it can feel rather lacklustre and underpowered when doing unexceptional tasks. Windows 7 Home Premium can feel sluggish at times, and with a number of windows left open on the desktop, things can get pretty slow.

In this regard, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea can’t compete with a higher-end, more powerful laptop, or even a tablet that’s less powerful but has an operating system and apps that use the limited resources well enough to ensure a smooth user experience.

However, there’s no denying that when it comes to media playback – an important consideration due to HP’s labelling of the Pavilion dm1-4027ea as an entertainment-focused machine – this laptop actually performs very well. Movie content – both standard and high-definition – plays very well, and the built-in speakers provide audio that is well above average for a laptop.

The lack of an optical drive does limit its media playback options quite a bit, however, but if your media collection has gone fully digital, then this won’t be such a problem.

The small size and light weight is also a big factor, and this is certainly a more portable laptop than most.

If you’re after a light media-playing laptop then this is a good choice. For anything more demanding, look elsewhere.

We liked

Media playback is a big winner with the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea. A lovely screen coupled with enough graphical power to run movies smoothly (bar the odd screen tear) makes this laptop a pleasure to watch movies on.

The battery life will just about make it through an entire film.

Better still is the audio quality of the built-in speakers, which really does sound great, and saves you the extra expense of buying separate laptop speakers such as the Logitech Laptop Speaker Z305.

The small size of the laptop is also a boon, making it easy to carry around wherever you go, with a slim and attractive design.

Even with the smaller keyboard, typing is comfortable.

We disliked

Outside of media playback, performance is pretty mediocre, with relatively impressive stats on paper not making a great impact in use.

The biggest culprit here is the 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which should give the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea some punch, but actually still leaves the laptop struggling when there is too much going on at once.

Final verdict

If you want a light laptop for watching movies on, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea does what you want it to do. However, if you want to use it to work on, editing digital photos or anything more strenuous, then you’re going to be disappointed.

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Toshiba Satellite Pro C660-1UX

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 Toshiba Satellite Pro C660-1UX

Toshiba’s Satellite Pro range is designed for business use, but solid build quality, strong usability and decent specifications make the C660-1UX suitable for home use.

Its sturdy plastic chassis has all the resilience you’d expect from a business machine. The textured, matt finish feels great and protects well against scuffs and scratches. Build quality is impressive throughout, with no flex in evidence on any of the panels. Even the thick screen is well put together and sure to withstand frequent family use.

The keyboard is fixed well to the chassis and there’s almost no sign of flex when typing. The keys respond accurately, although a long range of motion can cause occasional errors when typing at speed. However, by striking the keys firmly, it’s easy to avoid such problems.

The touchpad is small and narrow, making it awkward to navigate onscreen at times. It is far wider than it is deep, so it takes a few swipes to get from one side of the screen to the other. In contrast, the mouse buttons are huge but are recessed too far, so they too can be awkward to operate.

At 2.5kg this is not a laptop built for travel use, but it is light enough to be carried occasionally without too much discomfort. While the 159-minute battery life is average, it betters the Advent, Lenovo and Samsung in this group.

Sharp display

The most striking feature is the vivid 15.6-inch screen. The 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution means you can enjoy high-definition 720p content and the display is bright, sharp and vibrant.

Photos and videos look great and the Super-TFT coating is one of the least reflective we’ve seen. The Toshiba lacks an HDMI output, though, so you can’t connect to your TV. An analogue VGA – or D-Sub – port is fitted, for connecting older PC monitors and projectors, but the lack of HD connectivity is surprising for such a new laptop.

Performance is equally disappointing. The Intel Celeron 925 processor is vastly outperformed by the Core i5 and i7 chips of the Acer Aspire 5943G, Alienware M11x and Lenovo B570. Even the Celeron-powered Samsung doubles the power on offer here, making the Toshiba only suitable for basic use.

