Dialogue Flybook review

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If you’re a frequent traveller, you’ll be pleased to see there are some innovative lightweight products making it to our shores, and the Dialogue Flybook is among the smallest. A tiny size isn’t always good news: last month, we reviewed Toshiba’s even smaller Libretto U100, but found it simply too tiny to be practical. The Flybook, however, is nearly 15 per cent wider than the Libretto, and that makes a world of difference. Still far from roomy, it’s at least a workable compromise and helped immensely by the addition of a touchscreen and stylus.

Dialogue Flybook review

Dialogue owns PenMount Touch Screen Solutions, a company that’s developed its own hardware, drivers and control software. So, rather than use Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, which requires an active stylus and digitiser, the Flybook employs the company’s ritePen application and a resistive touchscreen – you can operate it with your finger if you need to.

It’s a shame in some ways, as Microsoft’s handwriting-recognition system is more accurate and more effectively integrated: ritePen uses a separate toolbar for right-clicking, another for screen rotation, and another for toggling between mouse and handwriting. And, while handwriting translation is perfectly usable, we found we needed to write carefully to avoid capital letters in the wrong places.

The glossy 8.9in, 1,024 x 600-pixel pivoting display is a Toshiba LCD. Despite the touchscreen mesh overlay, there’s no appreciable grain unless you get up close. The panel’s brightness is sufficient for most purposes and largely overcomes the sheer reflectiveness, but you’ll strain to see it outdoors in direct sunlight.

In notebook mode, we found the keyboard merely workable. It’s a bit small for full touch-typing, but as long as you don’t plan to write essays every day it’s not a problem. Crucially, the keys are large enough for you to accurately press one at a time, and it’s generally well laid out.

The Flybook is too small to accommodate a touchpad and, as a trackpoint would be problematic set among such small keys, Dialogue has moved it to the top-right above the keyboard. It takes a while to break the habit of moving your hand down to shift the cursor, but after an hour or so the placement seems just as natural. There’s also a Pan function that works like a mouse’s middle button, letting you scroll round large windows using the pointing stick.

Inside the Flybook there’s a 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe TM-5800 CPU backed up with a non-upgradable 512MB of RAM. The Crusoe was designed with low power consumption and cool running in mind, with a necessarily modest performance profile to go with it. That’s confirmed by the rather feeble application benchmark result of 0.44. While you shouldn’t get carried away with performance figures in such a small machine – it’s still enough to run Microsoft Word without difficulty – it’s slow by today’s standards and leaves little headroom for more challenging apps.

Unfortunately, there’s little advantage in battery life either, with the unit managing only three hours, seven minutes with light use – Toshiba’s Libretto lasted a full two hours longer. That’s a real shame, considering the otherwise excellent portability.

On the plus side, there’s 802.11b WLAN, integrated Bluetooth and tri-band GPRS, making the Flybook a good candidate for vertical market applications such as form-based data collection, and GPS is also an option. Just pop a GPRS-enabled SIM card into the slot and you’re away, making voice, data and SMS connections from anywhere you can get a phone signal.

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