he Nokia Booklet 3G is the mobile maker's first foray into the mini laptop market. Will this luxuriously built but expensive netbook redefine the category?

The next generation of mini laptops is just around the corner now. Based on cool-running ARM processors and with a Linux operating system for speed and security, they promise long battery life and power to spare for basic online activities.

Nokia is rumoured to be one of the first in the queue to unveil such a smartbook - but until it does, here's the company's first mini laptop, the Nokia Booklet 3G.

A quick glance at the specs suggests that the Nokia Booklet 3G is little more than a routine Intel Atom-powered netbook. Routine, that is, apart from the giddy price. There's the 1.6GHz processor, 10.1in screen, 1GB of RAM and three USB ports. But before you tally up these parts and file under 'yawn', you have to get past the beautiful, sleek, milled metallic bodywork.

It's becoming something of a cliché to suggest that a given new design is borrowing ideas from Apple. Yet it was the Mac maker that first had the idea to sculpt a laptop's body from a single piece of aluminium - hence, ‘unibody' - which really embues its laptops with not just great strength but surprising lightness.

And the Nokia Booklet 3G copies just such a unibody construction, resulting in a weight of just 1.2kg - that's less than many plastic-bodied netbooks - and a finished product that is thinner and feels a lot stiffer and sturdier than any netbook that's ever appeared before.

The other principle stand-out feature of the Nokia Booklet 3G is the high-resolution screen. Even if it makes itself conspicuous for all the wrong reasons.

Netbooks have been restricted to 1024 x 600 resolution by licensing restrictions from chip and software suppliers Intel and Microsoft; yet Nokia has nevertheless boldly selected a 1280 x 720 pixel display.

While this gets around the claustrophobia of sub-XGA resolution screen estate, it also makes interface details horrifically small. And all sealed away behind a highly polished glass front panel, the distracting reflections are about as bad as it can get. But that's not even the worst problem to blight this screen.

The real deal-breaker is the notably poor quality of the LCD itself. It is of particularly low contrast, and with a disturbing sparkly effect that renders whites into silver-greys. The net effect is real difficulty in simply reading from the screen, making this mini laptop very far from a joy to use.

If screen quality is somehow of no interest to you and you're still reading, you may be heartened to hear that the Booklet 3G has a couple of other useful tricks up its sleeve.

NEXT PAGE: Extra features, battery life and overall perfomance benchmark results >>

In place of the old-hat analogue VGA output found on most netbooks, Nokia has taken advantage of the Intel GMA 500 graphics chip's capability in outputting digital video. So on the left side you'll find an HDMI output, enabling you to easily plug into a modern LCD monitor or television. That's one way to sidestep the Booklet's pitiful screen, but hardly the point for a portable aimed at use on the hoof.

Being a designer of mobile telephone handsets, Nokia has perhaps unsurprisingly embraced wireless connectivity by adding a 3G wireless modem.

Where most such equipped laptops require you to shut down and remove the battery, the Booklet 3G proudly sports its SIM card slot on the right side, under a neat flap that also covers an SD card slot. The 3G facility is further augmented by a GPS receiver for location-based navigation.

The keyboard seems quite small to type on, using miniature Scrabble-style keys that are smaller than those found on other 10in netbooks. And the trackpad is also rather disappointing, at only 72x40mm in size and not especially easy to use, even if the left/right click buttons are honed from metal, flush embedded into the body, and have a snappy, assertive click.

Running Windows 7 Starter, the Nokia Booklet 3G is slower in use than a similarly specified Windows XP netbook. The noted sluggishness in the interface was also borne out by low results in our performance test with WorldBench 6, where the Nokia Booklet 3G score just 28 points. Put another way, that's 25% slower than pre-Windows 7 netbooks.

Nokia makes a claim of 12 hours battery life. We couldn't quite match that in our industry-standard MobileMark 2007 battery test, where the longest life we measured extended to just over 10.5 hours. That's still a remarkable figure though, and worthy of note.

NEXT PAGE: Original PC World US review >>

Nokia spokespeople are quick to correct you if you slip and call the Nokia Booklet 3G a 'netbook'. Well, let's see: it has a tiny, clamshell, laptop-like design. It has meagre specs (1GB of RAM, Intel's Z530 1.6GHz Atom CPU, and a 4200rpm 120GB hard drive).

The Nokia Booklet 3G has a 10.1in screen. Last time we checked, that was pretty much the definition of a netbook.

The Booklet 3G just happens to be a reasonably well-constructed model with a focus on being 3G wireless-ready. But are you willing to shell out over £600, sans contract, for Nokia's maiden effort in the netbook market?