Graphics fare even worse and the integrated Intel graphics card struggles with the simplest tasks. All its rivals at least double the power on offer and, in some cases, provide almost twelve times the performance of the Toshiba, so consider your needs carefully.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 159 minutes
Cinebench: 2544
3DMark 2006: 703

Toshiba build

Storage is also disappointing. While the 250GB hard drive is average for this price, most rivals in this group better it. The Lenovo, for example, provides three times the storage. The DVD rewriter and five-in-one card reader compensate somewhat, letting you back-up files to DVD, CD and multimedia cards to save space on the hard drive.

The Toshiba continues to fall short when assessing its other features. The two USB ports limit the amount of peripherals you can connect; there is no Bluetooth for wirelessly sharing files; you only get 2GB of memory as standard and even the fixed Ethernet connectivity uses the older and slower 10/100 standard.

If you’re looking for a tough, usable laptop with a great screen, the Satellite Pro C660-1UX is a good choice. With such high-quality rivals, though, its limited power and features are far too pronounced. The similarly priced Samsung 200B5A provides better value for money, making the Toshiba hard to recommend.

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Lenovo B570

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 Lenovo B570

Lenovo’s staggeringly powerful and well-equipped B570 easily asserts itself as one of the best laptops around for this kind of money.

The plain black chassis design puts function firmly before form. The tough, ridged plastics easily withstand scuffs and scratches and the firm lid capably protects the screen from damage.

Although this is not the heaviest laptop we’ve seen, at 2.4kg it’s also not ideal for regularly working on the move. The 157-minute battery life is average and can keep you working on short journeys, but falls far short of the four-hour mobility of the compact Alienware M11x.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops are known for their fantastic keyboards and some of this quality has trickled down to its budget range. The B570’s excellent, isolated-style keyboard’s well-spaced buttons move smoothly, quietly and accurately at all times. Even speed typing is a pleasure.

The huge touchpad and mouse buttons are just as pleasing to use and the pad’s textured finish makes it easy to find when typing. The wide design perfectly suits the screen’s dimensions and enables you to scroll from one side of the screen to the other without removing your finger from the touchpad.

The screen is gorgeous and renders photos and videos beautifully. While the glossy Super-TFT coating is very reflective and not suitable for outdoor use, it delivers strong colour reproduction, sharp contrast and strikingly detailed images.

Stunning performance

Despite using a technically less-capable processor than the Alienware, the Lenovo vastly outperformed its rival. The second-generation Intel Core i5 processor flew through our benchmark tests and runs incredibly quickly for such an affordable laptop. Backed by 8GB of memory, you can also comfortably multitask with no slowdown.

Graphics are less powerful, but still more than capable for most needs. The entry-level Nvidia GT 410M graphics can’t compete with the Acer Aspire 5943G and Alienware’s high-powered chips, but there is plenty of power for basic photo and video editing. Regular gaming will be out of reach, however.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 157 minutes
Cinebench: 9898
3DMark 2006: 4579

Lenovo build

The Lenovo’s real strength is its vast storage. The 750GB hard drive is outstanding at this price and provides far more space than most other laptops. Even if you plan to store thousands of songs, videos and photos on your laptop, you’ll be unlikely to fill this drive, even over many years of use.

Several useful security features also let you keep your files safe and secure. For example, a fingerprint scanner on the palm rest offers biometric protection against unauthorised access, while proprietary Lenovo software enables you to encrypt sections of the hard drive to keep private files hidden.

Lastly, you also get a comprehensive selection of Lenovo software for managing power consumption and data recovery, among others; high-speed fixed and wireless network connectivity via built-in Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi modules and Bluetooth connectivity for wirelessly sharing files with external devices.

Although the B570 is bettered by the Acer’s high-def multimedia features and the Alienware’s mobility, it is still a fantastic laptop. Its resilient build, strong performance, great user interface and capacious storage pack all you could need from an entry-level laptop and this is a machine we can heartily recommend.

