General Dynamics Itronix GoBook MR-1 review
Most laptops can take the odd knock or two, but still need to be handled with care if you’re to avoid ending up with an expensive paper weight. If you’re after something hardier that’s designed to put up with a harsh life on the road then General Dynamics has the Itronix GoBook MR-1 – a tiny but chunky palmtop that looks a bit like it fell out of the 1980s.
The design is certainly utilitarian, with every lump and bump serving a purpose rather than being there just to look pretty. The main body is constructed from hard, shiny, dark-grey plastic, which appears to be left over from when they stopped making mobile phones that required a shoulder strap to carry. It’s a design only an engineer could love.
But what the MR-1 lacks in looks it makes up for in resilience. It’s certified to withstand a 36in drop, is sealed against dust and water, and can operate from -23°C right up to 60°C. It brings new meaning to the word solid: there are no parts of its body that bend, twist or even buckle slightly when force is applied. In short, this is a laptop built to last.
And you’d certainly hope it does last, since it isn’t cheap to replace if it doesn’t. The base configuration starts at £2,618 exc VAT, onto which you can bolt various options to customise it to your specification. This unit came with an 80GB hard disk rather than the normal 40GB unit, which adds £441 to the bill, and an extended battery for a further £147; that’s a total of £3,206 before you’ve even considered paying the taxman. However, the market that would be interested in a device such as this is more likely to be concerned with how it performs out in the field than by how much it costs.
With this in mind, the technical specification is geared firmly towards getting things done, rather than doing them as fast as possible. The 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 and 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 RAM resulted in a fairly sluggish application benchmark score of 0.54. Likewise, the integrated Intel 945GM graphics chip, while fine for office applications, is going to struggle if you throw 3D work its way.
What it lacks in performance, however, it makes up for in battery life. The extended battery lasted 4hrs 42mins in our intensive-use test and a staggering 7hrs 42mins during the light-use run. If you need something that can keep going for almost an entire working day then the MR-1 won’t disappoint.
The 5.6in screen is small but surprisingly readable considering its resolution of 1,024 x 600. Since this is a machine that’s likely to be used outdoors, General Dynamics has developed a display called DynaVue, which promises to be fully viewable in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, this wasn’t installed on the prototype we reviewed, so we couldn’t assess it, but it will be included on shipping models.
The MR-1 is fairly sparse when it comes to ports and connectors – presumably since all holes present the possibility of dust or water entering the unit. At the rear is a custom docking connector, USB port and power connector, with a protective flap that seals them when they’re not in use. The only other ports you’ll find are another USB and D-SUB round the front, again sealed by protective caps.
The keyboard is also sealed, covered by a flexible plastic cover with raised bubbles where the keys are – making it feel a bit like typing on a ZX81. The keyboard is small, and only really suitable for thumb typing, but since it will probably be used on the move, it isn’t a problem. Both mouse buttons and a touchpad are built in, although they’re unusually positioned above the keyboard, along with a four-way navigation pad and left- and right-click buttons. This makes the pointer a little awkward to operate, but it’s still usable. Given that you’re likely to be using the MR-1 while also juggling other things, General Dynamics has helpfully included a dedicated <Ctrl-Alt-Delete> button.