Attractive notebook lacks stamina

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 12:00am

The Japanese have made a name for themselves in the electronics and audio-visual equipment market, consistently producing equipment - stereo systems, televisions, irons - that work like a dream. Now, they are boosting efforts in the computer market.

NEC, Japan's largest chip-maker, is battling for a share of the notebook computer sector.

Although it is one of the top three computer sellers in Japan, it has yet to make inroads in the United States, which is still dominated by Compaq and Dell.

NEC's Versa Txi is aimed at the busy executive who needs to do number crunching or word processing on the road.

Mobility is key to notebook users and the trend in the market is definitely towards the ultra-light.

At 28.3 by 23.8 by 3.4cm, the Versa Txi does not look radically smaller than other notebooks in its class, but weighs only 1.76 kilograms with battery and CD-Rom drive.

It is definitely 'wow' at first sight. I particularly liked the silver magnesium alloy casing, making the machine much more desirable than the drab plastic variety. Maybe that is not important to many people, but the alloy parts also protect the notebook, especially its vulnerable screen, from impact during transport. One notable downside is the keyboard, though wide for an ultra-light, it feels flimsy. But at least the system includes two useful application quick-launch buttons above the keyboard.

At the heart of this featherweight is an Intel 750 megahertz Mobile Pentium III chip, which does not seem like much now one gigahertz and faster machines are coming from Gateway, Dell, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. But, the Versa Txi can handle most applications, such as word-processing, e-mail, and play DVD films and music well.

I also liked the removable DVD-Rom drive that could be hot-swapped, which is still not a standard feature on all notebooks. The floppy drive is housed in an external module that connects via one of the Versa's three USB ports. The module is small and weighs just 300 grams, so is light when on the move, but each requires a separate cable, which NEC also includes. These dedicated cables enable the use of both devices simultaneously, but it would be more simple if both devices connected via the same USB cable, so there would be one less item to carry. The Versa's 12.1-inch screen is not big for viewing its 1,024 by 768 resolution. Icons and text appear small, but the screen is crisp and well lit. Audio volume from the dual speakers is adequate, but the sound is oddly hollow.

The Versa has all the usual trimmings - headphone/audio-out jack, microphone jack, 56 kilobit per second modem, VGA (video graphics array), and one Type III and two Type II PC Card slots. All ports have plastic covers with well-designed rubber hinges that are durable and protective.

The notebook comes with a miniport replicator, which attaches via a USB port and yet another cable, giving one parallel, one serial, and two PS/2 ports.

For all of its features, the Versa Txi is not built for mileage because it lacks stamina. On a benchmark test, the battery lasted 75 minutes. Although it does not really bring anything new to notebooks, it is good value, at HK$16,990, and attractive. But without additional batteries or a convenient power outlet, a typical workday will be short.

Graphic: rev26gwz