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Review: Asus Zenbook UX31

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Review: Asus Zenbook UX31

Overview

The Asus Zenbook UX31 is one of the first laptops to conform to Intel’s Ultrabook specification.

And, right away, we’ll tell you – it stands toe-to-toe with Apple’s MacBook Air in the fight for the title of best luxury ultraportable.

More competition is to come, however, in the form of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 S, Acer Aspire S3 and, potentially, others from the likes of HP and Dell.

Back to the present though and Asus has done a terrific job with the Zenbook’s design – even if you have to acknowledge that the designer took more than a sneaky glance at Apple’s ultraportable first.

The 13-inch Zenbook is fantastic to look at. When closed, the wedge-shaped laptop measures 17mm at its thickest point and a mere 3mm at its thinnest.

Asus zenbook ux31

The aluminium silver lid boasts a distinctive concentric circle design that catches and reflects the surrounding light. Befitting the name, the Zenbook’s simple, sleek finish gives it a premium look that keeps getting better as soon as you lift the lid.

The design ethic is in evidence earlier than that, though – it’s a lovely experience as you open the box while Asus has also included a mini Display Port to D-Sub adapter and a USB to Ethernet lead as well. Both are housed in their own little pouch. Better still, you even get a bespoke sleeve for your Zenbook in the box.

The same thinking even stretches to the Intel Core and Windows 7 stickers. We wonder who it was that proposed they were silver and black – Intel? Asus? – but whoever did has made a difference.

Specifications

Asus zenbook ux31

The outward elegance of the Zenbook UX31 has certainly been matched by power on the inside. There are currently two different versions available, our test model has the Core i7 2677M Processor while there’s also a Core i5 2467M Processor variant.

Our test version was running Windows 7 Home Premium, though the Asus spec sheet seems to suggest that Professional is also available should that be a requirement for you.

For those looking for a smaller laptop, there’s an 11.6-inch UX21 version that costs £849. We’ll be reviewing that separately as soon as we can get our hands on one.

You’ll get 4GB or RAM with all 13-inch models, as well as a 128 or 256GB solid state drive (SSD). Our review model had a 128GB drive under the hood and, as we were using it a lot, we managed to fill most of that with apps and files in no time. This is a performance machine and you may find yourself wanting the larger capacity.

The isolation-style keyboard is front and centre inside the Zenbook with no additional clutter from the likes of hotkeys, volume controls, numeric keypads or even separate mouse buttons.

As the chassis is so thin, there’s very little depth to each key. It must be said that, at first, this can be of-putting, especially if you’re used to hammering out your emails – but before long typing on the Zenbook becomes second nature.

We did find the directional arrows and the enter key to be a little on the small side, but not enough to interfere with extended typing sessions.

There’s also no backlight to the keyboard – as the MacBook Air and other competitors such as the Samsung 9 Series have this. A shame it’s missing here.

Asus zenbook

Alongside the keyboard, Asus has included a large, central touchpad. We had doubts about the inbuilt buttons and lack of a textured surface at first, but these were soon laid to rest.

The response is swift and because of the larger size, it is possible to use your thumb on the touchpad without moving your hands from the typing position. Occasionally you might brush the touchpad when typing but this is a rare occurrence.

However, we really don’t like the mouse buttons. The touch isn’t very definite, while it can be quite hard to do selections or multiple presses. Things could be a lot better here.

Another noteworthy feature of the Zenbook is the external speaker running across the base of the 13.3-inch, 1,600 x 900 16:9 Super-TFT screen. Developed by Bang & Olufsen and called ICEpower, the speaker is monitored by in-built Asus techcalled SonicMaster to keepthe balance even.

The Zenbook will hit a reassuringly loud volume without disintegrating into either a tinny treble or a fuzzy bass. It sounded impressive both in our expansive office and at home in a fully furnished room.

For the record, there’s also a 0.3 megapixel webcam for video conferencing or Skype.

The Zenbook weighs in at 1.4kg, exactly the same as the 13.1-inch Macbook Air. It’s hardly noticeable when carried around for the day and, because of the svelte design; it won’t take up too much space in your bag.

