“ Packard Bell Easy Note SJ51 - AMD Athlon 64 X2 / 1.7 GHz - RAM : 1024 MB - HD : 160 GB - DVD±RW (+R double layer) - WLAN : 802.11b/g - 17" Widescreen TFT 1440 x 900 „
Let me start by saying that if you just need a laptop for browsing the internet and storing some photos and music then this laptop is an ideal purchase. The only problem i tend to have is memory! With a few hundred photos and an extensive itunes library the laptop became very slow and buggy. I was told by PC world that the vista software uses a lot of memory and combined with our files it just couldn't cope. They told me to purchase an external hardrive and maybe install Windows XP or Windows 7 which used less space on the hardrive. In theory this is not a problem, but as a laptop that was originally advertised as 'ideal for storing photos and music' it's does not have enough memory.
Overall the laptop itself is reasonable, has a good DVD+RW, a handy SD card slot (i particularly liked this) and the battery lasts a good time and doesn't take to long to charge back up. It runs films and dvds quickly and runs pretty well.
Let me begin by saying, this machine, for the average user, will be locked to Vista or higher. Downgrading to XP is possible, but if you're not particularly IT savvy, and have no idea how to manually install drivers, you will be stuck with Vista, which performs fairly poorly on this laptop. XP runs so much better on the Easy Note than Vista it's unreal. The fan is also phenomenally noisy. It's like having a mini hoover whoosing away sometimes.
Although the Easy Note has a 17" screen, it still seems, strangely, more bulky than it should be.
But it isn't all doom and gloom; it has an SD card slot which is most handy, and the laptop is fairly powerful when it comes to running certain games, believe it or not. However here we suffer from the Vista trap again; I attempted to run one particular game which wouldn't work because 'there was no something or other available on the graphics card', but wouldn't you know it, I downgraded to XP, and it ran without a problem! Very odd. owever, I shouldn't grumble too much, as it isn't a gaming ;aptop at the end of the day - so how does it perform in other areas? Well, booting up and connecting wirelessley is, admittedly, superior with Vista. I'm quite imnpressed with how reliable the Wi-Fi facility is on the Easy Note; conneciton is good and consistent.
I suppose, if I'm honest, most of my gripes with the Easy Note lie with the software, which is obviously nothing to do with Packard Bell. But, when they release a machine locked to one operating system, they need to be accountable for how well it performs on the machine. Would I recommend the Easy Note? At the current price not really, you get far more 'bang for your buck' with someone like Acer; the build quality may not be as good, but a little tweaking can provide you with a powerful machine.
I bought this Easy Note laptop from PC World a few weeks ago and paid £419. It is therefore pretty much an entry level machine, but I think it has some great features, which if they fit your requirements, make this a great buy.
Packard Bell have been making laptops for years - they have been in business since 1991 and are a familiar name, though not one really associated with quality, so I did have some initial concerns when the salesman suggested it.
The name dates back to 1926, when they made radios and televisons for America, and was bought in the 1980s and attached to this new PC company. The computers they made in the early nineties were, frankly, pants - they were rumoured to use second hand parts and their computers often didn't work! Not good. The salesman assured me that they have improved since then though, and I have since discovered they have been bought out recently by Acer, which probably bodes well.
After considering my options, though this Packard Bell was not the laptop I was intending to buy, once the salesman suggested it, I gradually warmed to the idea. Packard Bell products tend to sit at the customer friendly, affordable and accessible end of the market, and the Easy Note series encompasses a wide range of laptops, ranging from the 7 inch 950g subnotebook range XS, to this one - the 17 inch 3.5kg SJ51. They also are a market leader in MP3 players. Though they used to be "Packaged Hell" and perhaps becuse of that poor reputation, this laptop appeared to offer me a great package for a very low price. Since my budget was a measly £400, I was pleased to find everything I wanted for that!
The main thing I knew I wanted was a dual core chip to speed things up and future-proof my laptop a little bit, but I was quite happy to consider this Athlon dual chip (64 x 2) - which though hardly top of the market is still way way better than my existing desktop or hubby's laptop.
The other thing I wanted going in was 2GBs or more - I know than 1GB is insufficent to make a decent job of running Windows Vista, and it's not any good in the long run buying XP again as they will stop supporting it in a year or two and then you're looking at having to upgrade.
