Outwardly, the S10e lacks any discernible visual flair, but this isn’t to say it’s ugly – simply understated. Aside from the silver plastic accenting on the end of the hinge section, the S10e has an almost ThinkPad-esque air to it. Mind you, this is partly due to its all black finish and should you want something a little more exciting, a red and white version is also available.
One thing that’s rather good about this design is the complete absence of glossy plastic. This makes the S10e less vulnerable to the usual proliferation of fingerprints and grease, though the smooth finish on the lid can become a little tainted in this regard. It is also one of the best made netbooks you’re likely to find. Its squared-off, simple design and good quality plastics are very reassuring and opening up the upgrade compartment reveals a very well secured hard drive, though there’s no other protection beyond this.
This sense of solidity is continued in the keyboard. Keys don’t have a tremendous amount of travel, but what is there is perfectly adequate and the key action as a whole is crisp, firm and provides plenty of tactile feedback. Likewise, though the keys themselves are arguably slightly smaller than on, for example, the Samsung NC10, they’re not small enough to cause any real problem.
Regrettably, the same things can’t be said of the keyboard layout. Things start badly when we spotted the Fn key lurking outside the Ctrl key; a throwback to the ThinkPad range that still sports this irritating facet. However, where ThinkPad’s can get away with this by dint of familiarity (they’ve been like that since the beginning of time) there’s less reason for it on a netbook – a device meant for consumers familiar with a different layout.
Other annoyances include the half-height Return key and the right-Shift key that’s been reduced in size and placed to the outside of the Up cursor key. This, as is the case on the Eee PCs, is a constant irritant when typing, since you regularly find yourself moving up a line rather than creating a capital letter.
All three of these issues are, to our minds, fundamental problems that have a significant impact on typing speed and accuracy for anyone used to conventional keyboard layouts. Given that Samsung’s NC10, MSI’s Wind and, to a lesser extent, Asus’ Eee PC 1000 do these things better, it’s a key point of difference.
This is also true of the screen, though it’s less a fundamental problem than an oddity. Why? Because despite having the same 10.1in dimensions found on most 10in netbooks, the screen resolution is actually 1,024 x 576, rather than 1,024 x 600. This isn’t a massive difference, but when you don’t have many vertical pixels to play with in the first place, losing a few more could be an issue.
It’s worth noting, too, that the screen has a glossy high-contrast finish. This lends it a slightly more colourful and rich appearance, but will always be an issue when outdoors or viewing from an angle. Apart from this, however, the screen is very good, proving every bit as sharp and bright as any other netbook we’ve seen.