Thankfully Asus hasn’t filled the Zenbook with too much add-on software, but there is an annoying Live Update engine that keeps on popping up messages from the taskbar, while there’s also a battery life gadget (actually useful but it remains in your taskbar), as well as backup tools and a webcam app.

We’re sure there are some people that think it’s nice to have this kind of stuff, but we’re not among them. Moreover, much of the software is simply unnecessary.

And then there’s the graphics that appear when you turn the volume up, change the brightness or switch the power mode. To be honest, they’re horribly ugly and we’re simply not impressed.

It’s a shame the same attention that was paid to the external design wasn’t paid to the add-ons within the OS.

Performance

Asus zenbook ux31

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 8726
3D Mark ’06: 3623
Battery Eater ’05: 253 mins

Both processors in the 13-inch are from Intel’s second-generation Sandy Bridge family and mean the Zenbook can easily handle multi-tasking, varioius demanding apps and multiple displays using the Sandy Bridge chips’ in-built HD 3000 graphics capabilities.

However. the lack of non-dedicated graphics from AMD or Nvidia does hit the Zenbook in the performance pocket – hence our relatively modest 3D Mark score.

We felt the display wasn’t the best – dark colours and especially blacks seem a little washed out – but definition is good. We also found the viewing angle wasn’t great for watching video and working alongside others.

Speed, clearly, is the focus of the ultrabook range and the Zenbook is no slouch. The instant-on feature means you can be up and running in just two seconds from sleep mode and standby time will hit two weeks on a single charge.

The Core i7 unit featured here performs brilliantly and it was able to handle multiple browsers, Outlook and Word 2010, Spotify, FileZilla and image editing apps all concurrently. You really find you can do what you want, when you want.

There were a couple of times when we found this wasn’t the case – several times when switching power states suddenly (like unplugging the charger) meant that the whole system seemed to struggle to adapt – browsing became slow and we had to let the system calm completely down. Also we found that using more intensive apps could make things hang – handling a load of images inside Microsoft Publisher, for example.

Even with heavy use during our testing, the Zenbook’s battery lasted for an impressive 253 minutes. And when the battery does dip below 5 per cent, the Zenbook will automatically save any files in progress to avoid you losing all your work when the machine shuts down.

The battery can seem like it’s draining reasonably quickly when doing any tasks on high performance but on power saving mode this thing is positively frugal, going for around six hours if you’re careful. Asus quotes seven, but you’ll have to barely use it to get that. So we’re not at the all-day battery life scenario yet, but we’re getting closer.

The slim design means physical connectivity isn’t as abundant as regular laptops, but there’s still enough here to satisfy most users.

Asus zenbook ux31

Asus has included two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0 as well as an SD card slot plus a mini HDMI and mini DislayPort for connecting the ultrabok to an external TV or monitor. The Zenbook also has 802.11n Wi-Fi and cutting edge Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity.

Asus zenbook ux31

Good value?

Although the 13.3-inch Zenbook will set you back from £999, that;s still £100 less than the cheapest 13.3-inch Macbook Air.

Similarly, Asus has matched Apple with pricing for the 11.6-inch model which, like the smaller Macbook Air comes in at £849. Considering the technology and the form factor, a starting price point of under a thousand pounds is good value for money – especially when you consider other such ultraportables have cost as much as £1,500 in the past.

Asus zenbook ux31

Verdict

Asus zenbook ux31

Overall we were very impressed with the Asus Zenbook. Neither power nor portability has been sacrificed in pursuit of the other and features that traditionally suffer, such as audio quality and battery life, have not been neglected.

Battery life, especially, isn’t the worry it usually is with the Zenbook, but you need to make sure it’s in the right power state – running on high performance means that the system flies – but it comes at a cost. For most purposes, running in power saving mode is more than enough.

We liked

There’s so much to like about this laptop. It’s a real PC ultraportable – the design is fantastic and it goes like stink.

