Tablet PCs may be all the rage, but most of them can be fairly pricey. Sure, there are units like the Aakash that aim to lower the price barrier substantially, but some may want something a little more fully featured, which is where the Vodafone Webbook comes in.
The Vodafone Webbook comes packing a Freescale MX51 ARMv7 CPU that’s clocked at 800MHz. Backing this up is 512MB RAM and 4GB of storage space, of which about 1.5GB is available to the user.
It’s low-end, there is no question, and this is about as low as you can go for a consumer netbook.
In terms of real-world performance, the Webbook did fairly well in day-to-day use, though there were issues.
General navigation around Ubuntu was okay, but there was some sluggishness when switching between applications. More importantly, there was a definite slowdown when starting a new application.
Starting up Chromium with a saved tab or two actually slowed things down enough for a dialog to pop up reporting that the application was unresponsive, though it just required a bit of a wait.
Using Open Office to write this review in was fine, but browsing the web could be painfully slow, especially when trying to watch YouTube videos.
Design and build quality
The entire casing of the Webbook is plastic. It feels rigid and strong, and it should handle daily scuffs and bumps easily.
The screen casing is white at the back with just a silver Vodafone logo in the middle, while the rest of the casing is black. The screen bevel is the only part that’s glossy black. The white at the back and the glossy bevel are unfortunate, because the white picks up dirty marks faster than a cockney chimney sweep, while the glossy black seems to think that fingerprints are stylish.
Above the 10-inch screen (capable of 1024×600 resolution) is a 0.3MP webcam.
On the right side (of the main unit) is a single USB port, while the left holds the charging port, 3.5mm jack and a second USB port. The Webbook is sparsely populated in terms of in/out ports, but it should be sufficient for the market it’s targeting.
The entire unit measures at around 255mm x 185mm x 25mm and weighs just under one kilogram.
The 10-inch screen is capable of a resolution of 1024×600. This may be somewhat disappointing to some, especially considering that high-end smartphones are appearing with higher resolutions, but sacrifices must be made in the pursuit of low cost. In the end, the sacrifice isn’t that big, and new users will probably not notice the difference.
Horizontal viewing angles were quite good, but you had to get the vertical angling just right in order to see things clearly.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is packed fairly tight, which makes sense considering the dimensions. Unfortunately, this means that some keys have fallen by the wayside, such as ‘Home’ and ‘End’. The lack of those two buttons actually has a noticeable impact when typing long documents, like this review (I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it for myself).
The ‘Windows Key’ usually found on keyboards is still present, but its icon is replaced by a house, which makes a little more sense.
Actually, typing on the Webbook’s keyboard was a little difficult. As mentioned before, it’s packed fairly tight, which takes some getting used to. The keys themselves are fairly stiff and seem to have a lot of travel distance, which means that some letters just didn’t appear on the screen even though I could have sworn that I had actually hit the key.
The trackpad is, as can be expected, also fairly tiny. The buttons below it are also rather stiff.
The biggest complaint here is that the trackpad doesn’t seem to support any kind of scrolling out the box, which makes pretty much everything difficult.
The Webbook comes preloaded with Ubuntu 10.04 (the current LTS release) and the standard interface is Unity 2D. Unity-haters can, however, switch to standard Gnome at the login screen.
For the most part, it seems like a standard Ubuntu installation. Default applications include (but aren’t limited to) Thunderbird (for e-mail), Firefox (for web browsing), Rhythmbox (for audio playback), and OpenOffice (for Word Processing, Spreadsheets, etc.). Vodacom has added a different default wallpaper and a few web shortcuts, but those can thankfully be changed/removed.
For updates, the Webbook defaults to the main server, but it does warn you of possible 3G costs beforehand.
Battery life on the Webbook was quite impressive.
In our looping video test, where we looped 720p video from a flash drive with WiFi on and the screen at full brightness, the Webbook kept going for just under 5 hours.
In regular day-to-day usage (browsing, emails, document editing, etc.) the Webbook almost made it through a full work day before wailing for its charger.
When all is said and tested, is the Webbook a hit or a miss?
Let’s be clear: those of us living on the bleeding edge of technology won’t be getting one, but it is more than good enough as an introductory computer and it is usable as more than just a teaching aid.
At an RRP of R1,499 (with other options available), hopefully the Webbook is but a portent of things to come.