by Igor Faletski, Vancouver, Canada
Medion is a new player on the North American notebook market. Based in Germany, this manufacturer recently released a new lineup consisting of three notebooks — Akoya LS (12.1”), Akoya EX (14.1″) and Akoya XL (15.4″). All of them feature glossy widescreen displays, great specs and connectivity at a pretty good price. This review deals with Akoya EX, which is marketed as a portable multimedia powerhouse. Does it live up to the expectations? You’ll soon find out!
Medion Akoya EX with a size comparison to tennis ball (view larger image)
Configuration as purchased:
- Intel Pentium M — 735 | 2 MB L2 cache | 1.70GHz | 400MHz FSB
- Intel 855GM chipset featuring Intel Extreme Graphics 2
- Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG Network Connection (Dual mode 802.11b/g)
- 14.1″ TFT High-Contrast Widescreen Display (1280 x 768 pixel resolution, glossy)
- 512 MB DDR RAM
- 80 GB 4200 RPM hard drive
- Dual Layer DVD R/ RW/ DVD-RAM /CD-R/ RW super drive
- Card Reader: SD/ MMC/ MS/ MS-PRO/ SM (comes as a PCMCIA card)
- 16 bit stereo sound with 2 built-in speakers
- Weight: 5.1 lbs including battery
- Dimensions: 13 x 9.9 x 1.3 inches
Reasons for Buying:
My main reason for buying the Akoya EX was its price to performance ratio. I was originally looking for an ultra-portable, but was able to pick up this notebook at BestBuy for significantly less than cost of something like Apple’s 12” Powerbook. At 5 pounds, it’s reasonably compact and the battery life is great, so I can use it at school or on the road. On top of that, 14″ widescreen is the “sweet spot” for notebook screens — not too big, not too small. Basically, this seemed like a great deal that I could not pass up.
Design and Build Quality:
The Medion Akoya EX definitely looks different from most notebooks. It’s wide and short, strongly resembling a large college textbook in its shape. The battery noticeably sticks out the back, which some will certainly dislike. The case is made from white plastic that feels solid, but will scratch quite easily. Overall, it looks quite elegant and modern and a whole lot better than an iBook (which is the only other white laptop I’ve seen in person). A metal casing, such as the one found in PowerBooks, would suit it even better, but we’re talking about a budget laptop here!
Backside of Medion Akoya EX (view larger image)
Right side of Medion Akoya EX (view larger image)
Front side of Medion Akoya EX (view larger image)
Back side view of Medion Akoya EX (view larger image)
The screen appears to be well designed. It locks in place when closed, so it will not open at the least appropriate moment. However it could use more resistance in its open position, as it tends to oscillate slightly when given a push. This could become a problem later on, when the screen hinge loses even more resistance due to aging. There is no ripple effect when pressure is applied to the back of the screen.
Earlier reviewers complained about lack of a Wi-Fi switch. They overlooked one of the nicest features of this notebook — its use of the function keys. When a special Fn’ key is pressed, they become shortcuts to an array of features — for example, Fn+F1 switches Wi-Fi on and off, while Fn+F10 controls the sound in the same manner. It’s possible to adjust screen brightness, audio volume, even enter a power savings mode with one keyboard stroke, without using the operating system. This allowed the designers to get rid of mechanical switches entirely (with the exception of the awesome power button that gradually lights up when the computer is turned on). When using function keys in this manner, confirmation is displayed on-screen (similarly to turning up the volume on a TV). Mysteriously, after the notebook goes through hibernation these messages stop appearing (although the shortcuts still work).
Another neat little feature is the array of blue lights near bottom left corner of the keyboard. These are standard CapsLock/NumLock/ScrollLock indicators, HDD/DVD activity lights and a Wi-Fi indicator. The built-in microphone is also located there.
The unusual shape of Akoya EX creates at least one problem — it’s hard to find a fitting sleeve/bag (none was supplied with my purchase). Without one, this notebook will have scratches all over it in no time (unless you only use it at home).
The Akoya EX features a high-contrast 14.1” widescreen display. It has glossy coating to provide richer colours and it does not disappoint. Image quality is superb and it’s even possible to use it outside, with the brightness maxed out (although it still takes time getting used to). The screen features 16 brightness levels (the highest setting is almost too bright to be used in the dark), which is great — at lower brightness battery life can be prolonged by about an hour. No ghosting when playing games or watching DVDs and no dead pixels either. A+.
In case 14″ is not big enough for you, DVI-D and VGA outputs are present and allow connecting to your TV or monitor. Keep in mind that the video is provided by an onboard Intel Extreme Graphics 2 chipset, which is not suited for high-definition/high-framerate content.
The speakers are the first major disappointment. They are located directly under the screen, about 5 inches apart. While having two speakers gave Medion an excuse to use the word “stereo”, they are still directly in front of the user at all times, producing pretty much mono sound. The sound itself is weak, with almost no base. Try maxing out sound on regular earphones, put them directly in front and you’ll get an impression of the kind of audio experience these speakers offer.
Thankfully, the audio output provides quality sound when using headphones, so make sure to get yourself a good pair of those!