Beautiful design can only come into its own when there’s performance to match.And it’s all here in spades.

The instant sleep and resume is exactly what you want in a laptop like this, and you’ll find yourself quickly adapting to never shutting down. Unless, that is. Windows wants to install updates!

We disliked

There’s surprisingly little we disliked about the Zenbook, but it must be said that the trackpad buttons grate especially. They are truly awful and mean that a mouse is recommended for serious work.

The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to and isn’t as good as many – however, you quickly get to know it and it’s not too much of an issue. The lack of a backlight is also a problem.

Graphics performance could be better but we realise that’s slightly unrealistic for a machine of this type – we also weren’t huge fans of the display.

Finally, you could say the design – though fantastic – is rather derivative. Still, unless you’re a real design freak, you’ll almost certainly find that you’re not that fussed.

Verdict

While price may preclude some from purchasing the Zenbook, we have no problem in recommending it as one of the best ultraportables we’ve seen.

It’s certainly a match for the impressive MacBook Air – and a real tonic to those who have wanted a performanceWindowsultraportable at a price point that doesn’t require a remortgage. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s so worth it.

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Review: Asus Eee Pad Slider

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Review: Asus Eee Pad Slider

Overview and design

We were totally taken by the Eee Pad Transformer when it came out because it did something different to the iPad, and so gave itself room to breathe away from the tablet big guns.

Now its brother, the Asus Eee Pad Slider has arrived, and manages to stand out in much the same way.

The specs are fairly typical for tablets these days. The Eee Pad Slider features a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip, offering dual-core power and good graphics performance, which powers Android 3.1 out of the box (though you can upgrade to 3.2 as soon as you get it connected to the internet, and an Android 4.0 update is on its way).

There’s 1GB of RAM to keep multitasking smooth, along with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, though a microSD card slot means you can boost this. Wi-Fi is present up to 802.11n, as is Bluetooth.

The screen is a generous 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS affair, so there’s plenty of space for Android 3.2 to show us what it’s got. We’ll go into full details about the screen’s quality on the Performance page.

Asus eee pad slider

Of course, behind the screen is where things get interesting. By grabbing the top of it, you can pull it up, so it slides back and sits up at an angle to reveal the built-in keyboard.

The front of the device is glossy black with a silver rim, like a lot of tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but the keyboard and rear case of the Eee Pad Slider are a kind of chocolate colour, with a matt finish.

Asus eee pad slider

It’s an unusual direction for tablets, but one that we think works for this one. The more we used the Eee Pad Slider, the more we found it to be an office-focussed tablet, and the aesthetic really fits that. Overall, it bears far more of a resemblance to a BlackBerry Boldhandset than the iPhone, and we doubt thats coincidence.

Asus eee pad slider

The build quality of the two halves of the Eee Pad Slider is excellent, feeling totally solid and without any noticeable give. Our only (admittedly very mild) concerns are with the joins between the two.

We don’t expect the hinge to break on anyone for no good reason, but the way the screen just sits loose and wobbly when in the upright position is odd compared how solid the rest of the device is.

There’s also a ribbon connecting the screen to the keyboard. While we’ve no doubt that this offers a huge power consumption advantage over using Bluetooth to connect the two, it’s an obvious weak point if your Slider should take an unexpected trip to the ground.

Around the sides, you’ve not only got your microSD card slot, but also the Lock key, a volume rocker, a reset button that’s far too easy to press, a mini-HDMI port for video output, Asus’s proprietary connection for USB connectivity and charging, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a full-size USB port.

Asus eee pad slider

Having two separate sliding halves in this tablet inevitably means it’s a lot thicker than the competition. At 273 x 180.3 x 17.3mm, it’s around twice as thick as an iPad 2, and at 960g it’s around 50 percent heavier.

The weight difference really does tip it from being comfortable to hold to being just too heavy to keep in one hand for long. Between this and the slide-out function, which puts the screen at a great angle for both desk and lap use, it becomes clear that the Eee Pad Slider is less of a competitor for tablets like the iPad, and is more targeting replacing netbooks and smaller laptops.