This laptop has two 1GB chips in two slots, so you could upgrade one to 2GBs if you wanted in time (I think) - though I think you might be in trouble if you tried to upgrade both, but I'm not technical enough to be able to substantiate this feeling, so don't take my word for it.
It also has 512k of cache. This is not massive but again, it's adequate and better than most other computers I own at the moment. Indeed I am one of the poor suckers with a Celeron in my desktop (I hasten to add I was given it) which saved money by having no level 2 cache at all - big mistake; the damn thing does nothing but scroll - so a reasonable size L2 cache was on my list of essentials.
A generous number of USBs was also on my list of "must haves" - this one has four, and crucially only two are on top of each other (it's so hard to use both slots at once if they sit on top of each other) - the other two are side by side, so you can easily access three at once. The DVD writer/reader is on the left and the USBs on the right, so it's simple to use. It has a built-in wireless card, of course, and an Nvidia graphics card.
WHAT ELSE IT OFFERS
One big plus for me is the built-in VGA webcam - it sits at the top of the screen so is perfect for skypeing, which with two small children, three grown up sons and some of their grandparents living abroad, being able to webcam is really important, but on a budget laptop I could only put it on my list of "would likes" rather than "must haves." Using it is very simple - I just switched on skype which came preloaded, logged on and was away. It's not jerky and is good quality.
On my dream wish list would have been a 17 inch screen but to be honest I'd almost written off the possibility due to my tiny budget, so was pleasantly surprised to end up with one. It is 1280 x 800 and they call it Diamondview - it is shiny but brightly lit and is very easy to use, especially on mains power, with a good range of viewing angles. It is less useful on battery as it eats power if you pu it on the bright setting, and on the less bright setting it is less easy to use.
It has a perfectly comfortable full qwerty keyboard with a separate number pad over on the right (personally I hate number pads superimposed over qwerty keys to save space as you get your knickers in a twist with the number lock). The tracker pad is a little odd, being a kind of circle with one long button under it, with left and right mouse button functionality at either end. Now I'm used to it, it is just fine. As I use it on the sofa and in bed, I haven't bothered to plug in a wireless mouse separately, and I'm doing fine with it, despite not being a fan of tracker pads.
It also has a 4 in 1 card reader (SD / MMC / MS / MS pro), built in microphone, (plenty good enough for skypeing), headphone jack and a 120GB hard drive.
THE LESS GOOD BITS
The first big minus is the battery life - yes I know have a super bright 17inch screen but the damn thing weighs 3.5kgs already, so putting in a battery which lasts two hours surely could have been possible!!! With the screen on ultra bright it lasts maybe an hour, only on low screen lighting battery saving setting can you get maybe, maybe, an hour and a half but really and truly that is poor. Now I use mine round the house and rarely take it out on business, and let's face it, who would buy a 17 inch laptop to work on the train everyday? It would be nice to be able to put it on the kitchen table though, and watch a DVD without having to rescue the lead, but for my purposes it is not a serious drawback. You need to think about your usage needs if you were thinking to buy one, however.
The other irritating thing is that it doesn't come with a recovery CD - you have to make your own, which entailed me having to go and buy some writable DVDs because I didn't have any, and then I had three goes at it - it takes about half an hour and you can't do anything when it is happening so it is a bit tedious and I've done it three times so far and each time though there are files on the first disk it can't read it when it checks back, so won't let me burn the next one. I've wasted ages, still haven't succeeded and how hard would it have been for them to factory produce one?
One other minor irritation is that there is no button to adjust the sound up and down, or to mute it - obviously you can click on the on screen sound adjustment and you can also use the function button to toggle the F keys paley inscribed in blue and alter the volume this way, but both of these require two hands and a close look at what you are doing. If the phone rings or whatever, it would be lovely to have one button even if just to toggle the mute on and off, or a small volume adjustment wheel on the laptop side, as I have had with other machines.
In terms of value for money, this laptop is excellent. The screen is fantastic for watching movies, the processor is certainly fast enough and nimble enough to cope with the things I want to do, and there is plenty of spare disk space even after running Windows Vista. It is comfortable to use on your lap, the fan is quiet and unobtrusive and doesn't get too hot. The battery charges quickly, which given how quickly it discharges, is a blessing. Despite Packard Bell's former reputation, I have so far (though I've only had it a month or so) had no problems and am delighted with my purchase. For me, the downsides are far outweighed by the upsides, and when I started out with my ungenerous £400 budget, I didn't think I'd get anywhere near this cool a machine.