For the last couple of weeks I’ve been using the Virgin Media Freedom Netbook. It is yet another broadband-in-a-tiny-computer offering that is ostensibly free if you sign yourself up to a longish contract.
The netbook itself is solidly built, with a good keyboard. It is small and light, as you’d expect (256mm x 182mm x 26mm x 1.1Kg). Its features are fairly standard netbook fare with a 10.2-inch 1024 x 600 pixel display, 120GB hard drive, 0.3 megapixel Webcam, Wi-Fi, Atom N270 processor and Windows XP Home.
I’m not sure whether Virgin Media thinks anyone will enjoy using the bright red, heavily branded neoprene slipcase, or will make any use at all of the range of stickers that are provided for you to personalise the netbook’s shell, but these things are not deal breakers.
There are just two USB ports, one on the left and one on the right side of the shell, with headphones and microphone slots also on the left side. Unusually the battery is housed on the underside of the casing so that the back is available for connectors as well as the left and right edges. The back houses VGA-out, Ethernet and a flash memory card reader slot, that latter in what is probably the least ergonomic position possible.
There’s no Bluetooth, but Wi-Fi runs to b/g and n. Microsoft Works is bundled, which means you should be able to do some useful things right out of the box.
It is all pleasing enough, but battery life is a stinker. The battery is 3-cell, offering 3300mAh which Virgin Mobile says provides two and a half hours of life. I felt lucky to get two hours of browsing and streaming from a full charge.
I was amazed that Virgin Mobile did not bother to bundle their 3G dongle with the netbook, a PR faux pas of magnificent proportions. But I used the netbook consistently with a Vodafone dongle with no ill-effects.
I’m really not sure about these free netbooks. To get this one you have to embark on a 24 month contract. There are various tariffs, and they include home broadband, telephony services and TV services. If you are already keen on Virgin Media for those, then maybe it makes sense, but I can’t see anyone being drawn by the mobile broadband offering on its own. There is just too much competition out there at the moment.
You’ll find all the current tariffs details at the Virgin Media Web site.