ImageIt was only a matter of time when netbooks were to become a fashion detail. Compact enough to fit inside a handbag, usable enough to cover a solid part of business and office use, they’ve easily attracted the attention of people who care about their image. Whether it’s typical yuppies, people who have to look neat and trendy for the sake of their work, or people who actually have good taste and are willing to display it, the market for these devices is definitely there, and the largest IT companies aren’t the ones to miss the chance to make their models look good and sell even better with this type of audience.

 

CCM, mate

 

ASUS VX6 Lamborghini is hardly the first “automobile” portable PC, but is definitely one of the most noticeable ones. This netbook is larger than its competitors, but still doesn’t breach the territory of notebooks, while the specs are also halfway to the big guns. As far as its appearance is concerned, the lid is reminiscent of a car hood, including the relief Lamborghini insignia, so that the visual impression is complete from the viewpoint of this model’s potential buyers. There’s a white version in addition to the black one that we’ve tested, but black seems to be the prevalent one as far as the user base is concerned. The overall production quality matches the appearance in full - the touchpad is very pleasant to use, and the same goes for the Chiclet keyboard. Since moderation in power consumption is the primary characteristic of any netbook, the display had to have LED backlight installed, which has resulted in a higher-quality image with pleasant colour tones. A small remark goes on the account of the overly smooth finish, which easily turns into a fingerprint assembly.

 

 

The hardware base of this netbook is Intel’s Pine Trail platform, i.e. the second generation of Atom enriched with NVIDIA’s ION graphics subsystem. The Atom model inside this PC is the dual-core D525 with hyperthreading, with twice as much memory as ordinary models, and the addition of NVIDIA’s Optimus technology for dynamic switching between ION and Intel’s integrated graphics core; the latter makes Lamborghini balance well between performance and battery life. Speaking of which, battery life in the extreme power saving mode is just impressive, especially having in mind the size and hardware of this netbook, which is mostly due to ASUS’ Super Hybrid Engine, which does a phenomenal job in the power department.

 

One should expect no wonders from Atom, even a dual-core one, but the graphics subsystem will make sure that every HD video rolls perfectly smoothly, as well as enable the user to play a few older games. Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers take care of the sound, and the quality is noticeably better than most speakers that we’ve encountered in portable PCs on the whole, although not at the level of a decent pair of headphones. Having in mind its characteristics, HDMI output was a must, which makes Lamborghini a viable option as a home theatre PC as well. As for the connectors, worth noting are two USB 3.0 ports, which is a definite plus, as they’re rare to come by even in ordinary notebooks, let alone netbooks.

 

 

The software support is reflected in Windows 7 Home Premium operating system, which comes preinstalled as the logical choice - price isn’t a key factor with this PC, ergo there was no need to economise by giving a mere Windows 7 Starter. What’s more, the latter doesn’t support simultaneous display on two monitors, which would considerably hamper users, since they already have the HDMI output and a strong graphics subsystem at disposal. The rest of the software comprises a miniature OS called ExpressGate Cloud, as well as Microsoft’s Office 2010 Starter (which we prefer to any trial version of more advanced Office suites, as you’re free to use this one for free, forever) and a Trend Micro antivirus program, which seems to be choking on system performance quite a bit - we suggest you uninstall and replace it as soon as possible with an alternative.

 

Overall, while this netbook’s performance and features are top-notch, we’ll refrain from commenting on the design. Although a considerable effort has been invested into Lamborghini’s looks, this is a design you either adore or despise. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide which category it should fall into, as it would be pointless for us to try and objectivise that.


Chubby wind

 

MSI celebrated the sales of their millionth Wind-series netbook by presenting a special, stylised line - this model’s black exterior might cause some doubt as to whether this netbook is targeting men or women, but the sparkling lid quickly dispels it, stating that U135 Special Edition is a gadget for the gentler sex. The battery on MSI’s chubby raises the back end of the netbook in order to make typing even more pleasant on the already very good Chiclet keyboard; this raises the profile as well, however, which may make the netbook a bit harder to pack into smaller handbags. The appearance is spoiled a little by the VGA and audio connectors, which are as “industrial” as it gets, as if they were taken directly from a desktop PC motherboard; the quality of the material isn’t much better either, but at least it’s not all in smooth plastic, which is very commendable. All in all, the only real new feature compared to the ordinary U135 is the aforementioned glitter on the lid, which leaves an impression of the PC being not-that-special-after-all.

 

 

The hardware specs are usual for this device class: single-core Atom with hyperthreading, 1 GB RAM and Intel’s graphics core hardly warranty much fun, bar internet surfing, and MSI’s Turbo Drive Engine technology doesn’t help all that much either, despite overclocking the CPU to 1.84 GHz when the netbook is connected to a power source, as Atom is a rather modest chip after all. Battery life is a bit better in intensive use compared to direct competitors, which is entirely logical, having in mind the weaker hardware and a higher-capacity battery.

