Hold onto your hats, folks, because from this Saturday 16 November you will be able to purchase a touchscreen notebook from Aldi for $688. It’s the Medion Akoya S6212T (or the MD 99270, as it’s known in brackets), and it’s the first touchscreen computer to be released by the low-cost German brand. There’s a trick up its sleeve, too: you’re not restricted to using it in clamshell mode. You can tilt the screen 300 degrees and turn the notebook into a display device.
- The extra tilt angle can come in handy when you want to use the notebook purely as a display or touch device
- Decent configuration and long battery life
- The screen is very glossy and it has narrow vertical viewing angles
- Poor power button
- The keyboard takes some getting used to
Medion's Akoya S6212T has a capable touchscreen that can be used in something other than a clamshell form factor: you can tilt the screen all the way around and turn the laptop into a display device. We think it's a decent capability, and the laptop overall is worth considering due to its features and solid configuration.
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Special hinges allow extra tilting
Indeed, the Akoya S6212T (MD 99270) may look like just another run-of-the-mill 15.6in notebook, but it’s a notebook that you can use effectively as a display screen — we like to think of it as 'picture frame mode'. The hinges allow the screen to tilt back and beyond the horizontal plane, up to about 300 degrees. When you turn the notebook over, its keyboard and palm rest become the base. There are even little rubber stops located on the edges of the palm rest and the keyboard, which help to keep the unit steady on a desk, in addition to stopping the keys from being squashed when they are upside down.
It reminds us a little of the Lenovo Yoga convertible Ultrabook, which has a screen that tilts all the way back and allows the notebook to be turned into a tablet. However, Medion’s doesn’t go as far back as that, which means that you can’t actually use this notebook as a tablet. The usefulness of the screen being able to tilt only so far back is questionable, but we think it will come in handy when you want to position the notebook primarily as a display. If you’re into watching sports online, such as NBA.TV, then you can do so comfortably in this new form factor. There are even physical volume buttons located at the bottom of the panel so that you don’t have to swipe in from the side of the screen to use the on-screen volume control.
The lack of a keyboard in front of the screen can be convenient when you want to use touchscreen applications, and especially games that don’t require hand-holding the device, but which require some form of touch interaction (think games such as Cut the Rope). It’s also a decent way to get kids to interact with the computer, especially if they want to draw or paint. We don’t recommend using the computer in its inverted position for typical office and Web browsing tasks, though, because it can be awkward and tiring to use those applications purely with touch for more than a few minutes in that form factor.
This form factor is quite useful for drawing and painting. Get this notebook to keep the kids entertained, but perhaps get them a stylus, too, so they won't have to use their fingers.
Here's the notebook in action as a display for the NBA League Pass streaming service. Apart from the excited basketball watcher, notice also the Ethernet cable sticking out, which came in handy when we didn't have Wi-Fi access.
You’ll want to make sure that you use the Medion on a very clean surface when you invert it. If you don't, you might end up with dirt and dust getting stuck to the keys, which remain exposed in the inverted position. The keys become inactive at a certain tilt point so that inadvertent presses are not registered.
Design and user friendliness
The overall build quality of the notebook is good considering the sub-$700 price tag, but it's a little creaky, and the power button is one of the worst we've seen. It's located on the right side and it's one of those buttons that's hard to feel for. We ended up having to press it a few times each time we needed to use it. It's located on the side so that you can use it even when the screen is tilted all the way back. If it were located just above the keyboard, you wouldn't be able to get to it without reaching around.
The screen feels solid enough when moving it backwards and forwards, though we think that the hinges could use a little more resistance past the 90 degree mark. They sometimes allow the screen to tilt back on its own a little while carrying the unit or when using it in your lap (though this depends on how abruptly you move). At 2.6kg, using this laptop on your lap can be tiring, but we think it will be okay for short periods of time.
We found the keyboard to be fairly solid overall, with keys that don't bounce, and they have an ample amount of travel and responsiveness. However, it has a physical layout similar to that of a UK keyboard. The left Shift key is a little shorter than usual, and the Enter key is taller than it is long. It’s a keyboard that we had to get used to; many times we ended up inadvertently hitting the extra slash keys that are next to the Shift and Enter keys. We found the Delete key to also be a little too far to the right for our liking. It would have been better off over the Backspace key.
The worst case scenario is not being able to get used to the differently shaped keys and having to use an external keyboard. There’s a little number pad included, too, which should be useful to those of you who crunch numbers, though it has a half-length zero key due to the right arrow needing a place to reside.
