The result? The XO-1 ran for just 45 seconds short of four hours. Not so great.Well, it's a prototype, and OLPC vice-president Jim Gettys said that heavy use could be construed to cover uses as lightweight as reading an ebook outdoors with the backlight off. So I charged the machine overnight and, this morning, from a clean reboot, I started an ebook-reading test with the backlight off. I opened a PDF provided with the XO-1 and pushed the page-down button once every 20 minutes to keep the display from turning off entirely. The machine ran for 4 hours and 59 minutes. (I swear these are the actual numbers.) That's a long way from Bender's promise of 10 to 12 hours... with heavy use.
But still, it's a prototype, and as Gettys explained, there are many opportunities for further power reductions. Similarly, there will undoubtedly be other improvements over time. We'll see.
Positioned between the business-targeted Latitude and the mainstream consumer Inspiron lines, Dell's Vostro has always been the type of computer that's half-meant for personal use, half for business: it's casual professional. The Vostro 3300, part of a revamped line from Dell, is a 13-inch laptop with a somewhat thick frame and a standard-voltage Core i3, i5, or i7 processor. It's not as slick as the more expensive Vostro V13, which takes much of its design ideas from the high-end Dell Adamo (the original model, not the newer XPS version), but it still has a bit of the Adamo magic in its looks and metal outer casing. More importantly, the 3300's price--starting at $599 for a Core i3 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive--makes it very affordable.
The Vostro 3300 isn't going to turn heads, but it is one of the best, most affordable and lightweight small business 13-inchers we've seen, with its only significant drawback being battery life. It's so nice that we wonder why Dell hasn't offered this little guy up to mainstream consumers more eagerly.The Vostro is meant to glide somewhere between personal and business, and that's exactly what the design of the 3300 suggests: metal and black define the outside, with squared-off edges on the front and back, and slightly rounded sides. The Vostro 3300 comes standard in Aberdeen Silver (which is what we had) in Core i3 configurations, with the option of adding Lucerne Red or Brisbane Bronze color schemes in the Core i5 configuration for an extra $40. Overall, the design lies somewhere between the trendy Adamo and the more utilitarian Latitude.
Plain, ThinkPad-esque matte-black defines the interior of this minimalist Dell, from the keyboard deck up to the material surrounding the above-screen Webcam. A few backlit media-control keys and a backlit power button above the keyboard are the only flashy touches. Because this Vostro has a slightly thick and squared bottom half, there's room to fit audio in/out jacks, an SD card slot, and a Wi-Fi toggle button on the front edge, although they're a little tightly packed together in the center below the track pad.The keyboard on the Dell Vostro 3300 is similar to ones we've seen on other recent Dell laptops: it could be best described as a flat keyboard with individually raised keys. Though there's no number pad, it's easy to type and feels comfortable during extended writing sessions, and the keyboard goes edge-to-edge, maximizing the laptop's compact dimensions. The keyboard on our model wasn't backlit and that isn't available as an upgrade option on this exact model, but there is a Dell Vostro 3300 that includes a backlit keyboard on Dell's Web site starting at $708.
Above the keyboard, a small backlit touch-controlled media bar has basic play/pause and volume functions. It's useful, but not overly so for a business-focused machine. These might have been better spent on videoconferencing and other productivity-related toggles. To the right of these are a few LED indicators for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and battery status.The track pad is wider and responds better than that of some brands we've seen. The plain discrete buttons below are nothing remarkable and could be slightly larger, but at least they're not overdesigned.
A 13.3-inch LED-backlit display on the Dell Vostro 3300 has a 16x9 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for most laptops up to 15 inches. These screens also come standard with antiglare, which is far rarer. The experience we had was excellent--the screen has the glare-free quality of a matte display, with the crispness found in a glossy coating. Text and video were easy to watch in any lighting.
The included 2-megapixel Webcam had better clarity, sound-recording and light sensitivity than most Webcams we've come across, making it perfect for video conferencing. A small LED light also indicates the camera's in record mode. Though the camera's professional, Dell's selection of cartoonish effect overlays in its included camera software can only be described as cheese-ball.There's only one speaker on the Vostro 3300. It's located on the front left edge of the laptop's bottom half, and though it sounds loud and clear, its off-center position makes it a weak choice for movie playback. Should you choose to take a break with a DVD, you might want to pack some good headphones.The Dell Vostro 3300 doesn't have a huge selection of ports, but it does have eSATA. It's lacking HDMI-out, however, which is a feature that's becoming nearly universal on all laptops (excluding Macs). Thankfully, at least there's Bluetooth.