The Eee Pad Slider looks set to be available for around £450 in its 32GB version, which isn’t as cheap as the keyboardless half of the Eee Pad Transformer, but is good value compared to most other Android tablets.

Features

Asus eee pc slider

The obvious major feature draw for the Eee Pad Slider is its slide-out keyboard. Offering a wide range of keys, it’s got options for Home, Back and Menu, as well as a few keys to help you quickly conserve power if you’re concerned about your battery life. Specifically, you can turn Bluetooth on and off, turn Wi-Fi on and off, and adjust the brightness.

Asus has taken the same route as other manufacturers when it comes to customising Android on tablets, and has included a carefully picked selection of apps and an original widget to make the Slider stand out.

Asus eee pc slider

The Asus Launcher is a slick widget that displays various bits of information, including the last website you left open, the currently playing music, calendar appontments, the weather, the date, and a slideshow of your photos.

Asus eee pc slider

It’s a lot of stuff to cram into a widget, but it works really well thanks to a simple, no-nonsense design. We certainly prefer it to the utilitarian launcher widget included on the Lenovo IdeaPad K1.

As far as the apps go, the most useful is surely Polaris Office, given the nature of this tablet. It’s a really good inclusion, with a slick, surprisingly powerful interface and options to create text documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

Asus eee pc slider

The word processor is particularly impressive, with tools for indenting, reflowing text, including media, tweaking fonts and loads more. In fact, we used it and the Slider’s keyboard to write this entire review, with no problems in general (though a regular auto-save function would be gratefully received).

Cleverly, Asus is including an impressive cloud deal with the Slider. Asus’ WebStorage offers unlimited online storage free for a year with the Slider. The app for it is easy to use, though it’s a shame that you’re unlikely to see it integrated into apps in the way Dropbox often is.

Asus eee pc slider

Amazon’s Kindle client is included for readers, as is Zinio for buying and reading magazines, along with Press Reader for getting the newspapers right on your device. They’re a killer trio of apps, all offering a great array of content, even if Zinio and Press Reader don’t give you the flexibility in the publications that you get from Apple’s Newsstand on the iPad.

Asus has also beefed up the built-in media options with MyNet, which adds media streaming both to and from the Slider.

The USB port on the side adds a few handy features, too. The first is that, like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, you can plug in a USB mouse and control the tablet that way. If youre doing a lot of word processing/spreadsheet work, you might find this quite useful.

It also works a USB host for mass storage, so you can plug in USB drives or memory cards (with an adapter) and use the included File Manager app to browse and move files.

On top of all this are the usual Google apps, including the Android Market. Nvidia’s Tegra Zone is also bundled, making it easy to find games, if you want. No games are included, which is unsurprising considering how this tablet feels more work-focussed.

Performance

Asus eee pc slider

The Asus Eee Pad Slider earns itself a huge tick in the performance column in one very simply way: this is the smoothest Android tablet we’ve seen yet.

Scrolling between Home screens is as slick as you like, the app list flashes up and away in an instant, apps load quickly, the multitasking list is smooth and stable – this is Android at its very best, for general use, without a doubt.

Asus eee pc slider

It still suffers from Android’s common imperfections, though. When zooming or panning in the browser, it’s fast and responsive, but there can be a stutter, which makes it difficult to be precise. Sometimes, particlarly in the browser, there will be a mysterious lag when typing in the URL bar, which is frustrating.

The browser is fast to load sites, certainly, but consistently lagged just behind an iPad 2 running iOS 5 in head-to-head tests (both with Flash turned on and off). Android 4.0 looks set to boost Android tablets in this area, but that’s the situation as it stands.

Asus eee pc slider

And yes, Flash 11 is available as ever from the Android Market. And yes, browsing a page with Flash content will drastically reduce the responsiveness of the browser. In addition, many iPlayer videos had an odd black mark that appeared occasionally, while going between fullscreen and a smaller window within the browser often caused the audio to go slightly out of sync.

