If you have been reading the tech news lately, you would have noticed a trend in mobile computing called Netbooks. They are basically low-powered mini-laptops, typically with small hard drives, small screens, low-power CPU’s and GPU’s, built-in webcams and small batteries. And they are cheap and small.
After looking around at a few devices (HP 2125, Asus eee, MSI Wind), I bought a Lenovo S10 (black model… they also come in white and red) for $499 from Circuit City (the 512MB/80GB version sells for $399!). Besides liking the Lenovo brand (they took over the Thinkpads from IBM) I also liked the look of the S10. It came loaded with 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive and a low-powered Atom 1.6GHz processor. Not bad! I since upgraded the memory to 2GB (additional $40) and installed Vista Business instead of the stock XP (other options were Linux, or a tweaked version of OSX). The one big problem was that it did not have built-in bluetooth, but I fixed that by ordering a built-in card and cable from China.
I now use the S10 as my primary device when traveling and at the office, which is pretty much Mon-Thu every week. Click through to read about my likes and dislikes.
The things I like:
- Really small and light. Feels like carrying a small notebook (A5-sized) or a big phone. I have been able to use my old tiny Tumi subnotebook bag again… a relief after carrying a massive Wenger laptop backpack for a few years (good bag, but BIG).
- Solid build. You can pick it up with one hand at the palm rest and there is no bending at all.
- Screen is magnificent. It is a LED-backlit screen that is very bright, and honestly puts my Thinkpad T60p to shame.
- Waking up from Sleep mode is pretty much instantaneous.
- I can type a bunch of emails on the plane, and when I land, quickly sync using bluetooth and my phone without the flight attendants noticing.
- The built-in webcam actually makes me Skype more. I know this is pretty much standard in all laptops these days, but my Thinkpad did not have one built in.
- Great for watching recorded TV shows. I use TED (Torrent Episode Downloader) and µTorrent to download my favorite TV shows to my S10 and then view them in the hotel or on my flights. Effectively an internet DVR!
What I don’t like:
- Having only 1024×600 resolution is not great, but completely useable. I connect it to an external 1280×1024 at work. It can even drive my 1920×1200 at home, but I don’t use it for that.
- The right shift key is in the wrong place. Instead of hitting the right shift key, I often hit the up arrow. That is particularly annoying when I want to type ‘:’, which, oddly enough, seems to be the only time I really hit the right shift key! I hope to start using the left shift more, since I don’t think I will be able to untrain my right little finger.
- Battery life. It only has 3 cells, claiming 2.5 hours of use. I like to run Vista with the Aero interface, and I cannot get much more than 1.75 hours out of it, even with the power scheme optimized. There is hope, though, since a 6-cell battery is coming.
- The power cord is ridiculous. It has a 3-wire, 7A wire from the tiny power brick to the wall outlet. Makes the power brick and wires about the same size as the computer! I ordered a replacement power supply ($30 from China) with the transformer plugging directly into the wall, which is much more ‘correct’ for a Netbook, I think.
Net-net, I think this computer is terrific value for money, and very enjoyable to use. The perfect tool to take to a meeting, the coffee shop, or on a flight, and surprisingly, to the office!
I tested the S10 against my loaded Lenovo Thinkpad T60p (which is a superfast laptop…) using common Office activities. I tested it with the S10 plugged in (Balanced performance) and also while on battery power (Super Saver setting). I will let you be the judge… while in power savnigs mode, the laptop definitely feels sluggish. However, while in ‘Balanced’ mode, even though it is 30-50% slower than my T60p, it doesn’t bother me too much.