Configuration options abound on the Vostro 3300, as is often the case with Dell laptops. Customization on Dell's Web site offers either a Core i3 or i5 processor, along with RAM configurations from 2GB to 4GB and hard drives from 250GB to 500, all at 7,200rpm. RAM can be expanded up to 8GB. Despite Core i3 and i5 processors being 64-bit-ready, Dell chose to make 32-bit Windows Home Premium the default OS. Upgrading to 32-bit Professional or 64-bit Home Premium costs an extra $70; 64-bit Professional, an extra $120.Depending on the support software, memory and other options chosen, the Vostro 3300's price can climb above $1,000, where it no longer seems like a great bargain. We'd advise you keep software services to a minimum and focus on basic needs. Our configuration, at over $800, just straddles the border of what we'd consider paying before looking elsewhere.The X420 scores early points for style, at least on the outside. A sparkling silver lid and chrome edging give the X420 an attractive finish. Opening it up sadly reveals a more businesslike matte-black finish, although curved edges help make the interior a little more visually arresting.
That hot look unfortunately doesn't translate into solid build quality. Both the X420's lid and chassis twisted in our hands, and we noticed a high degree of keyboard flex when we applied a little pressure. The X420 certainly doesn't feel robust, which is quite an obstacle when you bear in mind it's designed to be your faithful companion on the road, and needs to be able to withstand a few knocks.It might not look as if it'll withstand much abuse, but the X420 really is small and light. At 1.78kg it's positively feathery for a 14-inch laptop, despite the six-cell battery lurking round the back. Sling the X420 in a bag and you'll barely notice it, even if you're carrying it around all day.The keyboard is well designed but doesn't feel terribly durable. The trackpad is smooth and sensitiveThe optical drive has been sacrificed to keep the laptop as light as possible. The X420 comes with an external DVD-RW drive which plugs in via USB, which is useful as you get to choose whether or not you really need it, but it has to be said it's not a particularly elegant solution.
The X420 sports a 14-inch LED 1,366x768-pixel resolution display, which was certainly easy on the eyes. The horizontal viewing angle is reasonably good, and means you don't have to be looking at the screen dead-on to see what's happening. While the display is sharp and bright, it does tend to look slightly drained of colour. When viewing an array of test photos and video footage it looked a little washed-out, and not as vibrant as we'd have liked.Buried deep within the X420's nether regions is an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU clocked at 1.3GHz, and backed up by 3GB of RAM. Those are middle of the road specs, which our benchmark tests reflected. The X420 achieved a score of 3,186 in PCMark05, and 853 when we ran 3DMark06 -- respectable but not particularly exciting scores.
Now that surfing the Net while flying is no longer new, I really want a computer that can last the entire flight from San Francisco to NYC, which is about 6 hours long.Acer seems to have a solution for that. On Tuesday, the company announced its newest Aspire Timeline series, which it claims offers more than 8 hours of battery life on average in one charge. If this is true, it'll really set a new standard for mobility and productivity.According to Acer, the Aspire Timeline series achieved this extended battery life thanks to a combination of factors, including a unique design, Intel's ultralow-voltage processors, advanced power management, high-capacity batteries, and LED backlit displays. The result is a series of laptops that are thinner, lighter, and much more energy-efficient than other laptops.
The best thing about the new Aspire Timeline series, however, is the price. Ranging from $598 to $899, the Timelines are among the most affordable laptops.However, there's a catch and it's rather big: the three laptops in this series use very low-performance CPUs. Running at a paltry 1.4Ghz or 1.3Ghz, the 15.6-inch Aspire Timeline AS5810TZ-4657 uses an Intel Pentium, the 14-inch Aspire Timeline AS4810T-8480 uses the Intel Core Solo, and the 13.3-inch Aspire Timeline AS3810T-6415 uses the Intel Core 2 Duo. To put this in perspective: most Netbooks use Atom CPUs running at 1.6Ghz.In addition, they all run Windows Vista, and from my experience with similar configurations, this means the performance will suffer terribly. It would be somewhat better if they were configured with Windows XP or Linux, but that's not an option.
So, while this series is exciting news, on second thought, I think I'll still stick with my Dell XPS M1330 for now. It has around only 3 hours of battery life, but they are 3 hours of serious computing.Basic Netbooks are a fairly simple formula to pull off. Combine an Intel Atom 450 processor, 1GB of RAM, Windows 7 Starter, and a 250GB hard drive, and you've got any of an army of products from Asus, Acer, HP, and others. MSI was another early combatant in the Netbook wars, and its Wind models have typically followed the usual trends in components and pricing, making them perfectly acceptable alternatives.The current version of the MSI Wind, called the U160, happens to stand out from the crowd in a couple of ways. It boasts some of the longest battery life we've seen, at 7-plus hours, and it ran some of our benchmark tests just a few seconds faster than other Netbooks. It's not enough of a performance difference to notice in real-world use, but if you're looking for the maximum possible battery life, the Wind is certainly up there.