Inexpensive, fully featured ultraportable.
- 1.6kg, HDMI, NVIDIA graphics chip, easy to use, fingerprint reader, good battery life
- Glossy screen is susceptible to reflections, base gets warm
Finally, a fully featured ultraportable laptop that won't cost you more than $1500. It's easy to use, has plenty of ports and expansion options and it can last a long time away from an outlet. Sure it's a slow performer, but for sending e-mail, writing documents, viewing pictures and videos, it's ideal. It's almost the perfect laptop.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
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Following on from the success of the Eee PC, ASUS has taken the same concept and created an ultraportable laptop with slightly beefier specifications, more security features and better looks. Its name is the N10J, and it puts more emphasis on style than most laptops on the market. Its glossy, champagne-coloured panels, latch-less screen and chrome details should make it a hit with the ladies, but it should also appeal to plenty of guys.
It has a some advanced features that make it desirable not only for the fashion-conscious, but also the function-conscious. These include dual-mode graphics, which allows the user to switch between the discrete and onboard graphics chips, as well as an HDMI port, which is controlled by the discrete graphics chip. It also offers a large hard drive, a webcam, 802.11n wireless networking, Gigabit Ethernet and a great range of other ports for expansion.
Despite being so feature-rich, it's supremely easy to carry around, as it weighs only 1.6kg with a 6-cell battery, and it's very comfortable to type on. The keyboard is 26.2cm wide, and its side-bevelled keys are 18mm wide; they provide plenty of travel, and they feel good to the touch. Its touchpad is 7x4.5cm and your finger glides smoothly across it for accurate navigation. We foresee no problems in using the N10J extensively for typing, either at home or at work, or while abroad. In fact, it's the perfect unit for travellers.
Not only is it small and easy to use, but its built-in fingerprint reader means that you can keep your system secure without having to type your passwords. The supplied credentials manager software allows you to log in to Gmail and other Web services simply by swiping your finger.
The N10J includes ExpressGate, which is a Linux-based operating system that can be invoked during boot-up. ExpressGate is useful when all you want to do is log in and browse the Web or dump some photos from an SD card. The N10J ships with Windows Vista (our engineering sample shipped with the Ultimate version, which is overkill for this thing), so it's a fully fledged laptop. However, it's not fast.
Our test unit came equipped with an Intel Atom N270 CPU, which runs at 1.6GHz and is HyperThreaded; 2GB of DDR2, 533MHz RAM; a 320GB hard drive and NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS graphics, which has 256MB of dedicated memory. This graphics chip scored 1566 in 3DMark06, which is a huge improvement over the score of the onboard Intel graphics chip (139).
In our WorldBench 6 test suite, the N10J returned a score of 30, which is one point better than HP's VIA-based 2133 Mini-Note PC (FH441PA). It was quicker than the Mini-Note in the Photoshop test, finishing it in 1398sec, as opposed to 1900sec. It's not designed to run taxing tasks, however, and this was also highlighted in our iTunes MP3 encoding test, which took 8min 32sec to complete. Most Intel Core 2 Duo–based laptops can finish this task in well under 2min.
Multitasking is not something that this unit will do well; it's capable of doing it, but it will be slow. What this unit is good for is creating documents, browsing the Web, listening to music and even watching movies. It played DVD-resolution (720x576) movies smoothly enough, but its CPU hit 100 per cent usage and when playing back 768p and 1080p files and it stuttered badly.
Its small size makes it ideal to use while flying in an economy class seat towards your favourite holiday destination. You might not find it too comfortable to use the notebook in a bright room: the screen is glossy and the bezel around it is glossy, too, so it is very prone to reflections, not to mention fingerprints and dust. Reflections can be minimised if you find the right viewing angle. The screen's brightness is actually quite good, so it can be viewed in a bright room or outdoors (in the shade, not in direct sunlight) and its contrast is adequate for viewing photos. But it shouldn't be relied on for any critical photo editing.
The screen has a native resolution of 1024x600, so its vertical resolution can make things cramped; some dialogue boxes, such as those in iTunes, can't be viewed in full. For example, there is not enough vertical resolution to view the OK and Cancel buttons.
Along the N10J's edges you can find three USB 2.0 ports, D-Sub and Gigabit Ethernet ports, an ExpressCard/34 slot, an SD card slot and an HDMI port. This is where the NVIDIA graphics chip comes in handy, as it drives a high-definition resolution when plugged in to a big-screen TV. The N10J detected our HD TV as soon as we plugged it in, but we did have to adjust the size of the screen to make the entire desktop visible. Audio and video is sent over HDMI, and it plays back XviD-encoded files and DVD-resolution files smoothly over this connection.
Power management is made convenient by the inclusion of a shortcut button just above the keyboard, which allows you to select from various modes, including high-power and battery saving. This button means you can forego changing the power settings via the Taskbar or Control Panel. There is a dedicated button for switching off the wireless card and Bluetooth module. Additionally, power can be saved by switching to the onboard graphics when you are away from an outlet. Running the NVIDIA chip, the unit's 6-cell battery lasted 3hr 22min in our video playback test, which is a commendable result. With onboard graphics, we got an extra 38min out of it. And you'll get even more if you adopt a conservative power management scheme and turn down the brightness of the screen.
After four hours of continuous use, the laptop's base warmed up a little, which would make it pleasant to use during winter, but could be a little uncomfortable during the summer months. It has a cooling fan and a vent on its left side. Despite its conventional spinning hard drive, the unit doesn't make too much noise at all.
At the end of the day, you're not getting a very fast laptop, but what you are getting is a fully featured ultraportable laptop that hardly compromises connectivity and expandability despite its petite frame. It's also an affordable ultraportable and is the perfect unit for a frequent globetrotter who wants to write e-mails or a blog and dump photos.
Note: the hard drive in our engineering sample was 320GB. The retail version comes with a 250GB drive.
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