Portable One UX Ultraportable Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (23,864)

by Giuseppe Naylor

I am personally a big fan of the mainstream/full-size notebook computer.  I travel extensively, and I have no problem carrying my eMachines M6809 everywhere I go; I need the complete functionality.  Then an offer comes to review the Portable One UX ultraportable notebook. And after my experience with the Portable One UX, I was begging to keep it!

Overview and Specs

Portable One is already well-known in the notebook community for being a good place to find Fujitsu and Panasonic notebooks in the ultraportable and thin and light category.  With this system and its thin-and-light cousin, the MX, Portable One now enters the realm of OEMs.  It is a very good first foray, to say the least.

The UX is based on the Asus M5200N shell.  The test system I received had the following specs:

  • Intel 725 Dothan Pentium M
  • Intel 855GME chipset with integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2, 64MB shared VRAM solution
  • 768MB system RAM
  • Intel 2200 B/G wireless adaptor
  • 60GB 7200RPM hard drive
  • DVD/CD-RW drive. 

The CPU, RAM, and hard drive can be optioned with up to an Intel 755 and 1.256MB RAM, and 80GB 5400RPM hard drive, respectively.  The complete system qualifies for Centrino branding.

Design

All of this hardware is packed into a system that is 10.83in (wide) x 9.17in (depth) x .94 in / .98in (height) and 3.4lbs with the included 3-cell battery.  The numbers do not tell the whole story-this system is diminutive.  The eMachines M6809 and HP Pavilion ze4430US look positively oversized next to this marvel of engineering.  Even the power brick is small and light, thus minimizing the added weight during travel.  The sheer lightness of the system takes some getting used to.

Most ultraportables sacrifice shell strength in the name of portability and weight savings.  The UX, however, utilizes a carbon fiber alloy casing, which adds to its strength and durability.  There are brushed aluminum strips lining the top corners of the base and display, offering a bit of eye candy. While the exterior does not look glamorous, it is clean, neat and sturdy.

Right-side view of Portable One UX

This system does cut down on quick access buttons.  There are no quick access buttons for the default media player, internet browser, or volume.  These are standard items on most larger systems, having at least a volume control on this smaller notebook would have been appreciated.  There is, however, an excellent addition, with software control provided by Power4Gear, in the form of a button to throttle the system up or down, depending on conditions.  If you are on battery power, and you need more power to watch a DVD or play a game, push the button, and a throttle control appears on the screen to increase the power and display brightness.  If you are working on a last-minute project, and you need every second of juice available on your flight to complete it, use the same button to throttle down and decrease the display brightness.  It is extremely convenient, and, after you get used to it, you will never know how you got along without it.  It would even be an excellent feature on larger systems.

Left-side view of Portable One UX

Back-side view of Portable One UX

Top-side view of Portable One UX

Touchpad

The touchpad is relatively standard, with a scroll area to the far right.  The scroll area tended to be somewhat erratic, on occasion not accepting commands to scroll.  The touchpad buttons, however, are integrated to look like a brushed aluminum area surrounding the touchpad.  It takes a minute or two to realize that they are the touchpad buttons, giving the system a clean, cool and integrated look.

Above view of Keyboard and Touchpad

Ports

The UX comes with three USB 2.0 ports (with one almost completely hidden on the leading edge), firewire port, audio in/out, 3-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC/MS), one PCMCIA Type II slot, a modem and 10/100 LAN interface.  The only legacy port on this machine is the VGA port.  All of the ports are located on the side except for the FireWire port, which is on the back.  This is in line with this machine s competitors in terms of I/O options, with some extras.

Display and Graphics

The display is a 12.1 standard XGA screen.  This is larger than many in this class, who tend to go with 10 or 8.6 widescreen displays.  The UX gives excellent brightness and clarity.   DVDs look crisp and clear, although the image does suffer in small measures from ghosting, especially when the system and brightness is throttled down. Color quality is acceptable, with certain colors, especially flesh tones, looking washed out or pale.  Due to the smallish nature of the display, however, the image remained uniform across the screen, including the corners.  The test model did not have any dead pixels upon arrival.

PortableOne UX Display (view larger image)

If you are watching a movie or older video game, then the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 solution is an acceptable solution.  This system is not built for gaming, though, and should not be on your wish list of system abilities.

