Packard Bell EasyNote BG45-U-300 review
An ultra-cheap ultraportable with more power than most netbooks, but battery life is a concern.
The line between the best netbooks and the bottom-end of the traditional laptop market is beginning to blur, and looks set to disappear completely in the next year. Netbooks offer the advantages of low cost and easy portability, but they have in the past had an Achilles heel in their cramped keyboards and low-resolution screens. The latest generation of machines, including the excellent Samsung NC10, has gone some way to solving these issues, with more comfortable typing capabilities and 10in screens, but there's still work to do before these machines are usable for long periods of time.
In a daring move, Packard Bell has approached the problem from the other end, and has produced a low-cost, portable laptop built with standard mobile parts that can rival the best netbooks on price. And while its new EasyNote costs less than £300 exc VAT - only £50 more than the Samsung NC10 - it offers far more for the money.
The main difference is the 12in screen. It may only be 2in larger than that of the NC10 but, at 1,280 by 800 pixels, it offers significantly more desktop than the standard netbook 1,024 x 600 resolution. The glossy coat also gives the display a sharp and bright appearance, although the usual caveats regarding reflections from overhead lights apply.
The basic specification is also more impressive than the average netbook; instead of an Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor, the Packard Bell comes equipped with a powerful Dual Core Pentium 1.86GHz chip. And, despite the dubious combination of just 1GB of RAM and Vista Home Basic, the Packard Bell scored 0.68 in our 2D benchmarks - significantly higher than the NC10's 0.44. This means that having more than one application open at a time is more practical, and even more advanced tasks such as video editing aren't totally beyond the realms of possibility.
As far as size and weight go, the Packard Bell is slightly larger than the average netbook - not surprising given that it has to house a 12.1in screen - but it's still far from overweight at just 300g more than the Samsung.
One of the best features of the laptop, though, is nothing to do with its internal specification, but is simply how good the build quality and comfort is. Packard Bell hasn't taken full advantage of the wide chassis, and the keyboard is only a touch larger than the NC10's, but it's still very good to type on.
The trackpad is also perfectly comfortable to use, despite the unusual circular shape. There are some neat gimmicks, too. Stroke the touchpad and its outline glows white, gently fading away once you stop. The circular theme is mirrored on the webcam which, unlike most notebook models on the market isn't discreetly hidden, but shown off with a large, circular silver surround. The power button and the logo on the rear also conform to this design concept. In fact, the whole laptop feels significantly more polished than most netbooks, with build quality and design closer to that of a far more expensive machine.
There are still compromises, though; this isn't a traditional laptop. There's no optical drive, for instance. However, three USB ports - rather than the standard one found on most netbooks - does mean that an external drive can be attached while still leaving a couple free.
And the Packard Bell is well and truly demolished by the Samsung in terms of its battery life. Due to the extra power demands of the dual-core processor combined with a low-capacity battery 2,600mAh, the BG45 lasted just two hours and 40 minutes in our light-use tests. In the same test, the NC10 lasted more than seven hours.