BenQ's Joybook Lite U121 Eco is more than a typical netbook. It has a large 11.6in screen with a 1366x768 resolution, and this has allowed BenQ to install a full-sized keyboard on the wider chassis.
But while the bigger screen and keyboard go a long way to making this netbook more desirable than most, it's by no means one of the best models on the market. Despite the bigger keyboard and therefore bigger keys, the keyboard is a little bouncy, the keys are too hard to press and their response is not crisp. As such, they can feel uncomfortable to type on, plus a couple of keys are so small they can be hard to press without hitting the adjoining — especially if you're a touch typist. The colon, comma and forward slash keys are 13mm wide compared to 17.5mm for the alphanumeric keys.
The good news is that Benq has designed the keyboard with the keys are in the customary positions, so you won't have to hunt for the location of the delete key or press the function key instead of the control key when copying and pasting content.
At 11.6in, the screen size of the BenQ Joybook Lite U121 Eco represents a good balance between portability and usability, so if you can get the hang of the bouncy keyboard and stiff keys, you won't get tired when typing on it for long periods of time. The higher screen resolution also allows you to work on more than one window at a time; so you can easily have a Web browser open alongside a document window. That's not something you can do with most of the other netbooks on the market.
When it comes to speed, the Joybook Lite U121 Eco is not especially fast compared to other netbooks. It ships with an Intel Atom Z530 CPU, which runs at 1.6GHz and has a 533MHz front side bus; it has 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and a 160GB, 5400rpm, Serial ATA hard drive (a Seagate ST916031 4AS model). In our MP3 encoding test, the Joybook recorded a time of 8min 20sec, which is a middle-of-road result. Its hard drive transfer speed of 16.56 megabytes per second (MBps) is faster than the previous BenQ netbook we tested (the Joybook Lite U101) yet it's slower than the 20MBps we expected.
Overall the Joybook Lite U121 Eco felt responsive when launching programs and switching windows. It has an Intel GMA 500 graphics adapter, which is a little more powerful than the GMA 950 graphics present on most netbooks on the market, as it gives the netbook a little more oomph when it comes to playing videos. You can play high-definition content (720p) without noticing any tearing or stuttering in the video.
If you regularly use your laptop while travelling, you'll appreciate the large, 6-cell, 56.94 Watt hour battery that's available for the U121 Eco. It lasted 4hr 51min in our video rundown test, in which we loop a video while the screen brightness is full and the wireless radio is enabled. This is a good result and one of the main reasons you may want to consider this netbook over others available at present.
BenQ touts a Quick Charge feature for this netbook, saying that the battery can be charged in one hour to provide up to six hours of life. In our tests, it took us 1hr 29min to fully charge the 56.94Wh battery, which then provided us with just less than five hours of life. But the life of the battery will depend greatly on how you use the netbook. We sometimes ran into a quirk with the battery when trying to charge it; the battery would not accept a charging signal until we removed it and re-inserted it.
The 6-cell battery gives the Joybook Lite U121 Eco a weight of 1.45kg, which is a little on the heavy side for a netbook, but the added battery life and big screen are worth the extra grams. The netbook's build quality is adequate (apart from the keyboard, which we think could be improved) and it balances nicely on your lap. It also doesn't feel hot when you use it over a long period of time — primarily because the large chassis gives the internal components plenty of air circulation.
In fact, there is plenty of room in the chassis due to a couple of empty slots — one is for a solid state drive, the other is for a 3G module (there is a SIM reader in the battery compartment). Unfortunately, neither option is available for purchase in Australia. BenQ does include an 802.11n wireless networking adapter, Bluetooth, 10/100 Ethernet, a built-in webcam, three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, a D-Sub port and microphone and headphone jacks in the Joybook Lite U121 Eco.
BenQ could have added a lot more feature wise to this netbook — especially when you consider the free internal space — but the Joybook Lite U121 Eco doesn't differ greatly from the other netbooks, save for the bigger screen and keyboard. Nevertheless, this offering is a good option for anyone who feels that a 10in netbook is just too cramped to use.
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