Dialogue Flybook V33i review

Price when reviewed

We saw the first incarnation of the Flybook a year ago, but found as many drawbacks as there were charms. It’s still in a class of its own, though: at 1.25kg, it’s much smaller and lighter than most ultraportables. But Dialogue has designed it to be just on the usable side of tiny.

Dialogue Flybook V33i review

Not that the Flybook is much like a conventional notebook. For a start, the screen swivels to convert it into a tiny slate tablet, with the comfortable flatworm-shaped stylus proving a great way to navigate. It’s certainly easier than using the trackpoint and mouse buttons arranged across the top of the main chassis.

As before, Dialogue uses the software of its subsidiary PenMount Touch Screen Solutions to power the stylus, and to reasonable effect. You still have a few disparate applets and windows floating around the Desktop to handle right-clicking and handwriting recognition, but at least the latter has noticeably improved. Toggling the riteRen recognition software in the System Tray lets you scribble over the whole 9in TFT without affecting the applications displayed – a boon when jotting down notes in a meeting.

If you can keep your scribble fairly legible, the software has around 90% accuracy, so poring over errors on the train home wasn’t too laborious. That’s just as well, as the keyboard itself has plenty of foibles. The recessed spacebar isn’t conducive to hitting with your thumb when typing in full flow, the single-width right Shift key is annoyingly hard to hit with a little finger, and the small apostrophe and full stop keys lead to many punctuation errors. For light editing and small documents, it serves its purpose, but it’s a relief to get back to the office. There are two docking stations available: one for the desk and the other, more unusually, for the car.

The 1,024 x 600 screen is fine for document reading and editing, but the restricted height is a problem for some applications. That includes the Catalyst Control Center, which gives access to the settings of the ATi GPU embedded in the Xpress 200M chipset. Based around the X300, it’s just enough to cope with the full Windows Vista Aero interface should you wish to upgrade next year. The change in chipset over the previous Flybook is necessitated by the change in CPU: the low-power, low-performance Transmeta Crusoe has been replaced with a Pentium M running at 1.1GHz. With an application benchmark score of 0.53, it’s fast enough to cope with all the modern office applications you’ll be running. Unfortunately, the new CPU requires a fan to keep cool, and this tends to make an audible high-pitched whine.

And while the battery life seems to have suffered due to the new CPU – down from three hours’ intensive use to one-and-a-half – our review unit was supplied with a three-cell battery, whereas the retail version will have a six-cell model, roughly doubling the life expectancy.

Speed was a slight concern with the previous Flybook, but the quality of the touchscreen was our main qualm. Components from the lid construction pressed through the back of the crystal film layer in a potentially destructive way. Unfortunately, the same is true of this Flybook, with pressure points rippling the screen under the slightest pressure on the lid or from the stylus. The supplied carry case offers little protection for the Flybook in luggage and has no room for the charger either. There’s a two-year return-to-base warranty offered, though, which at least gives us a little more faith.

While the lid offers scant protection, the base is more ruggedly built. Similar to the previous Flybook, the battery is placed at the fore, pushing the generous supply of ports to the rear. Two USB 2 ports join two mini-FireWire and a Type II PC Card slot. There are D-SUB and composite video outputs, plus the 10/100 Ethernet and modem ports to complement the 802.11 b/g wireless inside. Of potentially even greater use, on the left side you’ll find a SIM slot. It supports GPRS and EDGE data connections, which are handy should Wi-Fi fail you when roaming. There’s also a microphone above the screen and two speakers on the base underneath it, which could prove useful for VoIP calls.

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