Recently, I had the opportunity to scoot away from the office for a week of peace and quiet with the subset of the family that still lives in Dubai. And accompanying me on the trip was the latest little beauty from the Lenovo Ideapad family—the U110. The company had generously rushed the piece to me before I ran to the airport.
The U110 is a laptop built for pure aesthetic satisfaction. While it does pack in reasonable horsepower in its oh-so-thin guts, one look at the laptop is enough to convince that this is a laptop to be seen with. So, if you are a journalist looking to cover something rough and tumble, say a little mishap in Fallujah, then you probably don’t want to carry this one around.
Glossy: Reflective surfaces make the Lenovo U110 unusable in tube-lit places.
On the other hand, if you want to pick one laptop to accompany you in the first-class lounge at Schiphol airport—or the Burj al Arab in my case—this is probably it. The lid, made of aluminium alloy, is a splendid red in colour, with a wonderful textured design etched into the metal. In fact, so intent was Lenovo on making this a work of art that even the ventilation grills on the bottom have been designed like ornamental oriental carvings. And there is a little texture on the bottom too, in case you are the type who like their art on…er…both sides of their laptop.
So far so good. With the lid shut, the laptop is pleasing to the eye, and perhaps more so to female ones. Still, it’s no pink Vaio.
But open up the laptop and suddenly one is faced with an aesthetic dilemma. The screen is a glorious 11.1-inch WXGA TFT, with LED backlighting that is surprisingly user-friendly. It is glossy, which makes it unusable in tube-lit airport lounges, but the size is just about right.
The keyboard, however, is a different matter altogether. It is saying something when a laptop’s keyboard is the glossiest thing on it. Besides the extreme gloss, the keyboard also has a peculiar design with large, slightly curved keys. This helps users with big beefy fingers, but with no space in between the keys, it will take time to get used to. It’s not for everyone. And it wasn’t for me.
There is also a little touch-sensitive strip along the top of the keyboard that can handle speaker volume along with a few other programmable things. The strip is a great visual idea—one light touch on the corner and it magically comes to life in a whorl of red tendrils—and I hope Lenovo incorporates this in more products.
The piece I got ran Windows Vista with reasonable speed, and had no trouble in grabbing wireless networks from airport atmosphere. The U110 comes with a couple of accessories that were most satisfying. There is a USB combo disc drive—the machine itself doesn’t have one—and a choice of two batteries, depending on how much weight you want to lug around.
Overall, the U110 makes all the right sacrifices to give you a product that is small, highly mobile and extremely pleasing to the eyes. The specs (in box) are not skimpy either.
The major dampener here is the price. At Rs98,000, the machine is a high price to pay for stylish mobility, especially when the criminally cool Macbook Air costs less.
Our other tiny little machine, an ASUS Eee PC 4G-X I picked up from Abu Dhabi, is in most ways the complete antithesis of the U110.
The machine, which has drawn a lot of media attention, most of it positive, was a top Christmas buy last December, and ASUS has already launched a new version this year with a bigger screen and a slightly less attractive price tag—the original Eee PC sells in India from around Rs18,000.
Compact: The cute Eee PC is the size of a small hardback novel.
India only gets the Eee PC with a Linux-based operating system, and I jumped at the chance to pick up a bona fide Windows XP version from Abu Dhabi at roughly the same price. I had to leave the machine with the dealer overnight to convert the Windows from Arabic to English. But that was a minor price to pay for a remarkably usable and value-for-money machine.
Most criticism of the machine, especially from the missus, has revolved around its small screen and cramped keyboard. But the eager geek will learn to use anything. By the end of the week, I had cousins from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah phoning up their nearest tech outlet to order their own pieces.
The Eee PC, like the Lenovo piece mentioned earlier, comes as a stripped-down laptop with no drives but with built-in Wi-Fi and camera. The Eee PC further kills weight by not having a hard drive either. My piece had a measly 4 gigs of solid-state hard-drive space, most of which was taken up by the operating system.
But the Eee PC never aspires to be anything more than a machine to browse the Net with and send emails on. And it does both with élan. I use my Firefox in full screen mode (hit F11) for a remarkably fulfilling browsing experience.
Micrsoft has whipped up a version of Windows XP, called the Ultra Low Cost PC or ULCPC, that runs very efficiently on the Eee PC platform. Barring a minor virus attack that crept in through an old pen drive, I have had no trouble whatsoever with mine. A frequent irritant, however, is that some of the XP settings windows often do not resize for the monitor, and you need to do deft touch pad work to reach the Cancel-OK-Apply buttons.
Weighing less than a kilo, and with super fast start-up and shutdown times, the Eee PC is perfect for people with only a small budget for a laptop, who want to keep their cabin baggage light, and do nothing more than browse and type on the move. The machine is available in five colours, all of which are nice, warm and muted. Showing the missus a piece in powder blue will rapidly convince her that this is not a luxury but an urgent necessity in your busy life.
Happy lightweight computing!