The touchpad is a roomy one at 98x60mm, and it worked very well during our tests. It’s actually a little better than the touchpads we’ve seen on some more expensive notebooks recently, such as the ASUS VivoBook S551L, for example, mainly because the tracking was accurate, and gestures such as two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicking worked without any issues. The left- and right-click buttons are the only questionable part of the pad. They reside under the touchpad, can be a little hard to press, and the pointer can sometimes move off the spot during right-click operations. The only driver setting we had to change was 'reverse scrolling' so that scrolling would occur in the direction that we dragged our fingers.
The screen is comfortable to look at for long periods of time, with decent contrast and brightness, but it depends on the angle you are looking at it from — its vertical viewing angles are narrow. It's glossy, too, which means you will have to put up with annoying reflections. Using it with a light source behind you can be irritating, especially when viewing photos (not so much when typing documents), and tilting won't always solve the problem. The native resolution is 1366x768, which can look too big on a 15.6in screen, but since this is a low-cost laptop, we didn’t expect it to have a higher resolution. (You can plug in a higher resolution monitor via HDMI or DisplayPort if you wish).
Touch responsiveness in Windows 8 is good, and we had no problems using the swipe-in gestures to get to settings, switch applications, and close applications. You don't get protective glass on the panel, which, apart from you having to be careful when you touch the screen, means your finger will dip a little when you drag it inwards from the frame and onto the screen.
Specifications and performance
The configuration of the notebook is solid considering the price point. You get an Intel Core i3-4010U CPU with integrated Intel HD graphics (it's a fourth generation model), 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive that has an integrated 8GB solid state drive that acts as a cache (it's a Seagate SSHD Laptop Thin drive). It's a configuration that's perfect for run-of-the-mill office work, and also for entertainment tasks (though you can't use it for playing the latest blockbuster games — its mark of 3614 in 3DMark's Cloud gate test is proof of this). It will do just fine with simple games downloaded from the Windows Store, and mainly interactive games in which you use your fingers to affect or control the game.
The performance of the laptop is basically as good as we expected for a unit that relies on an ultra low-voltage Intel Core i3 CPU. It recorded 1min 08sec in our Blender 3D rendering CPU test, and got 28min 57sec in our Handbrake DVD-to-MP4 transcoding test. For reference, a top-of-the-line notebook with a Core i7 CPU can perform the same task in HandBrake in under 10min). You can use this notebook easily for ripping CDs and DVDs thanks to its built-in DVD burner, though you will have to wait a long time for the tasks to complete.
It's a laptop that felt zippy during everyday usage, and part of this can be attributed to the Seagate SSHD, which offers a little boost to the loading of applications and regularly accessed data. Furthermore, the boot up time was 13sec, and the resumption from sleep was under 3sec. In CrystalDiskMark, the drive recorded a better write rate than it did a read rate (116 megabytes per second compared to 97MBps), and this was replicated on many runs using 1GB of sequential data. The read rate is not at all what we expected. In our own file transfer tests, where we stress the drive with a data duplication task, the drive recorded a very respectable 48MBps. Furthermore, write tasks from external USB 3.0 hard drives such as the WD My Passport Slim recorded expected rates between 80 and 90MBps.
Around the edges, you get four USB ports (two of them are USB 3.0), Gigabit Ethernet, full-sized HDMI, a headset port, and a full-sized SD card slot. Unlike other inexpensive laptops we've seen, this one also features a Mini DisplayPort. Wireless connectivity includes single-band, 802.11n Wi-Fi (Intel Wireless-N 7260), and Bluetooth 4.0. You also get a webcam (this needs to be enabled using the Fn-F11 key combination before you can use it for Skype and other programs), and there are a couple of speakers (though we recommend using headphones or external speakers for serious or long-term listening).
In our battery tests, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Akoya lasted 4hr 56min. This is a similar time to other 15.6in laptops we've seen recently (albeit a few minutes shorter), and it's a great overall result. How much you get out of it will depend on the tasks you run, but if all you're doing is browsing simple Web pages and using a medium screen brightness, you can get over five and a half hours of it.
For the price you're paying, the Akoya's list of features is impressive, especially as far as the video ports and the Gigabit Ethernet port are concerned. The latter came in useful to us during an instance in which we didn't have easily accessible Wi-Fi. The overall performance is also quite good for Web browsing, simple photo editing, and even media encoding, and its 500GB of hard drive space is ample.
But the main differentiating point between this laptop and others is the screen's ability to tilt all the way back and give you a clear view of it without the keyboard being in front. It's a design that comes in useful when you want to use touch applications or watch online video, and we think it makes a decent display and interactive device in those instances.
There are some drawbacks with this laptop, such as the glossiness of the screen and its viewing angles, and the shape of some of the keyboard keys, but for $688, we think it's worth picking up, especially if you want a simple and portable computer for the home and like the idea of the screen tilting more than usual.