Four new mini-laptops -- which is smallest, lightest, best?

We pit mini-notebooks from Acer, Asus, HP and Sylvania against each other. Who's the final winner?

The  Netbook uses gOS, an offshoot of Ubuntu 8.04 Linux. Sylvania doesn't sell the system with Windows XP, but the company says it can be loaded on the system.

The Netbook uses gOS, an offshoot of Ubuntu 8.04 Linux. Sylvania doesn't sell the system with Windows XP, but the company says it can be loaded on the system.

Sylvania G Netbook

It may look like a toy, but Sylvania's G Netbook mini-notebook is a full computer packed into a tiny case. Its US$350 price tag may make this system seem like a bargain, but for most it's less than meets the eye or finger.

At just 2 pounds, it is one of the smallest computers available anywhere; even with its petite AC adapter, it weighs 2.5 pounds -- 10 ounces lighter than the Eee PC 1000 or 2133 Mini-Note. Its black plastic case measures 1.1 by 6.8 by 9 inches, easily an inch smaller than some of the others.

Inside is the minimum needed to work and play online: a 1.2-GHz Via C7-M processor, 1GB of system memory and a 30GB hard drive.

Unlike the others, the 7-in. screen folds back flat so it can be slipped under a monitor stand. The wide screen is bright, but shows only 800-by-480 resolution, and the system I tested was marred by a dead pixel in the middle of the display. There's a webcam on the right side of the screen. The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi has a range of 85 feet.

Most people will be disappointed by the notebook's basic connections. It does have an SD slot for flash cards, but only two USB jacks, as well as microphone, headphone and Ethernet jacks. Oddly, it uses a DVI plug for connecting with an external monitor and comes with a handy external monitor adapter.

The G Netbook's biggest flaw is its keyboard. The 15.5mm keys and postage-stamp-size touchpad will likely prove to be virtually unusable by anybody other than a small child. Plus, the keyboard flexes too much for accurate, quick typing.

On the other hand, I really liked the system's "g" key, which provides instant access to a variety of applications and online destinations. The system uses gOS, an offshoot of Ubuntu 8.04 Linux. Sylvania doesn't sell the system with Windows XP, but the company says it can be loaded on the system.

The system shows a traditional desktop, with a nice application bar at the bottom that provides instant access to the major programs. It comes with OpenOffice 2.4, a suite that has processing, presentations, Web browsing, e-mail and other programs. Like the other notebooks in this roundup, it worked well with the hardware and files I used, but it didn't automatically start playing an audio CD with my Toshiba external DVD drive. Hardly a speed demon, the G Netbook was the slowest at starting up, but was in the middle of the pack on opening the standard Acrobat file and printing a Word document.

As the computing gets intense, two areas of the left side of the keyboard heat up and get uncomfortable. The G Netbook's 2,200 milli-amp hour battery ran for an admirable three hours, about double that of the Mini-Note 2133, but still much less than the Aspire One's five-hour-15-minute battery life.

In the final analysis, the G Netbook is so small that it's not nearly as practical as the others. It's a sure bet as a system for a child or for when size doesn't matter.

Conclusions

Any of the four mini-notebooks I looked at will be more than good enough as a second or third computer. They all do the basics well, but I came away from each of them wanting both more and less.

The Sylvania G Netbook was just too small for my fingers, while the Asus Eee PC pushed the genre too far with a price that's more than twice as big. The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC is about the right size, but failed to keep up on battery life or performance.

Only Acer's Aspire One was just right, balancing size and weight with price and performance. It may not be the smallest or lightest, but it's the one I want to take on my next road trip because it runs for five hours on a charge while doing so many things well at the right price.

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld
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