Processor and performance:
The notebook features a 1.7 GHz Pentium — M CPU with 512 MB of DDR memory. This provides a great experience doing everyday tasks. Internet, word processing and other simple applications are responsive and snappy even at 600 MHz. Watching DVDs is a smooth experience, especially when using Cyberlink PowerDVD, which is supplied with the purchase.
The boot times are generally under 20 seconds, which I consider to be quite appropriate. It takes 3 seconds for Akoya EX to wake up from stand-by mode (compared to about 8 seconds for hibernation).
The fan is off most of the time and only turns on during CPU-intensive tasks (which is a good thing, since it’s quite loud). The case gets warm after prolonged use, not burning hot or anything like that, but enough to make your lap sweat a little.
A major, but expected weakness of this notebook is its inability to run demanding 3D games. The Intel Extreme Graphics 2 chipset is similar to a Radeon 7200 stand-alone video card in terms of its raw power. This means you’ll have to stick to the likes of Quake 3 Arena if you like first person shooters. Interestingly enough, Half-Life 2 worked (of course all quality settings were at their lowest)! It ran at about 15 fps, but still looked good. However it crashed when I tried navigating the Options menu in-game.
Results for calculating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy using the program Super Pi:
|Medion Akoya EX (1.7 GHz Pentium M Dothan)||1m 59s|
|Fujitsu S6231 (1.6 GHz Pentium M Dothan)||2m 6s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
3DMark 2001 Standard Edition = 2500 3dmarks
3DMark 2003 version 3.50 = 118 3dmarks
HD Tune Results (SAMSUNG MP0804H Hard Drive)
HD Tune Benchmark results (view larger image)
Keyboard and Touchpad:
Medion Akoya EX keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)
One of the first things that is noticeable about the keyboard is that the letters are actually stickers, glued onto the keys. While it doesn’t cause any discomfort, I can’t help but wonder whether those stickers will stay on after a couple of years of usage.
The keyboard is full-sized, with the exception of the function keys and the four arrows. Some flex is present when considerable pressure is applied. The Fn’ button, which is unique to this keyboard (its uses were discussed above), is located in the left bottom corner. Usually that space is occupied by Ctrl, so some confusion is inevitable when using Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V shortcuts without looking.
The biggest problem with this keyboard is the space bar. For a hit to register, it must be pressed directly in the middle, with more effort than expected. During my first hour of typing, I missed about half the spaces, which got quite frustrating. After a while the hands get used to this, but it’s still a big flaw that will turn away those who need to type a lot.
The touchpad works as expected, although having a wireless USB mouse makes life a lot easier.
Input and output ports:
- PCMCIA Type II slot
- 3 USB 2.0 ports (2 in the back, one on the left side)
- VGA out
- DVI out (DVI-D dual link type)
- IrDA (infrared link)
- IEEE 1394 (Firewire)
- 10/ 100 Mbit Fast Ethernet LAN (network) port
- 56k V.90 Modem
- Microphone input
- Line out with S/P DIF
No complaints here, everything works as it’s supposed to! Note that the keyboard shortcut that shuts off the built-in speakers also happens to control the audio out. It’s impossible to use both speakers and headphones at the same time (no big deal – no sane person would want to keep these speakers on anyway).
If you’re not using the infrared port it’s a good idea to turn it off by disabling a corresponding service through the Control Panel.
Akoya EX comes with the reputable Intel’s 2200BG wireless chip (it supports both 802.11b and 802.11g). It works as expected, with speeds reaching 54Mbps. I’ve had no problems using it both at home (with a new LinkSys router — channel 6) and at school. It dropped connection a few times when I was in a lecture hall with concrete walls, but I guess I can’t complain about that. The connection is rock solid when using a hands-free Digital Spread Spectrum phone around the notebook.
There is no Bluetooth and an infrared port is present should you have any portable devices in need of syncing.
Fantastic! I couldn’t have asked for more from a Centrino laptop. With wireless on, clocked at 600 MHz and with low brightness setting it lasts around 5 hours (great for internet and word processing). Expect to get around 2.5-3 hours when using it at full power (playing games or watching movies), which is still quite decent. If you want even greater control over the power settings, get a third party utility such as Centrino Hardware Control (http://www.pbus-167.com/chc.htm).
A keyboard shortcut allows to completely turn off the screen, which adds up to an hour to battery life. This can be helpful when doing processor-intensive tasks on the road.
Operating system and software:
- Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition SP2 operating system
- Microsoft Works 8.0
- Cyberlink PowerCinema Suite
- Ahead Nero Burning ROM with Nero Recode 2-SE
- Norton AntiVirus (includes 90 days of complimentary live updates)
CDs are provided. By default, a 6 GB partition (D drive) is also set up to allow system recovery into its initial state.
- Nice design and shape
- High-quality screen
- Long battery life
- Multi-format dual-layer DVD burner
- Great specs at a great price
- Cheap speakers
- Annoying space bar
- Plastic case isn’t very durable, and no laptop bag is provided
This is a great laptop with several weaknesses. It’s definitely not a gaming powerhouse (unless you enjoy older 2D games) or a standalone DVD-player (you NEED good headphones here!). However, its low price, long-lasting battery, quality screen and great components make it one of the best deals out there. If you want a notebook that does a little bit of everything and does so without being always plugged in, consider Akoya EX!