The Blackberry and iPhone may be the most mainstream technologies of the “small computing” movement, but laptop computers have started to make a move into that arena as well, most publicly with the ASUS Eee PC. Yet while the Eee PC has garnered most of the attention, 3K Computing has released its own mini notebook, the RazorBook 400, and from the time we’ve spent with it, the RazorBook definitely holds its own.
The 3K RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook PC is designed first and foremost, at least according to the company’s own CEO, to be a “low-cost portable Internet appliance.” The RazorBook 400 definitely delivers with both of those functions, as its $299 price tag is amazingly palatable, and its Internet-browsing capabilities are as intuitive as you’d expect. The unit we tested didn’t have a built-in WiFi adapter, so we used a USB adapter in one of the system’s three available USB ports. However, the retail units supposedly include a built-in adapter, so end consumers will be able to free up one of those three USB ports.
Freeing up that extra USB port is a good thing too, for two reasons. First, the RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook PC is smaller than the Eee PC, yet its monitor and keyboard are the same size as that of ASUS’ machine. This is due to the slim bezel surrounding the RazorBook’s seven-inch 800×400 screen, a nice design decision compared to the Eee PC’s knack for looking more like a toddler’s “My First Laptop” than an adult tool. The keyboard is also roughly the same size as the Eee PC’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less uncomfortable or cramped, and the relocation of several important keys (the apostrophe and right-hand shift key) result in an obscene number of typos. As a result, you’ll definitely want to invest in a collapsible USB keyboard if you plan to do any extended typing.
Second, the touchpad on the RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook gets a lot of use, because the computer’s 800×400 screen resolution doesn’t display most modern Web sites in “full frame.” As a result, you’ll invariably find yourself awkwardly trying to hold down the “mouse button” that’s to the left of the touchpad while scrolling with the touchpad itself. This is awkward, to say the least, so you may want to invest in a USB mouse to save your fingers from completely cramping.
Without a mouse or keyboard in tow, the RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook PC easily fits inside a jacket pocket, and even in the inside pocket of most sport coats (it’s just 8.3″ long, 5.5″ deep and 1.3″ tall). Oh, and did we mention it’s less than two pounds? Talk about the perfect commuter computer.
If you find yourself commuting with this, though, you should be aware that it will not be a suitable replacement for a “standard” laptop or desktop. For starters, the Linux-based system runs on a 400MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and a 4GB flash drive, more than enough oomph for an emergency use or short-term trip, but not enough juice to serve most everyday needs. The RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook also comes pre-loaded with open-source Office-like programs including Xip Word, Xip Table (an Excel clone), a PDF viewer and an e-mail reader. Again, these are great on the go, but everyday use could pose a few challenges, particularly as the My-Documents-like file manager seems a bit forced. If only there were the option to create folders on the desktop….
Considering its size, the 3K RazorBook 400 keeps its charge very well; we didn’t drain a battery for 3.5 hours in our tests. Getting it back to a full charge took about 45 minutes with the included adapter, and charging it was totally feasible as a lap-top activity, because the system puts out almost no heat, and there’s no fan noise at all.
The RazorBook does dawdle at times on the Web, presumably because of the 400MHz processor, but it comes included with a FireFox “Bon Echo” browser, which speeds things up a bit. It also seems a bit slower than the Eee PC in terms of startup times, as we ran no fewer than seven startup-timing tests and noticed an average of 32 seconds between pressing the power button and being able to navigate the Flash-based desktop.
Computer tweakers will also find fault with the inability to boot from disc, change the OS or install any complex third-party programs. But then again, it’s important to remember that the 3K RazorBook 400 Mini Notebook PC isn’t designed to be the end-all, be-all computer; just a “quick fix” for commuters. The marketing literature says it’s ideal for students, but considering students would presumably want to bring this into the classroom to take notes, we can’t actually recommend it that way, at least not without investing in a USB keyboard as well.
But as a quick-fix, get-er-done notebook, the 3K RazorBook 400 absolutely fits the bill. For bloggers who need a compact device with Web access, it’s actually an ideal fit. In fact, we plan to take this with us to E3 2008 to help us take digital rather than hand-written notes while on the show floor. Is this the perfect full-featured laptop? No, but it’s not supposed to be. And, with the second-generation RazorBook coming in July (with Windows CE 5.0, Remote Desktop Functionality and Windows Media Player), this is definitely a system to keep your eye on, particularly if the second-gen system addresses some of our comments above. We can think of far worse ways to spend $299, just make sure you know exactly what you’re getting and why.
- Score: 7.8
- This could be a blogger’s best friend, so long as you don’t need robust image-editing software and aren’t afraid of ponying up for a USB keyboard too.
— Jonas Allen