Hands on with FIC's netbook

Hands on with FIC's netbook

FIC's new netbook with an 8.9-inch screen has a nice keypad and excellent resolution.

Taiwan's First International Computer (FIC) showed off several new low-cost laptops, or netbooks, at Computex last month, and many of them will hit U.S. stores through affiliate Everex Systems.

I had a chance to try out the upcoming version of the Cloudbook with an 8.9-inch screen at FIC's offices in Taipei. One build, the Cloudbook Max, is able to connect to WiMax wireless networks and will be out in the U.S. in September.

The 8.9-inch screen netbooks will also be sold in other parts of the world, but may not carry the Everex name.

The device they had ready for me to try held a 1.6GHz Intel Atom microprocessor, 512M bytes of DRAM and a 40G byte HDD (hard disk drive). It was running Windows XP.

One nice thing was the keypad, which is important because none of the netbooks use a standard size keypad. On netbooks with a 10-inch screen size, some of the keypads are 80 percent to 90 percent the size of a mainstream laptop keypad, but on smaller devices such as 8.9-inch ones, they're much smaller.

Some companies have even designed unique keypads that are flat with little space between keys. That may make the device look nicer, which I'm told is the reason for such a design, but without space between the keys, it's easy to hit the wrong letters. Maybe it takes some time getting used to typing on a smaller keypad, but for anyone buying a device like this, the secondary application -- after surfing the Internet -- will likely be typing: e-mail, homework, work, journal or blog entries, etc. Comfortable typing is important.

These mini-laptops, or netbooks, are designed to be portable and offer easy access to the Web. That's why they weigh around 1 kilogram each and are about half to two-thirds the size of a mainstream laptop computer, with batteries that can last up to 8 hours.

They aren't really supposed to have the same functionality as a mainstream laptop and FIC's 8.9-inch laptop didn't. Battery-life, performance on simple software tasks, screen size and the size of the keypad were my biggest concerns.

It took about 35 seconds to boot Windows XP on the FIC device, and launching programs took about the same time as other devices I've had a look at, including Asustek Computer's Eee PC and Micro-Star International's Wind. Since most of the components are the same, similar performance isn't surprising.

One part of the FIC device that did set it apart was an express card slot for 3G (third-generation) or WiMax cards and options for built-in WiMax, 3G and Bluetooth technology. Wi-Fi connectivity with 802.11 b/g is standard on the devices.

The mousepad worked well, and was easy to navigate on despite its small size.

The picture quality on the screen of the device was also nice. The company used WSVGA (wide super video graphics array) LCD screens with LED (light-emitting diodes) backlights with 1024x600 resolution. Pictures on the screen looked crisp, as did a picture slideshow.

FIC has developed two main configurations of the model with an 8.9-inch screen. The CE2A1, with a 1.2GHz Via C7-M microprocessor, 1G byte of DRAM, and an HDD with 60G bytes of storage and the CW0A1, which is similar but comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom microprocessor.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are optional on the devices.

They come with either 4-cell or 6-cell lithium-ion batteries. The 6-cell batteries can run for seven to eight hours before needing a recharge.

They will be available in Taiwan and Japan by the end of August, the FIC representative said. In Taiwan, an 8.9-inch FIC netbook with an Atom microprocessor will cost around NT$15,000 (US$493), while one with a Via processor will sell for around NT$14,000.

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