- Review Price: £499.00
A common complaint with the Apple iPad is that, while it has plenty of potential for entertainment and browsing, for productivity it is somewhat lacking. Aside from its limited hardware and software, one of the main reasons is the absence of a hardware keyboard. So what if you want the best of both worlds: the flexibility of a tablet combined with the convenience and productive potential of a proper laptop? In the Packard Bell Butterfly Touch, we may have the answer to just that question.
This 11.6in mobile machine is essentially an ultra-portable laptop with a swivel touchscreen, which can be folded down over the keyboard to turn it into a tablet. It’s by no means a new form-factor or a unique implementation, but what makes the Butterfly Touch special is that, with a retail price of just £499, it joins Acer’s similar Aspire models in making convertible laptops affordable.
Judging by the hardware, it shouldn’t be too much of a slouch either. Its low-voltage, 1.2GHz Intel Celeron SU2300 is a little less powerful than we’d ideally like, but at least it’s a dual-core processor so it shouldn’t get bogged down like a single-core chip might. It’s backed up by a full 4GB of RAM and a relatively generous 320GB hard drive, not to mention Gigabit Ethernet and Wireless-N Wi-Fi. We weren’t really expecting Bluetooth at this price point, and the Intel integrated graphics won’t please gamers, but overall there’s little reason for complaint.
To maintain its slim (for a convertible) profile and relatively low 1.6kg weight, the Butterfly Touch omits an integrated optical drive, and Packard Bell (PB) doesn’t provide an external one. Again this is quite common and external drives are both cheap and plentiful, so it’s a tolerable compromise.
With the lid closed, the Butterfly Touch looks much like any other laptop, save that you can see the chromed hinge in its central position. Unfortunately the lid is glossy as usual, so fingerprints, dust and smears will be your constant enemies.
Opening the machine up reveals a more interesting and attractive interior. PB has gone for a highly reflective glossy black bezel, which some will find annoying, but it looks good and contrasts well with the patterned matt black finish that’s employed elsewhere.
Build quality is excellent, with not a hint of flex or creak, and the swivel hinge action is both smooth and secure. Neither has PB skimped on connectivity, with three USB ports, VGA and HDMI video outputs, microphone and headphone jacks, Gigabit Ethernet and a multi-format card reader all included. There’s nothing outstanding in that collection, but for the money the Butterfly Touch has everything you need.
By necessity, the Butterfly Touch’s power switch is located on the side so it’s useable with the laptop in ‘tablet mode’. Another concession to the machine’s hybrid nature is the ‘P’ button on the screen’s lower bezel. This gives you access to three different functions: Ctrl+Alt+Del, Print Screen and a customisable program launch manager. Pressing the button once will select the highlighted function, while pressing it more than once will cycle between functions, and your choice will be remembered for future use. It’s a clever system that works well.
Unfortunately, typing on the Butterfly Touch is a bit of a mixed experience. On the positives side, its layout is excellent, with intelligent shortcut placement and every key where you would expect it. The matt surface and flat profile of the keys is pleasant too, and the textured palm-rest is very comfortable.
However, feedback is shallow enough to be almost nonexistent, and because the keys are slightly too broad and close together, it’s easier to make mistakes than on most keyboards. Overall this tablet laptop is fine for casual typing, but it wouldn’t be our first choice for intensive word processing.
Despite being smaller than average, the touchpad is an absolute delight. Its smooth surface and high sensitivity afford excellent control of its multi-touch features, which is ironic considering the laptop’s capacitive screen makes this functionality somewhat superfluous. Its diminutive size also means it never interferes with typing, and the single rocker switch below it offers crisp feedback.
Another impressive aspect is the Butterfly Touch’s Dolby Sound Room-enhanced speakers. They pump out much higher volume levels than their size would suggest without obvious distortion, and not only manage decent mid and high range production but even a hint of bass. This is one small laptop where headphones or external speakers are not required, as even film material comes across with some impact.
By comparison the screen isn’t as noteworthy, but once you get past the annoying reflections caused by its glossy coating it’s at least useable. It sports a nice 1,366 x 768 resolution, which gives you plenty of desktop real estate while maintaining legibility and producing sharp text. It also benefits from excellent horizontal viewing angles – an important point given the tablet aspect of the machine.
