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Manufacturer: Advent - Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T5450 - Windows Vista Home Premium - Memory: 2 GB - 160 GB Hard Drive - Screen: 12" - DVD +/- RW Optical Drives - UMA Graphics Card

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      21.11.2010 07:40
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      A good choice for general use. Decent screen size, in built DVD player and cheap enough.

      ...as in not too big, not too small, just right

      I have a perhaps OTT total of 3 laptops in my possession, each purchased or acquired for a different purpose. I have a big 17 inch one I used to have instead of a TV, a 15 inch I got from work years ago and this Advent, a 12 inch baby. Even though I had 2 fully functioning computers at the time, one was on loan to a relative and the other was too bulky to tote about, so I bought this in 2008 to take to Mexico with me. It's been used a lot since then - not a day goes by without it being switched on, and it's often on for 10 or more hours at a time if I'm downloading stuff - but it's still going strong.

      I picked this laptop more for its size and price than the brand. Advent wasn't a name I was familiar with at the time (my others were an Acer and a Dell) but this model was the one that kept coming up when I searched online and entered my requirements on different sites. Because it was to be my only computer for the next year at least, I wanted to make sure it would be big enough for regular use, but still portable. I wanted a decent sized keyboard and screen, but also something I could fling in a backpack, and this fitted the bill. It has a good display area but is not too deep when folded up, and is light enough that you barely notice you're carrying it. In fact, the battery is one of the heaviest bits I discovered when I bought a spare and started carrying both with me. The external battery pack is nice and compact, much smaller than some I've come across, but they've not scrimped on the cord length which is a relief given the tiny number of sockets in some of my temporary homes while living overseas.

      This model has a 12 inch widescreen which is big enough to watch movies or TV shows on. You might struggle to get it positioned so a whole family could see it from sofas across the room, but for one or two people watching together while lying on a bed it's perfect. The screen is fully adjustable so you can tilt it forward or back depending on the light to get the best view. I find that the integrated speakers are enough for most purposes. When I had iPod speakers I would sometimes also plug them in to the laptop for an added boost, but assuming you're not trying to watch something while sitting in Piccadilly Circus you should be fine without anything extra. The only way to adjust volume is to navigate to the control panel - there's no physical switch or dial on the side which I have found useful in other models - but it's not a total deal breaker. Randomly I find that some packages give greater volume control than others. Real Player is ok as a standard, but VLC Media Player goes a few notches higher, useful for some of the quieter podcasts.

      The colours on the display are sharp and clear, which is important when the screen is not massive. I have no difficulty reading long documents on this computer, and since the contrast is good, it doesn't make my eyes ache. The screen is noticeably dimmer when running on battery power only, but not unpleasantly so. In fact, I can imagine some people might prefer the slightly softer setting of the display in this mode, and the plugged in version seems quite harsh in comparison.

      This laptop has multiple battery options which I find very helpful. You can choose from running it as balanced (medium performance, medium battery life), battery saver (slow but long) or high performance (fast but short). Back in the UK I could recharge a battery from 0 to 100% in about an hour, though here it takes longer due to the dubious current. It is easy to tell when the computer is charging, as there's a light on the keyboard and an icon on the screen too. This is important as there's no light on the battery pack as there is on my other two laptops. You can find out how charged the battery is at any point by hovering over the relevant icon, and though the icon itself doesn't change when fully charged, the light on the keyboard does. There are lots of performance options too. You can customise when the computer sleeps or hibernates, and what closing the lid does, with different settings for when it's running on battery or mains. Battery life is good but not outstanding, and though it's fading with time I suspect that might be due to the fact that it's never getting fully charged over here. Previously I could get 2 - 3 hours out of it, depending on how intensely it was running, but now it's down to half that.

