A great small notebook that includes a variety of software, ideal for office tasks
Netbooks have been growing in size since the first Asus Eee PC hit the streets. The original was almost pocket-sized, with a 7in screen and a processor only powerful enough for simple browsing and office tasks.
Packard Bell’s new Dot m/a, available from Tesco Direct, is much more like a notebook in miniature, with an 11.6in widescreen display, 2GB of memory and an unusual combination of processor and graphics chipset.
The Dot m/a uses a 64-bit AMD Athlon processor, with a graphics chipset from ATI. The two work well together to give performance in our tests that was a touch above the netbook standard (they tend to use slower Intel Atom processors).
For normal office tasks and even for graphic editing and some video work, the dot m/a felt in control, and was even up to the performance of some of the mid-range full-size laptops we have seen.
Although, as we expected, the Dot m/a had problems playing most kinds of high-definition video, normal (standard definition) video handled well and was supported by the supplied Dolby headphone software, which simulates surround sound through just about any headset.
The computer comes with a good bundle of software, including a full version of Microsoft Works and a full copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 6. It uses Windows Vista Home Basic, but current models on the shelves come with a voucher for an upgrade to Windows 7 (note there may be a charge for this).
The netbook includes support for the small webcam set just above the bright 11.6in screen, though other applications supplied, such as the Nero burning software and PowerDVD 9, would have been more useful if the computer came with a CD or DVD drive.
The flat keyboard has keys that are larger than those normally found on netbooks, and was light and comfortable to use, though the small cursor cluster is marred by dark-red secondary lettering on the keys that was hard to read. The case itself has no clasp, so opening the lid was fiddly.
It’s available in black or bright red, and while the high-gloss lid shows fingerprints very clearly it comes with a soft, padded sleeve, which helps protect it even if you have a carrying case.
The Dot m/a is available with a hard disk capacity of 160GB, 250GB or 320GB, and has three USB sockets, a VGA connection for a monitor, wired and wireless network connections and microphone and headphone sockets. A memory card slot is also included for SD, MemoryStick and XD cards.
The main fault is its battery which is unlikely to last the length of a movie when playing a DVD and even under less arduous use gives barely three hours. There is an optional larger battery, but this costs an extra £120.
An excellent small notebook let down by poor battery life Good points Light-action, large-key keyboard; more processor power than most; excellent software bundle Bad points Poor battery life
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