I've spent about 3 months with arguably the best-connected ultra-portable notebook in the world, most of that time on the road and all of the time the Flybook being the only computer I worked with. How did that go? Have my enthusiastic first impressions (see our July 21 review) mellowed or did I discover the Flybook is for keeps? Follow me as I put my traveling companion to work.
Back to Front: Conclusions First
Let’s put the conclusions up front. That way you could skip the rest of the review which only serves to underpin my conclusions anyway (not that I would want you to miss out on any of these riveting revelations J).
So what did I find after extensive use?
1. The Flybook is for keeps
2. I absolutely love the Tablet PC form
3. It is painfully slow if you’re used to faster computers
4. It’s very quiet
5. The best connectivity options in any notebook, incl. GPRS
6. The wide screen is adequate, not brilliant
7. The touch screen (in addition to the 4 mouse buttons) makes for great navigation
There you have it!
Fleshing it Out
Now, let’s put some weight behind these statements so that you can see why I love the Flybook and why I am a bit frustrated with the speed and screen if I try to use it for much more than a traveling companion. You see: we want all-in-one devices and that really is a contradiction in terms when it comes to computing. For instance, I love the fact that the Flybook is ultra compact but doesn’t that also mean that the screen is smaller and the keyboard is less generous than on the bigger notebooks? Of course it does! We can’t have it both ways. The Flybook is perfectly adequate for traveling but frustration will set in if you try to use it all the time as a normal laptop, particularly if you have been used to faster machines. When you’re out and about you make do, knowing that after the trip you can go back to normal size everything.
The Tablet PC Form
The Flybook is not a Tablet PC in that it does not run the Tablet PC operating system but for all practical purposes it still has all the functions of one, including handwriting recognition. I love the fact that I can turn the widescreen aspect (16:9) screen around, press a function key and start reading just like a book in a portrait format. It’s much better for the eyes and navigation of the pages. The touch screen also helps with easy scrolling. I often download numerous website pages that I need to check for news, unplug and find myself a comfy chair to read them. If you would like to do that in the sun, you’ll have a hard time reading the screen. It’s not meant for outdoor use. A screen like that of the Toshiba A70 is the best, brightest and wide-angled screen I have seen so far on a notebook. Whether that technology is available for touch screens is a different story…
I mentioned before that the Flybook doesn’t get very hot, just a bit warm. The Transmeta chip doesn’t need much cooling and that’s why I assumed it did not have a fan. I was wrong. There is a small fan that occasionally kicks in if the machine gets too hot. It’s not a big deal on my machine but one reader wrote me saying it’s louder than he wants it to be. I think it’s there as a “safety valve” more than just a fan that needs to be running all the time to keep the chip happy. The Transmeta Crusoe is not fast at 1GHz. You’ll notice that when you start up multiple applications or with handwriting recognition. For normal use it’s quite adequate and a good choice (perhaps the only choice for a notebook this small until the new 1.6GHz Transmeta Efficeon becomes available). Do I wish it were faster? Of course. But I do not want a power-hungry, noisy fan to come with it…
Let's quickly look at the other areas of interest:
Originally, I was going to benchmark this little number to the hilt but there’s not much point to it. It does what it was designed to do quite well and that’s the bottom line. Connections work as advertised, battery life is quite decent (3 hrs plus on full power, more if you’re careful), handwriting recognition is also reasonable. Mind you, I type faster even with 2 fingers than writing it out longhand and correcting some of it so this is one of the least-used features for me. I do use the touch screen all the time though and love it. It does get smudgy with fingerprints quickly which you only notice when you look at the screen from the sides.
Do I miss the CD/DVD drive?
When you’re traveling you don’t necessarily need a CD/DVD drive but with the widescreen format the Flybook is ideal for DVD viewing… When the Flybook is your only machine it’s a pain to load software without a drive unless you can network. The small footprint doesn’t provide much room to put a drive in anyway so if you’re after a lightweight machine with a drive there are various other options available and it’s always possible too to connect an external drive through the 2 FireWire ports for instance. The best solution would be a docking station that also incorporates a drive and a larger keyboard.
Because the Flybook is such a different animal in the notebook kingdom it is best to take a good physical look at it so that you can assess whether it’s for you. Dialogue is still finalizing the sales channels in various countries so it may not be possible yet to see one “in the flesh”, so to speak. However, they have sales representation now in the following areas: almost all European and Gulf countries, China and Taiwan, as well as outlets in South America and South Asia. No doubt, other markets will follow rapidly as they expect to ship tens of thousands of units by December.
Again, I’ve got no hesitation to recommend this Dialogue product as a traveling companion. It’s close to ideal.For day-to-day work you might want access to a larger screen and a faster processor plus a CD/DVD drive.
Note on Pricing:
From PocketPC Dubai, posted on Oct 4: “You will find it [the Flybook] displayed at Gitex Trade show and offered for customers at Gitex Computer Shopper. The offered price is AED 5500 ($ 1495) which is very reasonable compared to others in this category.” Jack Lee, President of Dialogue Technology Corp., assured me that this price is not correct. Whether this low price formed part of a Trade Show special we don’t know but we’ll update you when we do.
What we do know is that we may expect great products from Dialogue. Already they are working on follow-up products for the Flybook line and we hope to be in a position to bring you the first in-depth review on these developments before too long.