Twist And Shout!
Dushyant Khilnani | 21 July 2010
Twist And Shout!
A new breed of convertible Atom-based tablets brings a new level of convenience at a never-before seen price point.
By DUSHYANT KHILNANI
It’s very tempting to think that the tablet netbook segment is an affordable and more utilitarian alternative to Apple’s new baby, the iPad. However, the fact is that these are two different product categories and they have their own target audience. If the iPad is slicker and lighter in weight and if it offers the eye-candy along with the multimedia experience, a netbook is more functional with its laptop-like features such as a webcam, connectivity options, keyboard and ergonomics. Netbooks didn’t previously offer the tablet form factor. But that has now changed.
Natively, netbooks started out as ultra-affordable holistic mini computers, and they are just that even today. This holds true even for this new segment, where the screen of the netbook is touch-capable and can be rotated and flipped to lie face up. That’s one thing that sets tablet netbooks apart. What’s even more exciting to see is the trend of superior hardware, such as the second-generation Intel Atom processors, more RAM and hard drives with larger capacities, being used in them. Now, better hardware directly translates into an increase in the price of any product, but to us, the main concern will be the touch screen. It’s understandable that a touchscreen costs more than a standard LCD display, which increases the cost of a netbook significantly, but should that deter netbook users who aspire to own a tablet? Well, that depends entirely on your requirements. So let’s find out whether these tablet netbooks are really worth your money.
The two main differences you will notice between standard netbooks and tablet netbooks is that the latter feature touch screens, more hard drive space, and Windows 7. Some even feature Intel’s second-generation Atom processors. The comparison between these three machines was mainly based on their hardware, ergonomics and aesthetic appeal. Of course, even the build quality and price-features ratio was taken in to consideration.
Similar to standard netbooks, these machines are intended for portability, light computing and on-the-go connectivity, but their prime USP is their tablet design and functionality. These three netbooks are similar to each other in many ways, especially in terms of hardware and size. However, their weight, form factor, features, and most importantly, their aesthetics, differ. The more slick and light in weight a netbook is, the higher it scores. We noted the weight of each netbook, the quality of the touch screen, and its usability with the stylus and without it. The more responsive and well-calibrated the screen is, the higher the machine scores.
When it comes to features, tablet netbooks offer additional shortcuts for the touch screen and added pre-installed applications that leverage the tablet interface. So the more user-friendly these applications and shortcuts are, the better the usability of these machines is, hence a higher rating. Some tablet netbooks have an upper hand because they offer additional features and more value for money. For instance, some are 3G-ready and some aren’t. One has a 802.11 b/g WLAN adapter, while another features the Draft N module, and is hence considered better.
To check the performance, our battery of tests included some standardized synthetic and real-world benchmarks, including Cinebench R10, SiSoft Sandra 2010, file transfers, audio encoding, video transcoding, and file compression. Now, since these netbooks feature similar hardware, there isn’t a major difference in their performance. However, since some of them use older hardware, their performance is likely to dip slightly. So we compared even the minor increases in performance across these three machines. The better the machine performs, the higher it scores. Finally, we noted the battery backup that each netbook offered; the higher, the better.
Lenovo Ideapad S10-3t
Considering that tablet netbooks are a new segment, the Lenovo Ideaopad S10-3t has much to offer at this point and at this price. It looks stylish, even more so than the Ideapad S10-3, which is the standard netbook variant.
The netbook follows a black and white color scheme and has a glossy finish all over, except the keyboard and base. The build quality is rock solid, but ergonomics are a slightly downer, as the [Ctrl] key is preceded by the [Fn] key, and instead of physical mouse buttons, you need to press the lower corners of the touchpad to click. Though it could have been lighter and more compact with a smaller battery pack, at 1.5 kg, the S10-3t is portable enough and easy to carry. If you're in the market for a good tablet, this is surely one to consider.
In terms of features, it’s the richest out of the three we tested. It has a multi-touch capacitive screen, so it doesn't need a stylus, unlike the other two netbooks. Even in terms of performance, this one beats the standard netbook, especially those that feature older Atom CPUs. Built around an Intel NM10 chipset, this one is powered by one of Intel’s second-gen Intel Atom CPUs, an Atom N450. The unit ships pre-installed with Windows 7 Home Basic and has the Lenovo Natural Touch application installed, which although slightly sluggish with this hardware, is useful for quick launching applications seamlessly and in tablet mode.
Verdict: The features, hardware and aesthetics collectively make this tablet netbook the most desirable one.
For: Very good looks, responsive touch screen, excellent feature set.
Against: Slightly overpriced, the protruding battery pack spoils the look.
Intel Classmate PC SKU C3
The Intel Classmate PC SKU C3 is built to the specifications of Intel’s Classmate Touchscreen PCs, and that’s exactly what sets it apart. While these machines have all the standard netbook hardware intended for basic computing, their overall design, build quality and in-built applications set them apart.
These tablets are specifically designed for students. In terms of build quality, the SKU C3 is rock solid and its exterior is generously coated with rubber. Though it is on the heavier side (1.64 kg), it can be easily lugged around like a briefcase using the handle, which is part of the unit. Our test unit had a light-blue and white color scheme, where the exterior is blue and the interior white. Apart from the use of Intel’s second-gen Atom N450 CPU and a 250 GB hard drive, a built-in application called Blue Dolphin stands out. It shows large program icons on the screen, and since the screen is resistive, you can use the stylus or a finger-touch to execute programs. Navigation is both quick and easy.
Performance-wise, there’s nothing much different; not that it would matter to school students, as their need is basic computing. Overall, it’s a great concept, but it’ll be a while before it becomes a mainstay, and at Rs 24,000, it’s a pricey toy to give your kid.
Verdict: If you want a tablet netbook that looks elegant, don't buy this one.
For: Rugged build, good performance.
Against: Looks are too childish.
Wipro Ego WNB7XFD182 Netbook
The color scheme and overall design differentiate this tablet netbook from the rest. It follows a cherry red and black theme, with a chrome finish on the hinge and mouse buttons. The entire unit is glossy, but the touch pad is matte, which is good. Ergonomically, it’s comfortable to use and the keys are well-sized. The screen rotates 180 degrees to turn flat face-up. While the touch screen responds well to the bundled stylus and finger commands, using the former is better as the icons in Windows are small.
This tablet has the first-gen Atom N270 and is built around an Intel 945GS chipset, one of the oldest combinations in netbooks. The latest Intel Atom processor would've been better, even if it was the single core variant. Even the RAM is standard (1 GB). It’s good to see a 250 GB hard drive and Windows 7 Home Premium preinstalled. Other hardware, such as two USB ports, a webcam, and mic, are common. Unlike most netbooks, this unit has VGA and LAN ports, memory card reader, and Kensington lock slot at its rear. It handles applications as smoothly as any other netbook powered by a single-core Atom processor. At Rs 27,990, it offers great style and ergonomics, and a good touch screen.
Verdict: It's the price-performance ratio of this netbook that doesn’t impress.
For: Touch screen is good with both stylus and finger, good ergonomics
Against: The overall package doesn't justify the price tag.
We all want portables that match our personal style, which is why gadgets are rated for aesthetics. But be it aesthetics, features or performance, the Lenovo S10-3t offers the perfect balance and scores on all counts, though at a slightly higher price. On a side note, the regular netbook, the Lenovo S10-3, costs just about Rs 18,000. So if you don’t need a tablet, there are plenty of other options.