Where it suffers is in all the usual areas. Vertical viewing angles are particularly poor, suffering from strong contrast shift, and this isn’t a screen that brings out the finer dark details in films and photos all that well. Basically, those expecting the display to rival that of the Apple iPad will be disappointed, but considering the price it would be unfair to complain too grieviously.
So far we’ve looked at the Butterfly Touch like any other laptop. But what are the advantages of its swivel screen and touch capabilities?
First of all, there are potential ergonomic benefits to a swivel screen. Just to give one common example: when watching a film on a plane, usually the clearance above the tables is not adequate to allow you to tilt your screen far enough back for optimum viewing. With a tablet laptop, however, you can just turn the base of the laptop around (positioning it backwards) and rotate the screen 180 degrees to form a ‘V’. Like the iPad, it’s also a good form factor for showing friends and colleagues snapshots, while an in-built sensor ensures you can view documents and web pages in portrait mode should you wish.
More importantly, unlike the Acer T230H multi-touch monitor and Acer Aspire 5738PG touchscreen laptop, the Butterfly Touch’s tablet form factor actually makes good use of the touch capabilities. On a tablet laptop (i.e. a flat surface), playing touch-based games and even typing using Windows 7’s on-screen keyboard is a pleasure rather than a chore.
This is all the more true thanks to the use of capacitive touch screen technology. It might not allow for stylus use, like with the MSI Wind Top AE2220 or EeeTop ET2203T, but its sensitivity and accuracy means you don’t need one. Even with a finger it’s easy to navigate Windows’ various menus and handwriting recognition works just fine, though it’s hardly necessary given the on-screen keyboard is so effective on this multi-touch display. Drawing with a finger in the pre-installed Photoshop Elements 8 is also a lot of fun.
Our only caveat is that the touch experience doesn’t quite match up to the likes of the iPad and its effortless glass-fronted screen, but the PB’s display is nonetheless pleasant to touch, offering a generally smooth surface. Of course its glossy finish does mean fingerprints become a problem, but that’s a failing of most touch devices.
Like the Acer Aspire 5738PG, the Butterfly Touch also offers a TouchPortal interface – presented as a kind of virtual living room. However it’s very childish and poorly presented (something we didn’t emphasise adequately in our Aspire 5738PG review, where the laptop’s awkward form factor made it more of a necessity), and requires a major redesign before we would consider it worthy of attention or hard drive space on a tablet. Luckily it’s entirely superfluous on a device such as this, which works just fine without any half-baked touch interface to complicate matters.
While the Butterfly Touch’s dual-core Celeron does mean it falls significantly behind the faster Core 2 Duo CULV laptops on the market, it actually holds up quite well against other budget ultra-portables – especially considering its sub-£500 price.
More importantly, despite its inability to handle intensive material like Full HD video decoding on the CPU alone, this is alleviated by Windows 7’s ability to accelerate it using the integrated graphics, and for daily use and it is far superior to the Atom processors found in most netbooks. All in all, it’s an intelligent compromise on PB’s part.
Despite its ability to decode HD video, where gaming is concerned Intel’s integrated graphics are utterly incapable. As such the Butterfly Touch didn’t manage anything even resembling a playable frame rate in the relatively undemanding TrackMania Nations test.
This much is no surprise, but it allows PB to claim eight hours of battery life. Thanks to the Butterfly Touch’s 5,600mAh/63Watt-Hour battery, it’s a claim that’s not far from the mark. In our semi-intensive Productivity test the Butterfly Touch managed a very respectable seven and a half hours, which pretty much qualifies as all-day use in our book.
Though this is a bit behind the Award-winning Sony VAIO Y Series and Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ, it’s worth keeping in mind that the former costs nearly £200 more and the latter doesn’t offer as much functionality or flexibility.
This brings us neatly to value, where the Butterfly Touch really shines thanks to its £499 asking price. Granted, you can get a similarly sized laptop with a slightly more powerful CULV processor for the same money, but the Celeron employed here is sufficient for most tasks. Add in the swivel screen and touch functionality and you have yourself a bit of a bargain – one that’s sweetened with the addition of Adobe Elements 8 (worth around £60 retail) being pre-installed.
A few minor niggles do little to distract from this stylish yet affordable convertible tablet laptop. Packard Bell’s Butterfly Touch offers decent build quality, excellent battery life, flexible functionality and some great software without charging a significant premium. Even if its tablet capabilities aren’t your main point of interest, it’s still well worth checking out.
Score in detail
Battery Life 9
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