Hands-on: ECS's G10IL minilaptop with 3G

Of the many Taiwanese companies developing minilaptops for global markets, only Elitegroup Computer Systems Co. (ECS) was prescient enough to build 3G (third-generation telephony) capabilities right into its offering, the G10IL netbook.

Last week, I had a chance to try one out at ECS's offices in Wugu, Taiwan, just outside of Taipei.

The ability to surf the Internet wirelessly over 3G airwaves via HSDPA and HSUPA (High Speed Downlink/Uplink Packet Access) is one of the things that sets the G-series laptops apart from rival offerings, such as Micro-Star International Co.'s (MSI) Wind laptop and Asustek Computer Inc.'s Eee PC.

The G10IL I tried out was a standard G-series model, around $500, with a 10.2-in. screen, six-cell battery for around five to six hours of run time, an 80GB hard disk drive (HDD), a webcam, 2GB of DRAM, an Intel 1.6-GHz Atom microprocessor and Windows XP. Different configurations, including substituting a Linux operating system, will cost less. The minilaptop can also connect to Wi-Fi networks.

The company's J-series, for example, is the low-cost series of ECS's netbook family. It will still come with the 10.2-in. screen and HDD, but it skimps on other features to try to knock $100 or more off the price, ECS representatives said. Both the G-series and J-series come with options for Linux from Linpus Technologies Inc.

The way the software and other operations ran on the G10IL were generally similar to other minilaptops. That's largely to be expected since most of them run on the same components, including Intel Corp.'s Atom microprocessor. Like MSI's Wind and the Eee PC, the devices are made for surfing the Internet and general office-type tasks such as data input and some multitasking, but not video editing and other heavy programs.

The design of the G10IL looks nice, with a similar feel to MSI's Wind. It is about half to two-thirds the size of a mainstream laptop PC and weighs about 1 kilogram.

But boot-up time on the G10IL was slow at around 40 seconds. Once started, the netbook handled multiple programs easily and was generally easy to use.

One issue was the keypad, but it's an area that all minilaptops have trouble with. On the G10IL, I found it difficult to hit the right keys. Companies have made the keypads flat with keys bunched together. There's not much space between keys for your fingers to feel around and navigate. You need your eyes to do so.

Over the course of trying out mininotebooks, it seems clear that typing on them is a bit different. My habit is to rest the heels of my hands on the laptop as I type, but on mininotebooks, you can't really do that without interfering with the mouse pad.

I found that lifting the heels of my hands off the laptop and holding them up a bit helped hit the keys right on. It takes a bit of getting used to.

Having said that, my favorite keypad so far is on the ClassMate PC that ECS let me try out. The keys are raised and are spaced out more, so even though the keypad is smaller than the G10IL, it's easier to feel when you're moving from one key to another. The ClassMate's keypad by far trumps the other models I've tried, including the Eee PC 901, MSI's Wind and ECS's G10IL.

ECS's G10IL mini-notebook will be sold by mobile phone service providers in Europe by September or October. The prices they set are unknown because if the mini-notebook is bundled with a 3G contract, it could be cheaper than the hardware price, around $500.

People interested in the new laptops need not look for the ECS brand, however. The laptops will likely be marketed under the names of the mobile service providers.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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