Continuing the theme of cheapness is the 14.1in display. At this price the 1,280 x 800 native resolution is par for the course, however of more concern is the lack of brightness. Compared to other notebooks I’ve looked at the S970 has one of the dimmest, least vibrant displays. Even at its brightest it does little to impress, and viewing angles are equally disappointing with notable brightness and colour shift at relatively shallow angles. Even less discerning users will notice the lack of clarity, and it’s an issue that’s bound to grate over a prolonged period of time.
Equally annoying is the rather archaic design, and this isn’t even in reference to the looks. Whereas most notebook manufacturers have adopted a semi-modular approach, allowing easy to access to the memory, hard drive and other components via small removable plastic plates, the NEC requires you to take off the whole of the underside of the notebook to access any of the components. This means unscrewing eight screws, slipping off the casing and then obviously repeating the trick once done; all of which seems a bit much if all you want to do is upgrade the system memory.
At least in connectivity there’s little to complain about. On the left edge you’ll find D-Sub, seven-pin TV-out, USB and modem ports, with the rest of the space taken up by the optical drive. On the front there’s a card reader which supports SD, MMC, MemoryStick and xD card formats, in addition to a microphone input, headphone output and an IrDA port.
On the right edge you’ll find a PC Card slot, and below that a four-pin FireWire port. Then there’s a further two USB ports, bringing the tally to three in total, while an Ethernet port and lock slot are located the other side of the main air outlet. Finally, on the back, there’s the DC-in and a Port Replicator connector. If one were being picky a fourth USB port would have been nice, but overall there isn’t a great deal to complain about.
The same can mostly be said about the keyboard, which was surprisingly pleasant to type on. Each key has a nice crisp response without feeling sticky or heavy, however there are a few of the typical layout quirks. To begin with there’s the classic Fn key to the left of the Ctrl key, but slightly more annoying is how the cursor keys aren’t offset, which can cause problems.