- Review Price: £549.99
Rightly or wrongly, when reviewing any product one normally has a pretty good idea whether it’s any good or not straight out of the box. Call it a sixth sense, call it intuition, or call it bias if you like, first impressions count for a lot. Yet, every now and again a device comes along that defies such knee-jerk reaction, one that defies easy categorisation. Today’s target, the Raon Digital Everun Note, is one such device.
A mini-notebook that’s slightly smaller than a DVD case, it shares DNA with all sorts of products. It has the white casing and basic appearance of a netbook, the processing power of a genuine ultra-portable, a touchscreen like an MID and the form factor of a UMPC and truth be told were one to pigeon hole it anywhere, the latter category fits best. Unlike a lot of UMPCs, however, it has a proper keyboard and it also has something neither a UMPC nor a netbook can lay claim to: a dual-core processor.
In this case it’s an ultra-low voltage 1.2GHz AMD Turion X2 that’s backed up by a predictable 1GB of DDR2 RAM. For storage there’s a 60GB mechanical hard drive, while the touchscreen enabled 7in screen has the now eerily familiar 1,024 x 600 native resolution. Naturally enough Wi-Fi is included, as is Bluetooth and a Webcam. One noticeable absentee, though, is an Ethernet port but unlike the MacBook Air, or any netbook for that matter, the likelihood of sitting down at a desk with the Everun Note are pretty slim – it’s simply too small to make it worthwhile.
How small? Well if the screen wasn’t enough of a clue, the full dimensions of the machine are just 200mm across by 118mm deep and 28mm thick. Unsurprisingly this means it’s pretty light too, reading just 737 grams on our scales – slightly less than the 742 gram official figure.
What does this mean in real terms? Well, as noted before it’s slightly smaller than a DVD case, making it about the same size as your typical paperback book, so it can fit in places even a netbook can’t manage – like those impossibly small tables you get on trains, which is where it is right now. And if it can fit here, it can fit pretty much anywhere, so cattle class on a plane is absolutely no problem, in fact you’ll still have space on your table for a drink and a bag of those rubbish crunchy snacks they always hand out – hmm, Thai Sweet Chilli, how original!
Connectivity is decent for the size of the machine, too. Ethernet might be missing, but you do get three USB ports (two regular ones and one mini-USB), headphone and microphone jacks, VGA and, on the front, an SD Card reader and a SIM card slot. Before you get too excited, however, HSDPA is an optional extra, so though it’s great the facility is there it’s going to cost more money. This is a real pity since, were the Everun Note £549.99 with HSDPA, it would be very good value. Without it, however, the case is…well, for now, let’s just call it complicated.
So, we’ve covered specs and pricing, what about looks? Well, despite more than a passing resemblance to an enlarged Nintendo DS Lite, as a design the Everun Note is more functional than fun. When closed it looks and feels boxy, albeit with a rounded front edge, while the lid is finished in a pearlescent white that, like the Eee PC 901, is an acquired taste to some. We like it well enough, but there’s a black version available as well if white isn’t your cup of tea.
Inside it’s finished almost exclusively in matte white plastic, the only exception being a thin sliver of black around the screen that contrasts the overwhelming whiteness rather well. Build quality is pretty reasonable too, the body in particular feels compact and sturdy and there’s nary a hint of flex in the keyboard. Things are let down somewhat, however, by the screen and its hinge. Its wide adjustability – it can be set parallel to the main body for easy use of the touchscreen – is very welcome, but the hinge feels loose and flimsy and could possibly cause a problem over a prolonged period of ownership.
It is remarkable, though, how useable the keyboard is given the machine’s small size. Its primary alpha keys are, in fact, slightly larger than those found on the Eee PC 901 and its predecessors and since, with a little practice, we’ve adapted to those fairly well, the Everun Note is much the same. Yet, as remarkable as this is, to achieve this usability some more dramatic layout compromises have been made elsewhere. For instance many commonly used punctuation keys, like the apostrophe, colon and semi-colon keys, have been re-located to the top row. This takes a significant amount of getting used to and has a noticeable effect on typing speed, as does the relatively small Return key.
