A pet peeve of ours when it comes to smaller notebook vendors such as Optima is that, while they're more than capable of producing an affordable product with a boat load of features, they just don't get it when it comes to aesthetics. A case in point is the Optima Centoris KN.
The notebook uses a fairly square silver and black chassis, which isn't ugly but it just doesn't compete with the likes of a typical Dell or HP notebook in the style sweepstakes. It's difficult to articulate exactly what we didn't like about the design, but take a look at, for example, the Optima Centoris KN and Dell Inspiron 630m side by side and you'll undoubtedly notice the difference. If looks are your only criteria, there are certainly more attractive options out there.
The notebook is also the largest and heaviest out of the four similarly priced notebooks we compared it to -- the Dell Inspiron 630m, Toshiba Satellite M50 and BenQ Joybook A33E -- with dimensions of 363 x 266 x 35 mm and a weight of 2.95kg. It's not a total behemoth like the Dell Inspiron 9400, but it's definitely a pain to lug around all day. Curiously, despite its hefty dimensions, the Centoris KN doesn't use a full-size keyboard, instead adopting miniature function and navigation keys.
One design aspect we were pleased with is the fact that the right-hand edge of the chassis houses nothing more than the dual-layer DVD writer. It's free of ports, so you don't have to worry about getting into a tangle when using an external mouse. We also liked the fact that the two stereo speakers have been positioned along the front of the bezel, which enables users to play unmuffled audio with the lid closed.
Just above the keyboard is the power switch as well as three shortcut keys - one to enable/disable WiFi, one to quick launch your default email application and one to launch the web browser. Given that there's so much unused real-estate around the keyboard, we're disappointed that the shortcut keys weren't expanded to include multimedia buttons as well.
The Centoris KN boasts the same price tag as the Dell Inspiron 630m -- AU$1499 -- so we weren't surprised to see that the two notebooks are configured with similar components. These include a Pentium M 740 (1.73GHz) processor, 512MB DDR2-533 memory, a 40GB hard drive and Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 integrated graphics. The Centoris KN's processor is 130MHz faster than that of the 630m, but its hard disk is downsized by 20GB. We liked Dell's choice of configuration better, albeit Optima's offering scores additional points for its inclusion of a dual-layer DVD writer which trumps the CD-RW/DVD combo drive on the 630m.
Networking options include 10/100 Ethernet LAN, 802.11b/g and Infra-Red. Bluetooth and Gigabit LAN aren't supported. Also present are four USB 2.0 ports and a Firewire port, while interfacing with external displays is made possible by the VGA and S-Video outputs. The integrated memory card reader is great for budding photographers, and there's even an inbuilt microphone - a rarity on notebooks we've tested previously.
Rounding out the feature-set is a 15.4" widescreen display that's great for catching up on your DVD backlog. It's got a matte as opposed to a glossy finish, so it won't morph into a mirror once you move indoors. Unfortunately, there's no instant-on feature, which we've found enhances the multimedia feature-set of competing notebooks.
For the penny pinchers, the notebook comes bundled with a soft carry bag for protection when you're on the road, but it's no replacement for a chic leather satchel.
Performance and battery life
The Centoris KN tied for first place in our MobileMark2005 office productivity tests with a score of 176. This is a respectable level of performance for a sub-AU$1500 notebook, and the unit can perform most tasks -- with the exception of extremely high-end applications such as gaming -- without slow-down.
We were also pleased with the Centoris KN's battery life, which maxed out at 227 minutes. This places it well ahead of the Toshiba and BenQ offerings, and only slightly behind the Dell.
Service and support
Optima provides a basic one-year return-to-base warranty with all of its notebooks. This is on par with the Dell and Toshiba offerings, but pales in comparison to the two years provided by BenQ. Warranty service requests can be made on the Optima Web site or by phone, and Optima will cover any courier costs incurred to return the notebook for repairs.
The Optima Centoris KN offers top performance and above-average battery life. It's a great notebook, if you can live with the lack of certain features and its added bulk.
Optima Centoris KN (15.4-inch, 1.73GHz)