NEC Versa S940 review
Less than a year ago, the thought of describing a widescreen notebook as ultra portable seemed absurd. But small widescreen displays are beginning to infiltrate the ultra portable scene, and they needn’t cost a fortune either. Sub-£1,000 laptops can show more than just a handful of cells in a spreadsheet and play back DVD films as they were meant to look, and still fit on an aeroplane tray-table.
NEC has seen the potential and released the Versa S940 for business people who want widescreen portability. It uses a 13in TFT panel, which helps keep the overall dimensions down to 320 x 224 x 38mm (WDH) and the weight to 2.1kg. The resolution of 1,280 x 768 pixels gives 25 per cent more pixels horizontally compared to a standard 1,024 x 768 XGA panel. You don’t get anything extra vertically though, so it hasn’t got the height needed to display two full pages of a Word document side-by-side, for example. Protection behind the screen isn’t great, so it shouldn’t be stuffed into an over-full bag.
A spin-off benefit of the widescreen display is that it allows room for a spacious keyboard. Layout is generally good, with the Delete key in the upper-right corner where it’s easy to find, and page control keys in a line below it. We have two grumbles though. First, the Function key has been placed outside the Control key on the lower left, which is a nuisance to anyone used to typing on a full desktop keyboard. Second, the board doesn’t fit the chassis snugly, resulting in a slight buckling across the surface. This will hopefully be remedied as more are assembled though – the S940 seen here was the first sample to leave the factory and the only one in the UK.
Our unit had a slightly different configuration to those that will follow. We had a 1.7GHz Pentium M 735 processor with 256MB of PC2700 DDR SDRAM, but later examples will be one of two configurations: a 1.6GHz Pentium M 725 processor with 512MB of memory for £819, and a 1.4GHz Celeron M 330 with 256MB of memory for £749. For only £70 extra the Pentium M version is the best value.
People who have a lot of work to grind through will appreciate the extra grunt that a Pentium M supplies. Our 1.7GHz chip managed 1.16 overall in our 2D benchmarks – not a huge score, but it was hampered by having only 256MB of memory. The integrated graphics also shares some of this (up to 64MB) for its own purposes. The 1.6GHz retail version ships with 512MB, which will be particularly useful if you have multiple applications running at the same time.
Battery life is arguably more important than processing power in a small notebook anyway. After all, what’s the use having lots of power on the move if you can’t turn the thing on? It didn’t disappoint here, lasting 4 hours, 29 minutes with a light workload and a medium brightness setting, and 1 hour, 30 minutes while churning through office applications with maximum brightness.
Another important aspect for mobile users is port placement, with convenient access making a real day-to-day difference. Unfortunately, NEC’s designers have stumbled here. The two USB 2 ports on the left of the machine sit under an overhanging lip, making it difficult to insert a USB flash drive with a bulky casing. The 10/100 Ethernet port is placed in front of them, so the network cable gets in the way of USB devices. Over on the other side of the chassis, the modem port is in front of the QSI DVD/CD-RW combo drive, where the phone cable becomes easily tangled with the opened CD tray. There is a solution: use the docking port at the back for easy connection and disconnection, but this means spending another £129 on NEC’s port replicator.