Packard Bell EasyNote XS review
A decent stab at an ultra-budget laptop, the XS comes with plenty of storage, but has a few usability issues.
The announcement of the Asus Eee PC (web ID: 137289) appears to have been a catalyst for laptop manufacturers. If all you need to do is tap out a few emails on the train, you don't need a dual-core system with 250GB of storage. Nor do you need a 14in screen. Instead, you'll be after something small, light and inexpensive.
The EasyNote XS isn't Packard Bell's own design: the original blueprints come from VIA as the NanoBook, and they bring about inevitable comparisons with the Eee PC. It's tiny: at 230 x 170mm (W x D) and weighing just 928g (and only 1.3kg with the power supply), this is something you'll have no difficulty cramming into an already-too-full carry-on bag. And, identically to the Eee, the tiny screen is just 7in diagonally and sports a resolution of 800 x 480.
The screen is surprisingly good -clear, bright and comfortable to work on. The low resolution is occasionally a problem when it comes to websites, and we found some issues with dialog boxes - click on Properties on My Computer, for instance, and the OK, Cancel and Apply buttons all but disappear off the bottom edge of the screen.
The other potential problem is the EasyNote's very modest level of power. The 1.2GHz VIA C7-M has a fantastically low maximum TDP of 5W, but Windows frequently proves too much for it. With just Microsoft Word and a few folder windows open, we were held occasional hostage as the entire system paused before filling in a line of text. More demanding tasks take even longer. Evidence of the processor being overworked is its heat output: even when idle, the XS generates enough heat to be unpleasant on the lap. A final benchmark result of 0.22 illustrates that gentle web browsing, emailing and document handling are the limits of what you should expect, and it does make Asus' decision to use an undemanding, custom Linux OS look wiser by the day.
There are also some usability niggles. The keyboard is tiny and takes a lot of getting used to. On a train or plane, you'll find yourself with a high error rate as you stab at the tiny keys. Mouse control also leaves something to be desired. The trackpad occupies a tiny 20mm x 10mm square to the top right of the keyboard - smaller than a postage stamp. It makes clicking on anything with a degree of precision tricky.
There are benefits elsewhere, though. Where the Eee has a tiny amount of storage - just 4GB on a solid-state disk - the XS has a relative abundance. A mechanical hard disk is built in, offering 30GB, of which Packard Bell uses about 10GB for a recovery partition. But that still leaves plenty of space for traditional office applications - a potentially significant benefit. It even means you could install DivX on there and copy enough content across to pass the time on a lengthy flight, as well as squeeze in a reasonably sized music library.
The rest of the chassis offers few surprises. The off-centre screen is used to accommodate a 0.3-megapixel webcam, and the two USB ports are what we'd expect on an ultraportable machine. The network port is attached to a 10/100 controller, and the final version of the EasyNote will come with an 802.11bg wireless adapter and Bluetooth, although our early sample was missing the former. A DVI-I connector is on the right-hand side, although most connections to a projector will need you to remember a VGA convertor. Finally, there's no optical drive - either built into the chassis or bundled.