However, the videos did play, and play smoothly, so for those of us who can’t live without Flash, performance is about as good as we can get at the moment.

Asus eee pc slider

Media stored on the device played impeccably. HD video in particular was absolutely brilliant, with both 1080p and 720p files playing back smoothly. The killer is the crisp, clear screen, though. It’s absolutely perfect for video, and the way the screen sits up on the Slider when the screen is out makes this an ideal tablet to keep you entertained on a long journey (well, save for the battery life, as we’ll explain in a moment).

That screen really is the best thing about the Eee Pad Slider. At 1280 x 800, it’s nice and high resolution, with text appearing crisp and easy to read. More than that, though, colours are vibrant and hugely appealing, and the viewing angles are excellent. It’s also brighter than a lot of Android tablets. It’s one of the best tablet screens we’ve seen, to put it simply.

Of course, the keyboard is a big feature for the Eee Pad Slider, since it’s pretty much its reason for existing. And the good news is that is isn’t bad. The keys are fairly small, but a nice gap between them makes them easy to find without concentrating.

Asus eee pc slider

In fact, we found it easy to hit the right key first time over 90 per cent of the keyboard, despite its size. You will inevitably miss more keys than you would on a full-size keyboard, but no more so than other small, portable keyboards.

Most of the 10 per cent where we weren’t hitting the right keys was hunting for things like Control and Alt, which are slightly displaced because of the Home, Back and Menu keys.

The only really annoying aspect was that it’s ludicrously easy to hit the up arrow button instead of the right Shift key. We did it constantly throughout this review, and it gets more annoying every time.

You will, of course, come to accomodate the layout as you get used to it, but even after hours of use, we were still nudging that damn up arrow.

Still, though, we give the keyboard a thumbs up, and the angle of the screen makes the while thing reasonably comfortable to use. Any small mobile keyboard has layout foibles, so we don’t begrudge them too much, even if they can be annoying.

Asus eee pc slider

The last big thing for tablets is battery life, and this is probably the Slider’s weakest area. It’s rated for eight hours, but when we tried streaming video over Wi-Fi with the screen’s brightness turned all the way up, we got just under five hours out of it.

This isn’t terrible, though. You can expect a good deal more battery life than that if you’re just using it type documents, for example. Though it’s certainly well behind what the iPad can give you, let’s remember that this is more focussed on the netbook/small laptop market than the iPad, and compared to most laptops this is great battery life in a far lighter package.

And as is so often the fashion, the Eee Pad Slider features front and rear cameras. The 1.2-megapixel front camera is as good as it needs to be, picking up a decent amount of light. The angle of the screen when slid out will give the person you’re chatting to a lovely view of your nostrils, but it works well enough.

YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fH8sE-xIRM

Asus eee pad slider

The rear five-megapixel camera turned out to be surprisingly good on a sunny day, though the 720p video footage it takes was rather weak, with a huge amount of artefacting ruining any semblance of detail.

Asus eee pc sliderClick here for full-size image

Verdict

Asus eee pc slider

It became clear to us when using the Eee Pad Slider that Asus isn’t going after quite the same market as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It’s too heavy and too thick to be in quite the same bracket, because of its keyboard.

But as an alternative to a small laptop, it really comes into its own. Suddenly it seems small, and light. Fast, too, compared many lower-powered Windows 7 machines. It even comes with a great office suite ready to go. This is a tablet for the office, the desk at home, or the briefcase, and it really works.

We liked:

The screen is absolutely brilliant, which is always the first thing you want to see a tablet get right.

The same goes for the touch control and overall performance. Though smoothness in the browser and some other areas isn’t quite as perfect as the iPad, this is a more than capable machine.

The way the keyboard slides out puts the screen at an ideal angle for on a desk or your lap – something that’s clearly been thought through. And the keyboard itself is pretty good for a small mobile offering; good enough to write this review on.