On a more positive note, there are two appreciably large Shift keys and common pitfalls, like the Fn key outside the Ctrl key, are avoided. Other changes, like the cursor keys all on one row, are also quite sensible and less obtrusive and Raon Digital has even found space for a Windows key in there, too. Moreover, the basic feel of the keyboard is very impressive; keys are firm with decent travel and bounce back crisply. This still doesn’t mean typing is easy, a device this small is always going to take a little getting used to, but it’s pretty damned good all things considered.
Something else that’s rather ingenious is the small optical touch point. To operate it you simply run your finger over the top of it, pressing downward to activate a normal ‘left click’. It’s surprisingly accurate and easy to use and is flanked by left and right mouse buttons as well, making dragging and dropping no problem. As solutions to difficult problems go, this is a good one. Another nice touch is the magnetic lid fastening.
Unfortunately we’re not so sure about the touchscreen. It works well enough, of course, but no stylus or place to stow one is provided and Windows XP has never been anything approaching finger-friendly. So, though it might be useful for controlling media playback, the lack of a stylus, or preferably a custom touchscreen OS, means the touchscreen is somewhat superfluous.
Since we’re on the topic of missing items, it’s also somewhat galling that no carry case is provided in the box. A device this small really does need one, since it would make carrying the device in a bag less hazardous.
If the Everun Note is ever to rise above the level of charming gadget, though, it needs to perform well and things start pretty well. Unsurprisingly its 1.2GHz dual-core AMD processor chomps comfortably through all the usual activities, like browsing the web, creating and writing documents and listening to music and since it’s dual-core, it can do more of these things at once without things coming to an abrupt halt. Fundamentally, then, it should run rings around any Atom based netbook and in terms of raw performance, it does. Amazingly, the Everun Note still manages to remain cool and quiet during use despite its more powerful components.
Battery life is, on the other hand, less convincing. For unwired power there’s a 5,200mAh (19Whr) Lithium Polymer battery that, with wireless radios turned off and screen brightness dialed down to 50 per cent, manages around two and half hours. This isn’t too bad, but start surfing the web and you’re looking at closer to one and a half or two hours before things go awry. Throw some music playback in there and the figure only declines and an hour and a half of video playback is as much as you can expect. Raon Digital is to provide a solution to this problem in the shape of a nifty portable power pack (with Ethernet port) and extended batteries, but these are obviously extra costs you’ll want to factor in.
Indeed, this is at the root of the lingering doubts over the Everun note. Yes, it’s powerful. Yes, it’s well featured. Yes, it’s flexible. But, you’ll probably want HSDPA. You’ll want a case. You’ll want the portable charger. You’ll want an extended battery. You’ll want a lot of extra stuff and it’ll cost a lot of extra money which, given the £549.99 starting price, is no small matter.
It’s about this point in the review where we should be delivering the final blow, putting the “charming but slightly flawed” Raon Digital Everun Note out its misery. Yet, we’re not because despite these issues, it represents a rare example of innovation and ingenuity. That it manages to squeeze a dual-core processor and plentiful hard drive into such a small case and for it not be noisy and hot is nothing short of remarkable, as is the keyboard and its funky little optical touch point.
Clearly it isn’t for everyone; it’s a niche product that’s fairly expensive and enough like a netbook to make comparisons inevitable. If, however, a miniaturised notebook sounds like your idea of fun, if you’re a gadget fiend with cash to spare, it’s definitely worth investigation and if Raon Digital goes away and works on some its issues, it could be something really special.
An unusual product with an unusual name, the Raon Digital Everun Note is bound to polarise opinion. But, though its price and form factor isn’t for everyone, as mini-notebooks go it’s in a class of one: it may not be quite the finished product it could be, but it has potential in spades.
The Raon Digital Everun Note is available to order from SuperGPS.co.uk for £549.99.
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