- Compact and lightweight
- comfortable keyboard
- plenty of expansion options, including SDIO
- removable battery.
- No built-in wireless connectivity
- display could perform better in bright sunlight
- no official availability for individual users.
The NetBook Pro is a mobile computer that sits somewhere between a clamshell handheld like Sony’s new CLIE PEG-UX50 and an average-sized notebook. Psion Teklogix is targeting it as a device for corporate markets -- notably sales force automation, field service management and field inspection or data collection. These are very much ‘behind the scenes’ activities; mobile executives and individuals need not apply -- at least, not officially.
The NetBook Pro’s hardware design is reminiscent of its two predecessors, the NetBook and the earlier Psion Series 7. It’s a clamshell device with a full QWERTY keyboard that’s large and responsive enough to touch type on very comfortably. The screen’s clever hinging system is not on the back edge of the device, but about three-fifths of the way back. A soft rubbery material on its outer edge allows the mechanism to work smoothly. The NetBook Pro’s dimensions are 23.5cm wide by 18.4cm deep by 3.5cm tall, and it weighs 1.1kg. The hardware is the right size to sit comfortably in the crook of your palm while travelling short distances, although that soft rubber will need some sort of case-provided protection when the device travels in a bag. Power is provided by a Li-ion battery which, as in earlier incarnations of this device, fits into a slot behind the hinged area. It’s easy to swap in spares while on the road. Backup battery power is provided by twin AAA batteries, which sit in a slot that becomes accessible under the clamshell hinge when you half-close the lid. AAA batteries are much more widely available than the coin-type cells used by many handhelds -- and previous incarnations of this device. The reset switch is handily available on the keyboard area, and the stylus for the touch-sensitive screen sits in a spring-loaded slot on the right side of the casing, whence it is released by a small button. We’ve had trouble with the spring-loaded stylus in previous NetBooks and Psion Series 7s, but the mechanism seems to have been changed and the stylus shortened.
Psion Teklogix has bitten the bullet as far as the operating system is concerned, and the NetBook Pro now uses Windows CE .NET 4.2 rather than EPOC -- which Psion itself developed in an earlier incarnation. Psion Teklogix maintains that Windows CE .NET 4.2 fits much better with companies’ existing (Microsoft-dominated) IT infrastructures than EPOC. The processor is an Intel PXA255 running at 400MHz. Windows CE.NET 4.2 has made it easy for Psion Teklogix to incorporate a range of expansion options. These include USB, serial, infrared, CompactFlash, SD (with SDIO support) and PC Card slots, and a headphone connector. Support for ActiveSync is included for direct desktop synchronisation, although Psion Teklogix expects most users to synchronise over the air. It may seem odd, therefore, that there’s no wireless connectivity built in, but Psion Teklogix is clear that it wants to keep supplied hardware and software to a minimum, allowing end users to specify options like Bluetooth, 802.11b, GSM and GPRS. Similarly on the software side, Psion Teklogix equips the NetBook Pro with a small range of core applications, leaving major provisioning to the client. There is WordPad, a word processor, Inbox for email, Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player from the core CE.NET 4.2 bundle. To this have been added Pocket On Schedule, a personal information manager, Stellent File Viewer, and the JEM-CE Java virtual machine. There is 128MB of RAM, with a further 12MB of the 32MB of flash ROM available to the user. The 800 by 600 pixel, touch-sensitive 16-bit display is clear and bright, although it does suffer in bright sunlight. This is something Psion Teklogix could have worked harder on, given that many of its target users will work in the open for much of the time.
The NetBook Pro performed well during our evaluation. Touch typing was not a problem, and we were able to produce documents at speed. We didn’t get the desktop synchronisation software, and so were unable to test this aspect of the out-of-box NetBook Pro experience. However, CE.NET and ActiveSync are a tried-and-tested combination in other devices. Psion Teklogix does not quote a battery life for the NetBook Pro. Our standard notebook battery tests will not run on CE .NET, so instead we chose a test more often applied to handhelds. We set the backlight to always on and at its mid level, and disabled suspend mode. Then we set the volume to its loudest and looped MP3s. We got exactly eight hours of life from the battery, and it continued to play until the second it decided to shut down completely. This should be enough to get most workers through a solid day’s use, and many will go several days between charges. The NetBook Pro is not designed to be a replacement for the NetBook, which shipped with a full suite of applications and was developed for the consumer market. Consequently there will be no direct support for individual buyers, although such sales will inevitably be made through third parties. This is fair enough, as Psion Teklogix clearly positions itself as a corporate- rather than a consumer-focussed company. However, we think that the company will miss a trick if it doesn’t consider a consumer release of this product, which -- albeit at a more attractive price -- could sell by the bucketload.