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Sun 27 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from a robust-looking steadfast cube to a bright cascading rainbow of options.

Inspecting gadgets
Inspecting gadgets
Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from a robust-looking steadfast cube to a bright cascading rainbow of options.

Toshiba NB200: Sober, but to a fault

Here's the problem with netbooks: so far, the vast majority of the things have displayed the design tendencies of a confused hippopotamus.

Targeted at the sort of people who long for the return of the clamshell Macbook - you know, the one that came in all sorts of fruit-themed colours and looked like badly designed make-up cases.

As a result, most netbook designs feature either Apple-style fashionable white colour schemes (original Asus Eee PC, Lenovo S10), bizarre paintjobs and outrageous colours (HP Vivienne Tam Mini 1000) or a mashup of the above (hello, Acer Aspire One).

Some, however, have resisted the call of the wild, so to speak. Toshiba's original NB100 faithfully followed the miniaturised laptop template to produce a device that wouldn't look out of place in the boardroom. Unfortunately, with its boxy curves and matte plastic feel, it also wouldn't look out of place in a gallery of the ugliest mobile devices ever made.

Which is where the brand-spanking new NB200 comes in, correcting most, if not all, of the design sins of its predecessor. The NB200 features an exposed hinge similar to the ones found on Sony's Vaio range, while the lid apes Dell's Inspiron Mini line - it may not be original but at least it doesn't inspire you to cover it up with a black cloth when you're not using it.

You may have noticed that we've not really talked about the specs much so far. But really, since most netbooks feature variants of Intel's ubiquitous Atom processor, performance hardly differs - and besides, performance is the last thing you should expect from these kinds of machines. Nevertheless, the NB200 is a smidgen faster than normal at 1.66GHz, while the screen's a decent size at 10.1 inches.

Perhaps the most notable point about the NB200 outside of the design is the interface - the widely-spaced keys will be a relief to touch typists, while the comparatively large touchpad means that for once, the always last-to-be packed travel mouse can stay at home. Dell Studio 15: Ye olde faithful

While netbooks are all the rage right now (and for good reason - they're cheap) there's still a healthy market for the traditional laptop, one that combines a big bright screen with a widely spaced keyboard and enough mod-cons to make mobile computing a pleasurable experience. That's why we're including one in our netbook round-up this month, to serve as a comparison of what's possible with only slightly more outlay.

Unfortunately, regular laptops have become somewhat afflicted with the same disease netbooks have. Specs hardly differ these days, so manufacturers are increasingly turning to wild colours and "designer" patterns to attract customers.

And we're pleased to report that Dell isn't any different at all. The Studio 15 comes in an eye-watering array of five colours (we'll take basic black, thanks) and 11 "artistic designs" (no, really) in case you want to stand out at the next boardroom meeting. It does feature Dell's nifty new clamshell hinge and angled backlit keyboard for better ergonomics while typing.

Less nifty is the built-in 3W subwoofer - is anyone really going to be watching full-length Hollywood blockbusters on these devices? Are boardroom execs really complaining about a lack of bass in presentations? We think not.

So we'd like to focus on the good points and for the most part, the Dell delivers the sort of solid, unobtrusive performance CIOs are looking for. With a range of CPU speeds up to 2.4GHz, 250GB of hard drive space and an optional Blu-Ray writer, it's got all the productivity bases covered. About the only real drawbacks are its lack of USB ports (just two) and its weight at 2.6kg, but compared to the netbook pretenders scattered elsewhere on this page, we still think a proper laptop like this is the way to go.

You just might want to think about going to the gym first. Dell Inspiron Mini 10: Just the facts, please

Frankly, this is getting slightly ridiculous. You can almost write this review for us now: the Dell Mini 10 features a range of bright and attractive colours, several processors from the Intel Atom range depending on whether you prefer performance or battery life, 160GB hard drive, three USB ports - no surprises at all, to be perfectly honest.

Well, that's not entirely true. Surprisingly for a netbook, the Mini 10 features an HDMI port - great for hooking up to a big screen LCD or a projector for browsing the web. The 10.1 inch screen is also quite high-res, supporting 1366x768 resolution. It's unusual for netbooks, and with text so tiny, might actually make it harder to use - do check it out beforehand to make sure you don't squint too much.

Design-wise, the Mini 100 won't stand out in a netbook lineup - which in our view is a good thing. To be honest, swap the badges with the Toshiba NB200 and you wouldn't probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

It's difficult to recommend one over the other, but if you really have only very basic computing needs - web browsing, office apps and the occasional voice chat - either of these two will be more than up to the task. The trouble is, we think most people will graduate from these devices far quicker than they realise, once they discover their inherent limitations

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