      This is a cheap model. Most of the time you don't notice this, but there are a few quirks / faults it has developed that I suspect might not have cropped up in a pricier design. The 9212 has 3 USB ports which is enough for general use (and you can always buy an extender) but one of mine has now stopped working. I think this is due to the rather flimsy nature of the laptop's casing, as although the port still looks the same, something has clearly shifted on the inside, and the connection severed. Equally, the removable batteries are not the sturdiest. I have two so I can keep working even when the power's off and I've drained the first one, but as a result I am always switching them in and out. A tiny ridge on one of them has recently snapped, which means I have to be extra careful when using it. A little jolt and the battery can fall out, which is such a pain when it's not also plugged in to the mains as it means the computer dies instantly. While it doesn't tend to lose unsaved work (the recovery function in most programmes is quite good) it's a pain having to restart and there's always the worry that this time something won't be backed up. Since this is a laptop, portability is a key feature you'd look for, and now it's not quite as portable as it once was (if you tend to stick it under your arm rather than cradle it lovingly like a baby, that is).

      I know you're not supposed to insert USBs upside down, but if I accidentally do so it kills my computer, literally. It goes black and when I try to switch it back on, I find the battery has been completely drained, no matter how charged it was before. This is a recent (last 6 months) fault, and is not fatal (i.e. I can simply recharge the machine and it will work again) but it is annoying if you're in the middle of something, or working from battery, away from an accessible plug socket (or, as in this country, a functioning power supply).

      For the most part, this computer works quickly. Certain programmes, for example my new modem software, take a few moments longer than you would expect to open initially, but I put that down to dubious African software engineering more than anything else. All the 'normal' packages, like Word, Excel, Adobe, Internet Explorer, iTunes and so on, open without hesitation, and having dozens open at once doesn't seem to impact the performance negatively. You can have 8 open items displayed at once on the bar at the bottom, any more and it starts to stack them (2 Word docs, 5 Internet Explorer windows and so on). You can also minimise some items off the bar but keep them running, like Limewire and iTunes, which is handy.

      As standard this model comes with a 2GB memory and 160 GB hard disk. I know. That doesn't mean much to me either, but I have over 400 hours of television and over 4000 photos stored and still have a small amount of room left. That's good enough for me. While I don't need super fast speeds for gaming or copious amounts of memory for porn, I need enough so that I don't (often) have to think about having to back stuff up elsewhere so I can free up some space. Some experts recommend 125 - 150 GB as a good starter size for entertainment whores, so this is a slight improvement on that. If you watch TV the normal way, i.e. not by downloading series after series and then keeping them to watch again and again, this will be more than enough for you. 2GB of RAM is twice the bare minimum, but half the holy grail option according to those same experts. There's a useful guide here:

      http://compreviews.about.com/od/memory/a/Laptop-Memory-Buyers-Guide.htm

      The processor in this model is the Intel Core 2 Duo T5450. Gobbledygook again? I hear you. From what I've read, this makes it an acceptable choice for basic use. It will stand up to internet surfing and downloading, emailing, Microsoft Office packages, playing DVDs and CDs and so on but is not a good option if you are all about gaming or high-end graphics applications.

      The SD card reader is extremely useful for uploading photos as it means you don't need to bother finding the cord for your camera. I was a bit surprised there was no cover for this slot, but though it's exposed it hasn't stopped working well, despite over 2 years and 3 continents exposure to everything from sand to snow and dust to Deet. This is one of the smallest machines I've found that still manages to have an integrated DVD playes, which was one of the things I wouldn't compromise on. This works well and, though it's set to Region 2, a small download will allow you to play DVDs of any region on it. It also plays CDs.

      The clock and calendar update automatically as you switch between BST/GMT or different time zones, and you're prompted to confirm the change the next time you switch on. You don't have to accept it - some friends I have here, for example, keep their computer clocks on their home country time so they don't have to keep calculating whether it's too early/late to Skype etc - but I prefer to keep mine on local time, so I like that it knows to update this automatically. This is a well travelled laptop. It has sampled the delights of life in Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Canada, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, the UAE and now Sierra Leone. In other words, everywhere I've been in the last 2 years, it has come too. Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of time-zones, but if a pilot forgets to tell us on landing, I know I can just switch this thing on and it will fill me in on where we are and what time it is.

