Medion's new E1311 netbook rises above the crowd with its 11.6in higher resolution screen and AMD processors.
Most netbooks on the market are now effectively carbon-copies of each other - all built around a 10in low-resolution screen and an Intel Atom processor. You have to fight hard to find a mini laptop deviating from a spec based on these components, along with Windows XP Home, three USB ports, 160GB hard drive and 1GB of RAM.
But we're just now beginning to see some variety in this stagnating mini laptop category. Not classed as a netbook by Hewlett Packard but bearing some similarities was HP's Pavilion dv2 laptop, using a 12in screen and AMD Athlon Neo processor. But this in-between model has pitiful battery life, and its £599 price tag brings it more in line with full-featured 15in laptops.
Also taking an AMD processor, albeit a cheaper and even slower chip, is Medion's Akoya E1311 netbook.
It falls easily into the netbook category by virtue of its £349 price, and lack of integral optical drive, which helps to keep the weight down to a totable 1.4kg. But the Medion Akoya E1311 also answers perhaps the principle criticism of netbooks: screen size.
It sports an 11.6in display with 1368x768 pixels to play with, a size and resolution that means you won't be nearly as constricted on what you can see and do on this laptop.
Shame then that the high-gloss plastic window that Medion places over the LCD display behind renders this one of the worst screens we've seen for a while. It's not just its lack of brightness and contrast - the annoyingly reflective surface means it's impossible to clearly see what's on screen in daylight conditions.
The basic chassis of the Medion Akoya E1311 looks sound and feels good in the hand. You can find the E1311 in either black or white finish, using a smooth plastic construction - but mind that this finish can highlight fingerprints, as we found on our black sample at least.
The Medion Akoya E1311 has a good, wide keyboard, not nearly as cramped as most 10in-screen netbooks; and as well as VGA video out, the Medion adds HDMI, as well as an Express Card 34 to join the usual SD card slot. The trackpad and click buttons are responsive and easy to use, and the whole bodywork has a clean, rounded aspect; the satin plastic is easy on the eye and easy to carry around.
But how does it rate in the lab? Does the move to an AMD processor, not to mention an ATI graphics processor, mean we have a netbook able to undertake more than just casual websurfing and Solitaire?
The AMD Sempron 210U processor is clocked at 1.5GHz, just below the 1.6GHz Intel Atom - although CPU frequency is no arbiter of final performance of course. And while the Atom boasts a thermal design power of just 2.5W, this AMD Sempron is listed at 15W, so we'd expect battery life to suffer as a result. We did note that the Medion remained quiet in use, though, with no distracting cooling fans to disturb the user.
In our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test, the Medion Akoya E1311 scored 47 points. That puts it comfortably ahead of any Atomed netbook and bodes well for pressing the Medion into service for tasks more creative than checking Facebook updates.
In our usual FEAR test for laptop graphics performance, the Medion E1311 could only muster 1 frame per second at Maximum quality settings. All was not lost though - by reducing computer and graphics card settings to Minimum - and putting up with some rather blocky and pixellated graphics - we found it could average a flowing 50fps average.
Battery life stretched to about 3.25 hours (197 mins) when measured with the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test, a figure that just about improves on older netbooks' using 3-cell batteries (around 2.5-3 hours) but it's less than we'd hoped for from the Medion Akoya E1311's relatively generous 4400mAh power pack.
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