Throttling to the lowest power on this system also disrupts DVD playback in a substantial way.  Any movie starts to stall when watching.  The second to lowest setting gives acceptable playback at a good power usage point.  The extended battery helps matters further, and the added weight is a fair tradeoff for the approximately 6 hours of playback ability.

Productivity

After installing a legal copy of Office 2003, this system s business capabilities became very apparent.  It is especially in this realm where the Pentium M chipset really shines.  The high speed hard drive only reinforces this concept.  Creating and editing Word and Excel documents while Outlook is open in the background is a joy and makes multitasking a pleasure.  PowerPoint should be run separately on this system as many of its features are graphics-reliant, and the other open programs will cause hiccups.

The system comes preinstalled with Mozilla, a welcome change from every computer sold including only IE.  While I use a Mozilla-based browser myself (Netscape) in all of my computers, I would be very pleased to see this system prepackaged with Firefox when the architecture is finalized.  It seems a much more appropriate system-smaller computer, smaller browser, no loss in productivity.

Software

Almost all new computers come with Microsoft s ubiquitous Windows XP OS.  While there have been a bunch of knocks on the OS.  The fact of the matter, though, is that XP is the best option for 95% of the computer-using world.  Linux distros are just not up to the task for beginners, casual, or pro users of the world yet.  Although 2.0 promises to bring some major improvements to usability and GUIs, it is not quite there yet.

This particular system comes with Windows XP Pro, which is integrated very well into the system.  Boot time is very quick, once again owing to the fast HD, and it did not crash during my time with it.  The UX ships with a Windows XP CD and is the latest version of the operating system that includes the Service Pack 2 update Microsoft recently released.

The system comes with a recovery and restore system that I came to appreciate.  I was able to back up the system at any points I wanted.  This is a much better option than Windows Recovery, and gives much more flexibility when it comes to restore disks, which cannot be changed. 

Portable One also preinstalls VCom s software suite, which includes a virus scanner, defragger, registry cleaner, and uninstaller.  Rated by several publications as a top notch program suite, this was a very welcome site for a notebook, which usually have only a 90-day subscription to Norton as the only suite available.  They even include the disk and full manual.

Other software concepts were not as well executed.  For example, the Asus version of PowerDVD has to be installed separately off of the included disc.  While it is not a big issue or problem, and it is relatively common for manufacturers to give discs for certain programs instead of preinstalling them, it is my opinion that they could have preinstalled this software.

Faults

This system does have a few faults, however minor.  The case, while constructed very solidly for the most part, does have some unwelcome play just above the DVD/CD combo drive.  This is understandable, as there is very little space to put supporting parts onto this area, but the overall result is a little disconcerting.

The restore software is very useful and highly flexible.  I question, however, the ease in which a novice or intermediate user will have in actually restoring the information from partition to partition.  It is DOS based, and not intuitive to the beginner.  Once the process is understood, though, the restore is quick and very effective.

One of the biggest faults I see is the cheap construction of the keyboard.  It is see-through, which does not lend any cache to the looks of the system, making it look like it is not worth the money you will spend on it.  The feel was also cheap and stiff, and did not get better with age.  Portable One indicated that the keyboard for the UX will be updated very soon and once this slight drawback is resolved there just won t be much of anything to complain about with the UX!

Final Thoughts

There are a great many ultraportables out there with a widescreen display, a DVD writer, or an integrated camera.  None of those systems can match the price of this system, which starts at an extremely reasonable price of $1699.00.  A Sony TR series system starts at $2000, and does not nearly match the raw power of the UX.

In the Portable One UX, I found a computer that was excellent productivity-wise, and one I found easy to transport through the airport.  Don t let the ultraportable moniker fool you.  This is an excellent all-around work computer, and I would never hesitate to take one for myself.

Pricing and Availability

The Portable One UX is available exclusively from www.PortableOne.com.  The price for the UX starts at $1,699.  Portable One also sells Fujitsu, Panasonic and Apple laptops.  Located physically in California, USA Portable One has been in the business of selling notebooks for some time now and they know what they’re doing in terms of how to treat customers right and how to provide them with what they want.  Portable One is highly recommended as a great online place to buy your notebook.


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