The included apps are very useful, but quite understated, too. It’s not bloatware – this is a great suite to have available from the off.

We disliked:

The only real disappointment with the Eee Pad Slider is the battery life. It’s well below the likes of the iPad, and we’d hoped for better. As we said before, though, it holds its own against the kind of laptops it’s most likely to replace, so it’s not a deal breaker.

Similarly, it’s chunkier and heavier than other leading tablets, which is a shame, but inevitable when you consider the extra mechanics and casing required for its two halves. And again, it compares favourably to laptops.

Our other gripes are only very minor foibles, really.

The keyboard is still harder to use than a full-size one, even if it’s very good overall. Some people may never find it comfortable, but this is true of all small keyboards.

Android still needs some spit and polish here and there – hopefully Android 4.0 will bring at least some of that, and we’re really looking forward to seeing the Slider with future versions of Android on.

Verdict:

As a tablet, this is a slightly flawed gem with a gimmick that not only makes it stand out, but makes it genuinely useful.

But as a laptop replacement, this is nippy, light, versatle and hugely desirable. As tablets increasingly become work tools, we fully expect the Eee Pad Slider to be right at the forefront of the revolution, thanks to its smooth performance, stunning screen, handy software and more-than-adequate keyboard.

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Review: Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus

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Review: Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus

Zotac has been the recent master of the small-form factor motherboard. We’ve seen H67 boards rocking the mini-ITX style, with the top-end Intel Z68 and AMD A75 chipsets getting the same sort of treatment. These boards all had something in common (aside from the scale); a surprising amount of serious functionality in a frankly silly size.

Now Zotac has turned its shrink ray on full devices and has created a PC with what has to be one of the smallest footprints ever. The Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is absolutely tiny. It’s shorter than a Rubik’s cube and smaller than a CD case. Ickle.

But in there you’ve got a full PC. Well, so long as your idea of a ‘full PC’ means something sans optical drive and you have no interest in doing anything beyond multimedia playback and some light web browsing.

The Zbox AD10 is a very basic machine, essentially with all the internal organs of a netbook, but without a screen. The archetypal ‘nettop’ then. But the nettop is largely becoming anachronistic in today’s connected world. With more advanced media streamers hitting the market, capable of letting you browse the web and play online content, and TVs evolving with this functionality too, the low-powered mini PC doesn’t really have a lot of tricks up its sleeve any more.

Granted this AMD Fusion-powered version is more capable than its Intel Atom-based brethren, but still the gulf in performance between the low-end chips and the proper desktop options is huge. And that gap doesn’t shrink much with Fusion in the equation.

But if you’re just talking about a small homework machine then the Zbox isn’t a bad choice. That said a little netbook is going to give you more flexibility than something that has to be anchored to a desk and monitor full time.

Not a tiny price tag

There’s also the fact that the £255 price tag is more like £325 when you factor in a functional OS. A Microsoft Windows installation is really your only option here – we tried getting Ubuntu to play nice but it would take many long, tiring, frustrating hours and a lot of command line tapping to get anywhere near a responsive machine.

When you’re topping £300 you’re straying into proper Windows 7 laptop prices. And if you’re really interested in plugging it into your HDTV you’ll be able to find one with a HDMI port I’m sure.

In short there’s depressingly little to recommend the Zbox AD10 beyond the fact that it is a very, very small PC. It’s not even particularly easy to set up either as the lack of optical drive makes installing Windows a little problematic. Especially seeing as you can’t have anything plugged into the two USB 3.0 ports of the four ports that are available until there are Windows drivers installed.

And as we’ve mentioned, Ubuntu despite coming happily on a USB stick, doesn’t particularly like the hardware inside. So as small as the Zbox undoubtedly is, functionally it’s a little too late to the party.

Your humble media streamer, and soon your TV, is going to be doing everything you’d realistically want this box to do. And will probably do it in a more intuitive way as well.

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