A Bundle of Joy Arrives: BenQ JoyBook Lite U101 First Impressions

The holiday season may be nearing the end, but it doesn't mean the gifts have stopped coming. This morning the netbook stork dropped off a little bundle of Joy (puns haven't been this good since the MSI Wind first blew into town) - the BenQ JoyBook Lite U101. Straight from Taiwan, the JoyBook Lite U101 appears to be just another 10-inch netbook but it has a few special perks that could separate it from the crowd. We will be posting our full review of the netbook in the next day or so, but for now here are our first impressions and a hands-on video. Enjoy (last pun we promise)! Wordsearch Styled, Lid BenQ, like us, must have felt that netbooks were starting to look too similar to each other. The JoyBook Lite's lid sports an "emoticon design." Small symbols (reminiscent of the Wing ding's font) are imprinted in the navy blue (also available in white, black, and pink) lid. After giving the lid some really careful inspection, we realized that the words "Joybook Lite" are spelled out in a diagonal pattern. It reminds us of a WordSearch. The lid design is different (and I like it), but we aren't sure it will appeal to everyone. The 10-inch netbook weighs 2.6-pounds (3.2-pounds with its AC adapter). It measures 10.1 x 7.44 x 1.25-inches. When placed next to the MSI Wind, it appears wider but thinner.

Disappointing Keyboard and Trackpad BenQ may claim that the keyboard on the JoyBook lite is 90-percent full size, but it is more comparable to that on 8.9-inch netbooks. There is space on both sides of the keyboard which could and should have been used to extend the panel. Additionally, the right Shift key has been shrunken and is placed to the right of the up arrow key. Beyond all of that, the keys are comfortable and we were able to type this post at a decent speed.

The trackpad, while small, was fine for navigating around the desktop. However, the single mouse bar is extremely loud. 16:9 Aspect Ratio Display The JoyBook Lite's 10.2-inch display has a 16:9 aspect ratio with a native resolution of 1024 x 576 (most netbooks come have a 1024 x 600 resolution). One of the first 10-inch netbooks with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the JoyBook will allow for viewing movies or DVD (using an external optical drive) without the small borders along the top of the screen. While this aspect ratio on larger 16-inch notebooks makes a difference, we don’t really see the benefit of this on a smaller screen that one won’t frequently watch DVD or high-def movies on. Additionally, subtraction of 24 vertical pixels limits the amount of space you have vertically on the screen. Check out the screen captures below comparing the NYTimes.com homepage on the JoyBook's screen and the 1024 x 600 screen on the MSI Wind. The Wind grabs at least one more line of text on the page (you can see the caption below Michael Phelps on the Wind but not on the BenQ). More scrolling is in order on the JoyBook. If you can look past the missing vertical pixels, the glossy LED screen is bright and pleasant to use.

Initial Performance Impressions, Easy Modding We are in the process of running benchmarks on the JoyBook Lite, but in our short hands-on, it provided the netbook performance we have come to expect from a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor bundled with Windows XP. Our unit seems to be registering 1.5GB of RAM, though according to BenQ's site it has a maximum of 1GB. Writing this post in Microsoft Word 2003 (a full version oddly came with the netbook!) while listening to tunes over Slacker.com in Firefox was smooth. The 160GB hard drive booted the Windows XP Home operating system in a not-too-shabby 45 seconds (see the video below) [flq:1c908aaf4ec884f55cac848e006eedca] A first look around the system also indicates that it could be a modder's paradise. On the backside of the system are two slots - one that is labeled SSD and another that opens up to the RAM, etc. BenQ covers the SSD slot with a sticker that says "Warranty Void if Seal Damaged." Oh well! The SSD slot is empty but has a PATA/ZIF slot and room for a very tiny, 1.8-inch disk. The RAM slot has access to an open mini-PCI-e slot that could potentially accommodate a PCI-e SSD card or 3G modem (there is a SIM card slot behind the battery). If you take off the battery, you can also access the laptop's 2.5-inch hard drive (see more pictures in the gallery).

Early Verdict The BenQ JoyBook U101 shows some early weaknesses, including a troublesome keyboard. We also don't really see the benefit of having a 16:9 aspect ratio on a netbook. But other than that, BenQ's stylish lid, free reign to exchange its internal components and basic netbook performance is bound to pull in some fans. Note: We do not have confirmation on U.S. pricing yet, but we bought this unit from Taiwan for $550. [flq:212cded61cf41e29b626847e9b640838]