- ✓Small and light
- ✓coloured livery is attractively different
- ✓excellent handwriting recognition software
- ✓802.11b and Bluetooth, plus GPRS SIM card support
- ✕No optical drive or flash card slot
- ✕slightly quirky cursor control
Small-format notebooks seem to be having something of a renaissance at the moment. We have recently looked at offerings from Toshiba (the Libretto U100) and Fujitsu Siemens (the LifeBook P1510 Tablet PC). Now we have another option in the shape of Dialogue's Flybook. Like the LifeBook P1510, this is a convertible tablet-style system with a passive touch-screen. However, it runs Windows XP rather than the Tablet PC Edition and there are other quirks, such as its support for GPRS data communications and a range of unusual colour choices for the hardware.
You'll certainly get noticed when you pull out the Flybook, as it comes in a range of colours, some of them extremely bright. Our review sample was a very loud yellow, but you can get it in bright red, blue, white, black or silver.
If the Flybook's colour doesn't get people talking, its size will. Dialogue's suggestion that the Flybook 'fits neatly into a handbag' is a little ambitious, but a briefcase or rucksack should accommodate its 23.5cm by 15.5cm by 3.1cm dimensions and 1.2kg weight without any trouble.
To switch between standard notebook mode and tablet mode, you swivel the screen around a central hinge through 180 degrees and lay it down flat over the keyboard. You can set the screen to portrait orientation for use in tablet mode, but on our review unit it did not seem to want to switch automatically.
The display itself measures 8.9in. across the diagonal, and has a native resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels. We found it to be bright, clear and very readable. It is touch-sensitive and passive, which means you can use any implement you like to tap it (active screens, more commonly seen on Tablet PCs, only respond to specialised styli). A downside of passive screens is that they can be very reflective, which makes difficult to work with any kind of light source directly behind you.
A stylus is provided in case you want to use one. It lives in a housing on one of the edges of the Flybook. It's the stubbiest stylus we’ve ever seen on a convertible notebook, and lozenge-flat rather than rounded like a pen. We found it difficult to get on with and resorted to using a finger for tapping at application icons and so forth, and a dual-purpose ballpoint pen-cum-stylus for finer work.
The 80-key keyboard is, as you might expect, pretty small. We found touch typing possible, but if you have large hands you may find it challenging. The area immediately beneath the keypad is occupied by the Li-ion battery, leaving no room for a traditionally located touchpad. Instead, a small trackpoint sits above and to the right of the keyboard, where it can be used with the right thumb.
Two pairs of buttons emulate left and right mouse buttons, one adjacent to the trackpoint, the other on the far left, again above the keyboard. The idea is that the left-hand pair can be used when you hold the Flybook in both hands, and the right-hand pair when the Flybook is sitting on a desk. We found it near-impossible to use both the trackpoint and an adjacent button at the same time with one hand, although working with the left-hand pair was not a problem once we’d got used to the unusual physical location. The alternative, of course, is tapping at the screen, and a small software utility caters for left mouse button emulation.
To the right of the Trackpoint is a further button that toggles the Trackpoint into four-directional pan mode. This is useful for quickly moving through large documents, Web pages and the like.
Our review Flybook ran Windows XP Home Edition without Service Pack 2 (that is, without the Windows Security Centre and updated firewall). You can opt to have Windows XP Professional installed, and will pay a little more -- £1,464 (inc. VAT) -- for the privilege.
We are assured you will get Service Pack 2 when you buy, but whichever version of Windows you choose you’ll miss out on some key touch-screen features that come with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, such as handwriting recognition. However, this has been taken care of with an application called ritePen, which makes an excellent job of converting handwriting to editable text. There is no substitute for the useful Windows Journal, though.
The Flybook is powered by a Transmeta Crusoe TM 5800 processor running at 1GHz, supported by 512MB of DDR RAM. Graphics are handled by ATI’s Radeon Mobility chipset with just 16MB of video RAM. These headline specifications are distinctly average, as is the 40GB hard drive.
As the system is so small it will come as no surprise that there is no built-in optical drive. An SD card slot would have been useful, but you'll have to make do with a Type II PC Card slot.
Support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is built in, though our review model lacked an 802.11b card for us to test its wireless networking capability. Unusually, there's also a SIM card slot on the left edge of the system, through which wide-area GPRS connections can be made. With Bluetooth on-board as well as a PC Card slot, a GPRS -- or 3G -- connection can readily be made via a mobile phone or data card, and few users are likely to want to obtain a second SIM purely for use with the Flybook.
For such a small system you get a reasonable range of interfaces at the back: RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, VGA-out and TV out, twin IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports, headphone and microphone connectors, and a single PC Card slot.
Performance & battery life
Given the small size of the Flybook, we can understand why there is no built-in optical drive. However, given the price we would like to see an external one bundled. We would also appreciate a few flash memory card formats supported on the Flybook itself -- at the very least, a single SD card slot would be handy. On the plus side, the handwriting recognition software is excellent, we like the passive screen, and the hardware generally feels robust. The colour schemes on offer are eye-catching, too.
Unfortunately, we were unable to run our usual performance and battery rundown tests as the Flybook resolutely refused to complete MobileMark 2002. Our general feeling from real-world use is that although it won't handle demanding applications with any alacrity, it's perfectly capable of running mainstream business applications such as word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs.
With no optical drive or flash memory slot, a relatively small hard drive and mid-range specifications all round, this is not an ideal business notebook. Which is a pity, as with little more attention to detail -- and a drop in price -- the Flybook could be a very appealing system.