 

Since U135 SE only has VGA for video output, and the CPU can provide little else than DivX films, it’s clear that this netbook isn’t your solution to multimedia. As far as software goes, you get Windows 7 Starter, the installation of which has to be completed upon first start, which lasts for quite a bit of time, due to weak hardware, and makes the entire initial setup process rather tedious. Afterwards, you’ll get a system with Microsoft Works, which is tightly correlated with the 60-day trial version of Office 2007, ArcSoft’s webcam programs for visual effects and the useful Norton Online Backup. We would’ve preferred the inclusion of Office 2010, but this is still better than nothing.

 

 

Although virtually no feature of this netbook distinguishes it from the mass, it’s still commendable that female users are able to get a stylised netbook at this price. U135 SE is a pretty likeable netbook, after all, and might just be the perfect gift for anniversaries and similar occasions.


A netbook named joy

 

Here’s a netbook that looks as if it came out of the film “Legally Blonde”. What got our attention from the get-go was sharp lines and very thin looks, and we have no doubts that the white-pink Barbie combination will find its way to younger females. The thing that separates AspireOne HAPPY from the rest is the very robust construction, a solid touchpad and a soft keyboard, which are all features that are becoming less and less frequent, especially the keyboard, as we’ve been seeing Chiclet ones exclusively in the past few months. Thinking of earlier AspireOne models, we can but establish that the transition to the “sub-inch” thickness has been done very elegantly.

 

 

As for the specifications of the inbuilt components, Acer’s merry notebook is practically identical to MSI’s. The CPU is basically the same (the only difference being in the type of RAM supported), as are the memory quantity, graphics core and hard disk, which will all limit the use to internet, music, Office tasks and an occasional film or TV series in DivX format. What wasn’t as expected is very good autonomy with intensive use, especially since Acer doesn’t boast with any sort of advanced power management technology as other companies do - the only thing HAPPY relies on is the innate power-saving orientation of the Pine Trail platform and a good battery.

 

The operating system is once again Windows 7 Starter, accompanied by Microsoft Works and a two-month trial of Office 2007, but this time, with McAfee Internet Security, which doesn’t contribute to the system’s responsiveness at all. Another interesting thing in this netbook is that it’s a dual-boot system: not only is there Windows 7, but also Android 2.1, which boots much faster and enables rapid access to web services. However, Android 2.1 is aimed at touch-sensitive phones after all, so using one on a netbook might seem a little strange. We have a hard time believing that many users will continue to use it on a regular basis after the initial experimentation. Still, this makes for an interesting feature, if not a particularly usable one.

 

 

As for the girly design, the arch enemy of the pure elegance that other models strive for, it’ll definitely attract its target market, oblivious to the device’s modest hardware characteristics. Add the accessible price to all this, and you have yourself an excellent gift for a girl’s sweet sixteen.


Elegant shell

 

In all honesty, we hadn’t heard of Karim Rashid before he signed the first ASUS netbook, but we can only salute his work in the IT industry thus far. From a subjective point of view, this netbook is the prettiest of all that we’ve met so far. The wavy shell with a discreet ASUS logo, a dark colour tone, Chiclet keyboard and discreet covers that hide all side connectors present a fantastic combination altogether. What’s more, the battery is made in the shape of a board, pushed into an unnoticeable side connector; if you don’t know about the trick, you’ll have a hard time guessing where the power source for this netbook is at all! Even the VGA connector has a tiny cable of its own, retracted under the netbook, so that it’s pulled out only when needed, otherwise remaining in stealth mode. A very, very pretty and elegant netbook!

 

 

On the hardware side, this netbook is somewhat better compared to the previous two models, mostly in that it has an actual dual-core CPU with hyperthreading, which makes the PC much more agile in the multitasking department. Despite the dual-core CPU, which usually means higher consumption, we were delighted by the autonomy - it should suffice to look at the charts to see just how dominating Seashell is in power-saving modes, even without the Super Hybrid Engine chip found in other ASUS netbooks.

 

The operating system is - you guessed it - Windows 7 Starter. You get Microsoft Office 2010 as the Office suite (finally!), which can be converted into the full version by inserting a serial number (bought separately) or used in its basic, free Starter version ad infinitum. Trend Micro’s software is efficiently hampering viruses, as well as the remainder of the system, making uninstalling it the first task on your new PC. We’re meeting the Eee Docking panel again after a hefty break, located on top of the screen, offering quick access to ASUS’ services such as Live Update, WebStorage, Game Park etc.

 

 

In the light of the design that’s simply blown us away, we can but say that Karim Rashid’s Seashell netbook can only be bought as a present, mostly for oneself.


