I've been on the look out for a practical mini laptop for a while, something that won't break the bank, is nice and small, and yet still vaguely practical for the odd bit of computing on the move. I've had an fairly powerful PDA an axim x51v for a few years and it has got to the point that the screen is wearing out from scribbling so something with a bit more oumph and a possibly a keyboard seemed in order. There are quite a few so called UMPC's up and coming like the Asus eeepc or even the OCOL thing where you have to buy two of them but one that caught my eye was the Packard Bell Easynote XS20.
It was based around the Via Nanobook form factor featuring a Via C7 1.2Ghz cpu as it's core and unlike a lot of the other had a real hard disk, a conservative 30Gig, rather than a solid state drive the read cycle of which might leave one high and dry some indeterminate period in the future. It was also one of the few that came loaded with windows rather than some ubuntu knock off. Add to that trimmings like a gig of memory double the best Eeeepc and all the standard bits and bobs wifi, bluetooth, multi card reader slot, a DVI port, a similar sized lcd screen 7", and a web cam. It was also announced with a street price of Â£350 about a hundred more than the Eeeeepc.
The price looked good the spec was a fair amount better than the alternate options and the design of the keyboard appealed to me. Given the normal stubby fingers of a normal sized man, having most of it's small size made up of keyboard rather than 2/3 to a half like the Eeeeeepc designs seemed like a definite advantage. It's fair to say I was eagerly anticipating it's release.
However PC World the shop we all know and love who had the exclusive contract with Packard Bell in the UK decided in their infinite wisdom to jack the price to Â£499. At that sort of price it ceases to be the small cheap note book that could and becomes the hideously underpowered marketing disaster no one will touch with a 100ft electrified ISO standard notebook prodding pole. For the same money you can get something considerably more powerful at a slight increase in size so it loses pretty much all it's advantages.
I was a mite miffed at this turn of events, as I might have mentioned in a previous blog, and decided that an Eeepc would have to serve my UMPC needs instead. I duly ordered Asus' white marvel and thought that was that. But as things would turn out Asus had quite a bit of trouble keeping up with demand for their Eeeeeeepc (much like another white plastic electronic gadget I could mention out of stock for the second christmas running, maybe it's the colour) and the place I ordered with emailed me to say they couldn't supply me with an Eeeeeeeepc till late January at the earliest. I did what anyone would do confronted by that outcome I hunted for someone else that had stock and on my travels I found that PC World had the Easynote XS on Christmas special for about original price. I jumped at the chance and, biting back the shame and bile caused by ordered a computer from PC World, I placed my order.
Some seven days later I got a little box from DHL that looked like I had been drop kicked around for at least half the shipping time then been passed through a shredder a few times before arriving at my door. However inside wrapped in enough air cushioning that is survived was my new mini laptop.
I took it with me when I went home for Christmas and was fairly impressed with it's abilities. It can do most of the things one would want of it, it plays divx and Mp3 you can surf the web on it or use a word processor or play a few games (I stuck ScummVm on it and then spent most of the time I wasn't finishing off Mass Effect playing old Lucasarts classic point and clicks).
The keyboard is well proportioned I have had no trouble using the keys to type fairly quickly on it (As I am now ;) ) and though it takes a little getting used to the touch pad works quite well.
It is basically a little laptop which though not amazing in the grunt department (it occasionally struggles a tad with WinXP and I might load a lighter weight linux distro on it but for the most part it is fine) it will run almost everything you might want to on the move. It has a nice bright clear screen movies look good on it.
The battery life is something like 3 hours with all the wifi and blue tooth turned on and it will push 3.5 - 4 with that turned off looking at the capacity of the unit it doesn't seem that high so there may well be better batteries for it later. This is a mite higher than the standard Eeeeeeeeepc manages on its more capacious battery.
As far as excitement goes the design is of the functional variety, it isn't really much to write home about but then it's just a small laptop I wasn't exactly expecting it to be earth shattering.
PC World seem to have had a slight change of heart (or else they were not selling any at their ridiculous 499 price point) and last time I looked have dropped the asking price to Â£399 I'm not sure if that's a January special or not but I would doubt they would get many sales at the normal price so I would hope that is the new price. So if you want something like the Eeeeeeeeeepc but with a bit more storage and memory and running XP (albeit Home variant) as standard maybe the Easynote XS20 is for you.