Packard Bell – dot S2 review

Atom-based netbook PC
Photo of Packard Bell – dot S2
£290

The platform of choice for netbooks in the middle of 2010 is an Atom N450, with GMA3150 graphics, both from Intel. 10.1-inch screens are nearly all 1024 x 600 and battery life exceeding six hours is common. The criteria you use to select between them, therefore, needs to be something other than these hard specs and it’s the extras that Packard Bell has always been good at delivering on its PCs. The dot S2 follows this tradition.

Available in white, black or ruby red, the case is good looking, though a bit thicker than its predecessor, the Dot S, due to having its 4.8AH battery bulge projecting from its underside. Sockets down left- and right-hand sides offer the near standard 3 x USB, Ethernet, VGA, audio and SD card sockets and the machine supports WiFi, though only 802.11b/g, rather than n. Bluetooth is an option, as is a second 1GB of memory to add to the 1GB supplied.

The keyboard is described as ‘chiclet’, a less than helpful term, which means the keys each project through a common baseplate, rather than having gaps. On the dot S2, they are commendably big, so typing is easy and comfortable and this goes for the touchpad, too, which supports multi-touch and has a scroll bar down the right-hand side. A pattern of raised dots makes pad and bar easy to locate and the mouse button bar is also well designed.

The screen is bright and big enough for most purposes, though its 600 pixel height means you may want to remove less-used toolbars from your browser of choice. Sound is loud enough, but as with most laptops, singularly lacks any bass.

Packard Bell provides Windows 7 Starter Edition, which sits well on the machine and is generally easier to use than XP. The generous 250GB hard drive gives plenty of room for operating system and more content than you’re likely to need on a netbook.

The company bundles 60-day trials of Microsoft Office 2007 and Norton IS, though no Works. You get a full copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2007, which only struggles if you push it to work on very high-res photos, but we’d rather have had an integrated suite without a time limit.

Also bundled is an XSync cable, with USB plugs on both ends and firmware in a dongle to provide a very quick way of syncing the dot S2 to a PC, to update data files or emails. Although you can do this in other ways, via the Internet, it’s an immediate, local solution which many customers will find
handy. There’s also a velour slip-sleeve for carrying the netbook in, which is a nice touch.

The spec of this machine is enough to run the most common applications you’ll need on the move and the specified battery life of eight hours should be achievable in light use. Constant video playback is likely to stop at around three feature films, though.

Company: Packard Bell

Contact: 0871 467 0008


Verdict
The dot S2 is a useful, light portable, with a well-balanced specification and enough style and ergonomic tweaks to separate it from the crowd. Acer, which now owns Packard Bell, is successfully keeping both brands alive and running in parallel, so giving it a larger overall share of the market. With this offering, it's deserved.