Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nokia Booklet 3G – Quick Look

Nokia isn’t known for making computers or laptops, or more to the point it hasn’t been well known for making them since 1991 when it left the computer business altogether. The Nokia Booklet 3G is its re-entry to the portable computer world, with the concept of the device stemming from the long battery life of the company’s phones with everything being built around that idea.

It seems a strange concept, having a netbook created around a battery. But if you happen to make batteries with the ability to power devices for great lengths of time, why not turn your hand to using them for something else, besides just mobile phones?

On first impression the Nokia Booklet is a very stylish, well designed netbook and one that we’re able to say puts Apple laptops to shame. If a computer maker can turn out a stylish looking phone, why can’t a phone maker make an attractive computer? Nokia most certainly has with the Booklet 3G, in our opinion.

The Finnish phone maker went back to the drawing board with the design of this netbook. It abandoned some of the more traditional ways of heat dispelling and overall manufacturing methodology that have been seen before in netbooks. The entire Booklet’s base is aircraft quality aluminium, made in one piece with no joints or breaks whatsoever. As a result of the manufacturing method along with the materials used, Nokia was able to harness the case for cooling, therefore abandoning the use of fans to cool the computer internally – instead the Booklet dispels all the heat it creates through its chassis.

This doesn’t mean the case becomes hot, in fact we were hard pushed to find any point on the netbook that did get hot. In the end we discovered the removable battery in the base becomes slightly warm. This was only when the power supply was connected whilst the machine was being benchmarked and after some hours in use.

Besides being a rather novel way of removing heat from the system, its fanless operation also means it’s very quiet. There was almost no noise to be heard from the running system whatsoever. The only real sound ever audible was the 120GB 4,200 RPM hard drive at bootup. If Nokia ever gets around to using an SSD instead of a hard disk even that won’t be heard.

The Booklet’s layout and design are rather neat, clean and very distinguished. You really couldn’t tell this is Nokia’s first netbook outing as it’s a good initial attempt. The Booklet 3G is even a decent size and weight at 264mm in width, 185mm in length and just 19.9mm thick whilst weighing in at 1,250gm. The keyboard is well placed and well laid out, with the individual keys having lots of space between them, which cuts down on several letters being pressed at once, if you type fast and haphazardly. The touchpad is a little on the small side, but it was something we got used to after some time. The three USB ports are well placed around the side of the case, although the power button is awkwardly situated on the right and not in an obvious place. Initially the HDMI socket was seen as a welcomed addition by the Inquirer, but we were quickly proven wrong.

Playback of HD video content on the Booklet from Youtube or BBC’s Iplayer was completely unwatchable. On the Quicktime 1080p and 720p formats the playback was also very bad, even the low 480p media was no better. High Definition 720p video in containers such as MKV wouldn’t play either, making the HDMI port in our opinion redundant. The Intel Atom Z530 1.6GHz processor, with the Poulsbo chipset and its basic graphic media accelerator, just can’t support HD media. Because of this, we have no idea why Nokia included an HDMI port.

The quality of the 10.1-inch high-resolution 1280×720 display on the Booklet isn’t very sharp, compared with other netbooks. It comes across as a throwback to those early screens that were used in the first Asus Eee PC netbooks from 2007. It’s very blurry, which is really highlighted on a white background, such as in Word or a web browser. The display looks as if it could be a touchscreen with its non-distinct image, which is the nature of those devices. It could be Nokia is using this display as a starting point, with better screens to be provided down the line, but to us it lets down the overall quality of the netbook.

On the right side of the Nokia Booklet’s chassis is a flap that can house an SD Card and a hot swappable SIM card. No need to have a 3G dongle hanging off the side of the computer, now you can just plug in a SIM card when you’re out and about and you’re online. It’s as easy as slotting in a microSD card to a phone, it’s no more complicated than that. A 3G connection is presented in much the same way as a WiFi connection appears in Windows 7, with the option to connect or disconnect to the carrier’s data network.

We tested a few SIM cards from various networks and the results were good and very comparable to using an 3G dongle. Data connections were reliable and strong over the built-in 3G quad-band capable modem, with the hot-swap being very useful in our testing. Voice calls weren’t possible, nor did we expect them to be, but it was a useful ability to see text messages arrive in the Nokia Social Hub utility. This is really the only piece of software on the system from Nokia, and it shows social networking updates from Twitter and Facebook.

As the battery comes from Nokia we expected great things and we weren’t let down in the slightest. Running the Nokia Booklet 3G is a 16-cell power pack, which is based on the 1000mAh mobile phone battery or so we were told by Nokia. On paper it told us that 12 hours of battery life was possible, although 8 hours was more realistic from the netbook. We were unsure this was true, as we didn’t believe the hype and have been burnt in the past by believing similar claims from other netbook manufacturers.

In our own tests under continuous use, with WiFi and the webcam enabled, at the highest brightness level on the most power hungry settings of Windows 7, the Booklet 3G lasted five hours and forty minutes. On the most power saving settings, with the screen at 40 per cent brightness, plus WiFi and the webcam disabled, this Nokia netbook lasted a stunning seven hours and thirty minutes.

For a netbook from any manufacturer this is a good battery life, let alone from its first outing in portable computers. We believed Nokia was waffling about the ‘battery came first’ claim, but with these tests and results, which we repeated several times, the proof was there.

We had reservations initially about the Nokia Booklet 3G, as in most people’s memory the phone makers have no proven history in making computers. After spending some time with the netbook at Nokia’s annual symposium back in September, then more time in testing and using it as our main computer, we feel it is a worthy netbook. We don’t just mean from Nokia either, we mean from any manufacturer. It’s silent and stylish, even more so than an Apple notebook. It has a great battery life plus there’s no need for a 3G Dongle as the netbook can use a SIM card which is very easily accessible. However, the Booklet is let down by its poor screen and lack of HD video playback, despite having an HDMI port which seems useless as a result. If all that gets worked out in the next edition, and Nokia replaces the HDD with an SSD, we’ll take two.

System Specifications : Intel Atom Z530 1.6 GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD, 10.1-inch screen, Windows 7, 3G, HSPA, HDMI, USB, 1.3 megapixel webcam, 3.5mm audio and mic jack, SD card, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Li-ion battery
Price : £649

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