As you can probably tell, we're not exactly enamoured with what lies under the Nokia Booklet 3G's hood - certainly not at the asking price. From a cold start, it takes 45 seconds to boot into the Windows 7 Starter Edition desktop. Try opening up more than two applications at a time, and brace for the lag. As for battery life, we can't give you final results on that yet, either, but one spokesperson shared anecdotally that the battery will last for over 7 hours. We'll update you on its performance marks as soon as possible.

The nondescript guts aren't the real story here, however - it's the Nokia Booklet 3G's upscale lines. The machine's smart styling is almost techno-retro, making this little laptop look like, well, a large mobile phone. The glossy plastic lid may be a smudge magnet, but it nicely offsets the sturdy aluminum case. The mouse buttons have a swooping design. We half expected to see a version of Snakes running on this thing. In short, Nokia seems to think that it's still 2002 - and we're okay with that.

But then you try to use the Nokia Booklet 3G. The 10.1in screen, with its native 1280 by 720 resolution (not to mention the unit's HDMI output), may fool you into thinking that you'll be able to enjoy HD video on it.

Between the Nokia Booklet 3G's poky processor and its low-speed hard drive, we found it tough to watch a 480-by-320-resolution video running full screen. The colours and contrast seemed a bit muted, and as if that weren't enough, the glare coming off the screen was extremely noticeable unless we looked at the display dead-on. We could do our morning shave looking at that reflection.

Something else we noticed while trying to watch video on a bus. The hinge mechanism has almost no grip. The slightest bump kicks the screen back. As a test, we tried just slightly flicking our wrist while holding the machine, and the screen flopped out. That's a huge pet peeve: and a strike against the Nokia Booklet 3G.

We should note that the keyboard is tiny. We're talking small, scrunched keys, the kind where a fingertip dwarfs the entire button. Over time, we grew accustomed to the size, but we wouldn't recommend it for long typing sessions (like the time we spent typing this review... ouch). On the other hand, we really liked the touchpad. Spacious, with two big, satisfying mouse buttons, it makes navigating a whole lot easier.

Measuring 264 x 185 x 19.9mm and weighing about 1.2kg, the unit feels substantial in your hands. On the edges are three USB ports (two on the left side), plus a combo mic and headphone jack (so you can plug in a cell phone headset). We especially recommend sticking with headphones, because the two built-in speakers barely rise above a whisper - and when we tried to crank up Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds," the speakers cracked.

Also on the side are the power switch and, behind a flap, the SD and SIM card slots. We presume that the easily accessible SIM card slot allows for the closed-case design and permits international travelers to pop in a region-friendly card wherever they may land. Otherwise, the case is fairly clean.

As for software, the big draw looks to be Nokia Ovi Suite, the company's set of connectivity apps, which didn't come with our initial test machine. We are hoping to get a closer look at that prior to assigning the Nokia Booklet 3G a final score. But going by what we have seen so far, it could be a little tough to give this netbook a hearty recommendation.

The sturdy frame and reasonably slick lines of the Nokia Booklet 3G show that the company has what it takes to make a smart-looking portable. But considering the poor choice of components (really, a tiny, slow hard drive?) and the above-mentioned quirks, this is a too-pricey portable. If someone tried selling us the Booklet 3G at £500, we'd hesitate. The subsidised deals may rope some people in, when carriers start offering the Nokia Booklet 3G.

Darren Gladstone

PCWorld.com

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Nokia Booklet 3G: Specs

  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530
  • 10.1in (1280 x 720) glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM
  • 120GB 1.8in 4200rpm HDD
  • Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics
  • HDMI
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • 3G wireless modem
  • GPS receiver
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • SD card slot
  • headphone jack
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • built-in mic
  • 57Wh battery lithium-polymer battery
  • 264 x 185 x 19mm
  • 1219g
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530
  • 10.1in (1280 x 720) glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM
  • 120GB 1.8in 4200rpm HDD
  • Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics
  • HDMI
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • 3G wireless modem
  • GPS receiver
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • SD card slot
  • headphone jack
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • built-in mic
  • 57Wh battery lithium-polymer battery
  • 264 x 185 x 19mm
  • 1219g

OUR VERDICT

Okay, so the glossy black plastic lid back is a fingerprint magnet that renders the Booklet 3G greasy looking as soon as you touch it. But you’ve got to admire the superb overall craftsmanship of this netbook – at least, right up until the point you need to use the screen. At £649, this is a very expensive netbook, but one that we’d be happy to list as ‘desirable but more for aspirational interest’. Sadly, thanks to a low-quality LCD display, the missing ’aporth of tar has irreversibly spoilt this good ship. Wrapped in peerless build quality for a netbook, we really wanted to come back with a better conclusion that we did. We’re just hoping Nokia will not make the same mistake, if and when it releases the awaited ARM-based smartbook.

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