With the majority of netbooks running on Intel's Atom platform, it's becoming increasingly hard to differentiate one vendor's product from another. Toshiba offers a sleep-and-charge USB port in the NB100, while the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and HP Mini 2140 sport ExpressCard slots. The BenQ Joybook Lite U101 separates itself from the pack by being the first with a 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen and drop tested.
But why U101? According to the Taiwanese company, the Joybook Lite gives users 101 reasons to love the netbook. 101 also has a special significance in Taiwan as the Taipei 101 tower is one of the world's tallest buildings. So does this model live up to its namesake?
The Joybook Lite comes in four colour schemes: white, black, blue and pink. Regardless which shade you choose, the top cover is decorated with an emoticon design and protected by BenQ's Insert Mold Roller Technology which provides a scratch-resistant layer. With a footprint of 258x189x32mm and carry weight of 1.1kg (including a three-cell battery), it falls squarely in the middle of the other 10.1-inch netbooks.
What makes this model special is that BenQ has taken special care to ensure the unit can endure the daily knocks and bumps of the urban jungle. The Joybook Lite U101 has been tested to survive drops of up to 30cm and 50kg of crushing force. Slipping this netbook into your daily bag for commute should prove to be no issue for this Joybook.
According to BenQ, the keyboard is 90 per cent of the size of a standard QWERTY version. Considering that the smaller Acer Aspire One offers 95 per cent of a full-size keyboard and keeping in mind the excellent version on HP netbooks, we feel BenQ could have done better in this respect. But don't get us wrong, the Joybook Lite still offers a decent typing experience and producing long emails or documents will not be an issue with most users.
At first glance, the Joybook Lite may seem to sport an unremarkable 10.1-inch LED-backlit display which is common in its class. However, playback a widescreen movie and you'll see the difference. While other widescreen netbooks will either require the video to be stretched or add black borders along the top and bottom, the U101 can display the entire movie without distortion. This is because the Joybook Lite is the first netbook to use a 16:9 aspect ratio screen rather than the common 16:10 aspect ratio found on other models, giving it a resolution of 1024x600. While it looks nice, the restricted vertical height can cause issues with some applications. Fast-action graphics are also not a problem as the 8ms response rate should eliminate any ghosting effect. The stereo speaker system is unimpressive but competent enough for the casual movie experience.
Another value-add that BenQ brings to the table is its proprietary QData Trove 3.1 application. This program simplifies data backup and restore with a user-friendly interface. Should the system suffer from unrecoverable failure, QData Trove also allows the user to reset the machine back to its factory settings easily.
The BenQ netbook has all the ports and connectivity options expected in its category. Three USB 2.0, VGA output, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth and 802.11b/g are present and accounted for. The memory card reader supports SDHC/MMC and Memory Stick standards, while the built-in 1.3-megapixel webcam and mic are available for video conferencing.
Performance and battery life
For AU$799, you get an Intel 1.6GHz Atom processor, 1.5GB memory and a 160GB hard disk under the hood. The MobileMark 2005 benchmark test returned a score of 134, which means the Joybook Lite has no issue with internet surfing and Office tools though video and image editing will be stretching its limits.
Using a three-cell battery, this netbook held up for exactly three hours before surrendering to the MobileMark 2005 battery test. Considering that the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios were turned off during the benchmark run, expect shorter uptimes if you engage in regular internet surfing and downloads. An optional six-cell battery is also available and should provide significantly longer unplug times, though it will be available only in the middle of March.