Zoostorm 4-5633 review

£510
Price when reviewed

Recent award winners such as Samsung’s Q70 prove you don’t need to sacrifice classy looks for decent specifications any more. It’s for this reason notebooks like the Zoostorm, with its bland, uninteresting OEM box, might have a harder time from this point onwards.

It’s square and boxy, with cheap, matte plastic all round, and few allowances made for “luxury” extras such as shortcut keys, extra mouse buttons or wireless switches. That isn’t to say build quality is bad: aside from the flimsy power button, the chassis feels well put together and is mercifully free of annoying rattles; it just doesn’t exude the sort of quality that, say, many Sony or Dell machines do.

More seriously, however, the lack of design finesse brings with it some niggling issues – the main one being that the palmrest get uncomfortably hot shortly after you fire it up, and stays that way.

Battery life is reasonable, albeit at the expense of bulk, with the 6,600mAh battery protruding from the rear of the machine by about 2cm. In testing, it lasted 1hr 19mins under intensive use and a more encouraging 3hrs 7mins in light use – more than the costlier Acer TravelMate 5720G.

Not that the Zoostorm is a great traveller. It’s a shoulder-clamping 2.9kg in weight and measures a sizeable 360 x 275 x 41mm (WDH) – more desktop-replacement material than mobile marvel, and it’s too thick to slip easily into the average bag.

There are some important areas where the budget pinch isn’t felt, though. The keyboard, for example, is instantly usable – well spaced, with a good, solid key action and all the important functions in standard locations. Its 15.4in screen is at the budget end of things with its 1,280 x 800 resolution, but it’s bright and evenly lit, with reasonable viewing angles.

And, for the price, the core componentry is generous, too. You’re getting not only a current-generation 2GHz Intel T7300 Core 2 Duo processor, but also 2GB of 667MHz RAM, which is enough to keep Vista happy even with several applications open simultaneously. It wasn’t quite enough to outdo the Acer TravelMate 5720G in our 2D benchmarks, posting a score of 1.04, but it’s highly respectable nonetheless.

It’s the same story when it comes to 3D. Equipped with an Nvidia 8600M GS graphics card, its performance won’t satisfy hard-core gamers, but it’s enough to handle the odd bout of action. It certainly copes with Vista’s Aero effects without breaking sweat, although in our Call of Duty 2 3D tests it again couldn’t quite match the results of the Acer TravelMate 5720G, achieving an average frame rate of 24fps.

Storage capacity – arguably more important – is also notable, matching the TravelMate and Evesham Voyager C350 machines with its nominal 160GB drive formatted into a single 150GB partition. This leaves a fair 130GB free for your own pictures, music, video and documents. External storage, meanwhile, is handled by Samsung’s SN-S082D DVD writer, which will write to most types of DVD, with RAM discs the only significant omission.

Connectivity isn’t too bad, either. Around the edges, you’ll find provision for a basic complement of memory cards, an ExpressCard/54 slot, a DVI-I socket for video output, four USB sockets and even a mini-optical S/PDIF output. The specification deviates from the Santa Rosa Centrino specification, however, by employing an Atheros AR5007EG 802.11b/g wireless adapter (note the lack of draft-n, which is becoming increasingly common), and there’s no Bluetooth, either.

A mere two months ago, we’d have given the Zoostorm 4-5633 afull-on thumbs-up. And in terms of its specification, it’s still an undoubtedly impressive feat to squeeze a 2GHz Intel processor, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard disk and some 3D power into a box costing just £600. But there are some details that hold us back from a wholehearted recommendation: in such a competitive marketplace, you shouldn’t have to put up with that toasty palmrest or such determinedly dour looks. Unless the modicum of gaming power appeals, we’d still lean towards the cheaper, lighter Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Li1718.

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