- Review Price: £1169.00
As technology gets cheaper, smaller and lighter it gets increasingly incorporated into our everyday lives. Laptops, in particular, face a new challenge because of this: durability. It’s no good having the latest and greatest notebook if it can’t withstand a few knocks, the odd coffee cup rested on its lid and once in a blue moon a short tumble to the floor. Certainly, build quality plays a major part here, but if you know your next machine is going to be in for a tough time it’s going to need more than that. The term that used spring to mind here was Ruggedised, which generally meant a heavily reinforced machine twice the size, weight and cost of the more vulnerable device it was replacing. Thankfully, we now have Semi-Ruggedised machines – a rather self explanatory name – that provide a half way house between the indestructible and highly destructible and Elonex was keen to show us their interpretation.
The Elonex Soliton Safari lives up to its name by measuring a reasonable 33.3 x 27.6 x 3.6cm (WxDxH) and weighing in at a cartable 3.1kg while featuring a magnesium alloy chassis. The benefit of using a magnesium alloy – much like Apple does with its iBooks – is that not only does it look and feel great, its incredibly strong yet lightweight. In addition, Elonex has equipped the Safari with a spill proof keyboard, heavy duty locking DVD tray and even a set of lid hooks at the side of the screen to replace the usual central clasp which has always been a traditional weak spot.
Perhaps most importantly, the Safari’s specification has passed Military Standard (MIL-STD) 810E certification which includes a test where each face, edge and corner of the laptop is dropped a total of 26 times from a height of 36 inches. So ultimately, even the clumsiest among us should be safe.
The internals of the Safari are nothing to be sniffed at either. A Pentium M 1.6GHz Dothan chip with 2MB cache sat at the heart of our machine, backed up by 512MB DDR RAM, an 80GB Hitachi ATA100 4,200RPM hard drive, ATI Radeon 9700 graphics card with 128MB VRAM, and while our review model featured a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive all shipping models will come with a DVD writer capable of 4x DVD+R, 2.4x DVD+RW, 2x DVD-R and 2x DVD-RW as well as 16x CD-R and 10x CD-RW.
Connection options are also plentiful providing three USB 2.0 ports and single serial, FireWire and S-Video Out connectors. There’s a Type II PC Card slot, a modem socket, 10/100 Ethernet port and integrated 802.11b/g wireless networking.
If I can nitpick these specifications, I would pick out the RAM which only runs at 266MHz whereas it would have been nice to see some faster 333 or 400MHz memory installed. I haven’t mentioned the 15 inch display either which, though bright and clear, is limited to a slightly disappointing 1,024 x 768 native resolution. A memory card reader wouldn’t have gone amiss either, but of course this would be another point of entry for dust and water, so it’s understandable why Elonex would shy away from such a feature. All in all, at the quoted price these are not major downfalls.
Offsetting these issues is the look of the machine, which to my eyes is extremely impressive. Its makeup has none of the lumps and bumps associated with your typical ruggedised machine and the build quality is first class. Elonex has a tradition of producing stylish products such as the eXentia Media Center PC we reviewed previously and the Safari certainly fits right in.
Typing is also a joy on the Safari. The spill proof keyboard not only offers more protection over standard laptops, but it feels more substantial too. There is a hardness about the keyboard without sacrificing tactility, and for me the travel and feedback from the keys is just about perfect. As far as layout goes, there is that old question of whether you prefer the Fn key inside or outside your Ctrl key, but for me outside is not a problem. Sound is also good, if not mind blowing. The speakers lack integrated bass, but are full enough to enjoy music without running for the nearest set of headphones.
Before I wax too lyrically, I do have a few gripes. The Safari is not a machine without faults. Having used it day-to-day for the past week, I have to admit I’m not a fan of its use of side hooks in the lid over a central clasp. For a start, although I would not claim to know more about structural integrity than the MIL-STD, they feel incredibly fragile while their unnecessarily sharp points have snagged my clothing on more than one occasion. Practically, the loss of the central locking clasp also means the lid can be pushed open and should this happen in cargo, items may slip inside and potentially damage the screen.
Benchmarking also proved a bit of a let down. The PCMark 2004 overall score of 3165 is some 400/500 points down on similarly specified laptops while the 3DMark 2001 and 2003 scores of 9578 and 2656 are barely a whisker ahead of the numbers achieved by the Systemax 5127 and AJP M6000N which used older Radeon 9600 cards with half the video memory. SYSmark was no better either with a distinctly average overall score of 217, with 259 for Internet Content Creation and 182 for Office Productivity. The saving grace was MobileMark which lasted 220 minutes and scored a respectable if also unremarkable 221 making it reasonably light on batteries.
In the Safari’s defense, I would argue that durability, style and comfort are of more concern to its potential customers than performance, but it would have been nice to see a bit more oomph.
In terms of software, our machine came with nothing other than Windows XP Professional, but retail Safaris will ship with copies of WinDVD and Nero while Microsoft Works Suite 2005 is available for a bargain price of £15 – well worth investing in. Standard warranty is just one year, but it does include accidental damage.
Elonex has achieved exactly what it set out to do with the Safari: produce a stylish, durable, affordable and portable laptop. It may not be the fasted mobile machine on the block, but if you’re looking for a notebook that can take some knocks and keep coming back for more, the Safari is worth considering.
The Safari may have an angelic face, but it’s not without its inner demons. But if durability is more important to you than out and out performance, the Safari would make a wise choice.
Score in detail