Packard Bell – dot m/a UK020 review

Athlon-powered large-profile netbook
Photo of Packard Bell – dot m/a UK020
£299

The line between netbooks and laptops continues to blur, with screen sizes from 9-inch up to 15-inch in the mix and performance specifications with a similarly wide range. Packard Bell sees its dot s and dot m as mainstream netbooks and the larger of the two, the dot m reviewed here, has an 11.6-inch widescreen LCD and runs on a 1.2GHz, 64-bit Athlon L110 processor with 2GB memory. This is actually the dot m/a spec, with the ‘a’ indicating the machine is built around AMD and ATI components.

The screen is good and bright, thanks to its LED backlight, and its default resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels is generated by an ATI Radeon Xpress X1270 graphics chip. Even so, it struggles to play much in HD at 720p and should be left with SD content to avoid jitters.

The machine’s general, non-video performance is a lot better and it runs normal business apps, like the ones it’s supplied with, rather quicker and more smoothly than typical Atom-powered rivals. There’s a Webcam built into the top lip of the lid, but its 0.3-megapixel resolution is a bit below par.

In some ways the dot m/a isn’t a true netbook, as it’s running Windows Vista Home Premium rather than XP. It does this quite capably, without too much hesitation when starting up or opening applications, but still feels it would benefit from an upgrade to Windows 7, when available.

The keyboard is light and positive and benefits from large QWERTY keys on a standard keyboard pitch. It’s a shame, though, that Packard Bell has squeezed the cursor keys into a small group of six at bottom right and has used a dull red colour to mark out their secondary functions, making them exceptionally hard to read.

Like many Packard Bell machines, the dot m is a hanger for free software. As well as full versions of Works SE9, Nero 8 Essentials and Norton IS 2009, there’s a full copy of Photoshop Elements 6, which is not to be sniffed at.

There’s a good range of socketry round the sides, too, with three USB sockets, mic and headphones – with impressive Dolby simulated multi-channel sound – as well as for an external monitor. A five-way memory card slot takes SD, MemoryStick, xD and their variants and there’s a slide-switch under the front lip to turn the WiFi off.

This latter is particularly useful, as running Vista on its AMD processor pulls the dot m/a’s main shortcoming into sharp focus. The three-cell, 2.4Ah battery supplied as standard is pretty hopeless, giving less than three hours of typical typing. Under heavier use, like running video, you’re unlikely to get through a full feature film on a single charge.

Company: Packard Bell

Contact: 0870 11 22 334


Verdict
This is a great little machine, though more a small notebook than an oversized netbook. Vista doesn't hold it back much and the extra memory and strong ATI graphics help with this. However, if you can afford the six-cell battery, go for it, or stay fairly close to a power socket all the time.