Butterflies from Vivienne Tam

 

And now for the netbook that’s likely to be the biggest hit with the female population of all the netbooks we’ve tested. A metallic look with butterflies spread all over looks like the golden middle between Acer’s Barbie styling and Seashell’s high elegance, while the conservative choice of lines and curves covers people with more traditional tastes as well. The Chiclet keyboard matches the general appearance, while the black frame around the LED-backlit display makes it look larger than it really is. What’s disappointing is the entirely unusable touchpad - the entire surface is made of a single piece of plastic, which produces a load of misplaced clicks, failed tapping and much cursor jumping all around the screen. Pity, having in mind the rest of the netbook.

 

 

The hardware specs are a bit different compared to the rest of our roundup - the CPU is a single-core Atom with hyperthreading, but at a higher frequency, while the memory has been doubled compared to “ordinary” netbooks. The choice of operating system is clear - it was absolutely inadmissible for Windows 7 Starter’s lack of customisation options to spoil the visuals offered by this netbook, so the obvious choice was Windows 7 Home Premium, with a theme matching this netbook’s visual style, topped by butterflies that fly around the Start menu. This truly makes the entire PC look like one complete impression, at the cost of certain programs having trouble coping with the non-standard graphics design of certain elements (nothing worrying, however).

 

As for the software side, there’s Office 2007 in its trial version, Cyberlink’s webcam and DVD suite, enabling you to manipulate webcam-captured video, a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security, even HP’s CloudDrive and MediaStream services.

 

 

Although very attractive and pleasant to the eye in itself, these adjectives hardly apply to this netbook’s price tag. If money’s not a problem, HP Mini by Vivienne Tam can be a marvellous fashion detail, if you’re willing to cope with the problematic touchpad. HP has even put out a mouse with the same design (cunning, right?) to accompany this netbook.


Results (Battery Eater min/max)
Acer AspireOne HAPPY 4h 50m / 7h 29m
MSI Wind U135 Special Edition 3h 50m / 8h 12m
ASUS Eee PC Seashell Karim Rashid 3h 3m / 10h 27m
HP Mini 210 Vivienne Tam 3h 1m / 6h 40m
ASUS Eee PC VX6 Lamborghini 3h 38m / 9h 35m

 

Easy or difficult choice?

 

The fashionable netbooks that we’ve presented are obviously very different in appearance and target market, so the choice may very well be easier than it may appear - anyone can pick a model that he/she likes best without much effort. Although it’s always been a rule of thumb that you have to pay more to get good looks, in this product class, price is the last thing that one diverts attention to, so we can say that, in general, these models’ prices reflect their production quality, finish and design “level”.

 

 

What shouldn’t be forgotten, however, is that we’re still talking about netbooks. Not even a dual-core Atom will enable you to do all your desktop tasks on these ultraportable PCs, nor will NVIDIA’s ION graphics enable you to play the latest games any time soon. The fact that netbook manufacturers seem to be constantly bloating these devices with unneeded software doesn’t help a lot either, as it hardly impresses anyone these days; in fact, it only serves to the detriment of the overall impression, when the already slow system starts coping with desktop-(un)optimised software. Therefore, be a gentleman, and before giving this sort of gift to the woman of your choosing, spend some time to remove the unnecessary programs and optimise the operating system (for a start, type services.msc into Start menu search field and then stop and disable Program Compatibility Assistant, Windows Defender and Windows Search services).

 

  Acer AspireOne HAPPY MSI Wind U135 Special Edition ASUS Eee PC Seashell Karim Rashid HP Mini 210 Vivienne Tam ASUS Eee PC VX6 Lamborghini
CPU Intel Atom N450 1.66 GHz (1 core, 2 threads) Intel Atom N455 1.66 GHz (1 core, 2 threads) Intel Atom N550 1.5 GHz (2 cores, 4 threads) Intel Atom N470 1.83 GHz (1 cores, 2 threads) Intel Atom D525 1.8 GHz (2 cores, 4 threads)
Chipset Intel NM10
RAM memory 1 GB DDR2 1 GB DDR3 1 GB DDR2 2 GB DDR2
Hard drive 250 GB 320 GB
Optical drive None
Graphics adapter Intel GMA 3150 Intel GMA 3150, NVIDIA ION 512 MB
Display 10.1" (1024x600), LED 10" (1024x600), LED 10.1" (1024x600), LED 12.1" (1366x768), LED
Connectors 3 x USB 2.0, VGA, LAN, 2 x audio, card reader 2 x USB 2.0, VGA, LAN, 2 x audio, card reader 3 x USB 2.0, VGA, LAN, 2 x audio, card reader 1 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, LAN, 2 x audio, card readers
Weight with battery 1.5 kg 1.4 kg 1.25 kg 1.15 kg 1.25 kg
Operating system Windows 7 Starter, Android 2.1 Windows 7 Starter Windows 7 Starter Windows 7 Home Premium Windows 7 Home Premium
Price € 290 € 300 € 360 € 460 € 630
Contact www.asus.com www.msi.com www.asus.com www.hp.com www.asus.com