      The keyboard took me a while to get used to, but is now pretty intuitive. There is an embedded number pad overlaid on some of the letters (essential when your name boasts an accented ë or you have a penchant for typing about the café culture en Español), and almost all the Function keys have double uses. They've tried hard to squeeze as much as possible into a reduced number of keys, and it works. My main quibbles are not unique to this model: sometimes when I'm typing, the cursor will jump up the text and half a sentence will end up inserted in an earlier paragraph. Occasionally I manage to flip the screen to 90 or 180 degrees (which, while fun to look at, makes it very hard to Google instructions on how to reverse it). However I should say I have had the same experience with other brands of laptop.

      I didn't find the instruction manual that useful, so gave up and just figured it out by a process of trial and error. As a result, I think there are probably a few features I've not yet come across (plus there are 2 keys with weird symbols on that I have no clue about) but anything I've wanted to do with the machine, I've been able to. This is one of the few things that reminded me this wasn't from a huge manufacturer like Dell or HP, whose user guides tend to be pretty good.

      I'm satisfied with the computer's design for the most part, but do find that the two USB ports on the right hand side are a bit near together. For normal memory sticks this doesn't matter, but when you're using a bulky dongle it can be a bit of a problem and essentially renders the neighbouring port unusable. It is easy to power on and off, with the button well placed at the top of keyboard so you couldn't accidentally knock it while the laptop was folded up. The flip side is, you cannot switch it on subtly while it's in your bag, to have it ready for when you need it, as you do need to raise the lid to access the button. There's also a loud beep when it comes on (you can also choose not to have this) so you know it's warming up.

      The laptop has built in wifi, which is switched on and off easily using a slider on the base. Again, there are two indicators: a blue light there to show it's on, and an icon on the screen to show whether wifi networks are available (and whether or not you're connected).

      There is a simple, small touchpad instead of a mouse, and two separate buttons (making left and right clicks easier) but you can also double tap the touchpad in place of double clicking the left button. Some might find it a bit sensitive, but I am used to it now, and sometimes struggle to use others' less responsive machines.
      Nothing seems to diminish its sensitivity, not even chocolate flecks or sunscreen splodges.

      My machine came with Windows Vista, the latest OS at the time. I like Vista for its design and usability, though of course you can get it with many other brands and models, not just this one. There are a few pieces of software included, nothing too valuable (i.e. no Office bundle). The only annoying thing is the constant reminder to create Backup DVDs. This pops up every few days and I've not found a way to switch the alert off yet, though it only takes one click to close the window each time. In 2 and a bit years of use I've still never found the time to do as they suggest, but maybe, just maybe, I'll get round to it one of these days.

      Though the functionality remains, aesthetically this machine is beginning to show signs of wear. There is a bizarre worn patch on one side of the keyboard, and various chips in the silver coating on the other. The top is scratched and the various labels and stickers are peeling off or fading. This isn't that surprising - I never use a dedicated laptop case, and have hefted this to classes all over Mexico City (episodes of Little Britain being a legitimate teaching resource, y'know), on and off a good 25 planes and all over Sierra Leone of late. In fact, I'm more surprised by the lack of deterioration in the machine's performance given the amount of abuse to which I regularly subject it.

      I paid about £250 for this model in spring 2008. I could have reviewed it then, but when you're spending a significant amount of money, I think it's important to know how something fares over time, not review it after a week when everything is still rosy. This laptop has lasted well but though I'm fond of it, I doubt I would pay to get it repaired if it broke, as it would be prohibitively costly given the initial price (or, put another way, I could just buy a new one, upgrading to a later model in the process).

      This laptop is still readily available, though it has been superseded by newer models. I had little trouble getting hold of an additional battery just before I left the UK, and that's really the only accessory that is specific to this model - anything else you might need is pretty generic. Overall I have been very pleased with the value for money it has offered. It has lasted well with only minor faults despite repeated use/abuse. I have no real complaints, and would happily consider another Advent in the future. The size is perfect for me - big enough for everyday use, small enough to tote around in a (large) handbag or backpack. Goldilocks would approve, I'm sure.


      To summarise:

      :-) Light, compact, portable laptop with a good sized screen
      :-) Reasonable processor for everyday use
      :-) More than enough memory for everyday use
      :-) 3 USB ports and SD card reader
      :-) Integrated DVD player
      :-) Good price
      :-) Reliable

      :-( Not as robust as it could be

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