If you're looking for a basic mainstream laptop today, the big-name PC makers generally have you covered. In the past, choosing a smaller brand used to be a way to get a better price or features not available from the big guys, but modern computers have largely become commodity products, with systems in the same class offering nearly identical components and configuration options, and minimal differences in performance.
Polywell has always made reasonably priced, well-performing desktops and laptops, and the 14-inch $1,258 PolyNote V412iD is a reasonable substitute for Dell's 14-inch Inspiron 1420 (we were able to configure a nearly identical Dell 1420, with a larger but slower hard drive, for about $100 less). Where we found the greatest difference between these two laptops was battery life; the PolyNote V412iD fared poorly. Polywell does offer one extra that Dell does not--the option for custom image printing on your laptop's lid. Choose from either a stock design (flags, a racecar, etc.) for $55 or send in your own custom art for $95. It's an intriguing personalization feature that, if you really want total control over your laptop's look, may make up for the system costing a few bucks more and falling short in the battery department.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,258 / $999|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 965GM (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||13.1 x 9.5 x 1.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.4/6.2 pounds|
Fourteen-inch laptops are increasingly common, shaving a bit of size and weight off of the more traditional 15-inch models, and the smaller design is a much better fit for standard-size laptop keyboards, leaving much less dead space at the sides and in the front of the keyboard tray. The PolyNote V412iD stands out from the crowd with an eye-catching color scheme, combining a cream-colored lid and keyboard tray with a black keyboard and touchpad. It's a surprisingly sophisticated look, marred only by Polywell stickers above the keyboard and on the back of the lid. Polywell's logo is just plain ugly, and the silver rectangular stickers have a decidedly homemade look to them.
Polywell's offer to either include one of the company's stock images or a photo of your choosing on the back of the lid intrigued us. Sadly, our review unit did not feature a custom image--we would have liked to check out an example. We have seen a similar system recently, the Xtreme Notebooks 917V, which had an American flag image on the back, but that service cost an extra $389, and honestly, looked a bit cheap.
There's a row of basic but effective circular quick-launch buttons above the keyboard for tasks such as starting Web browsers and mail programs and muting the volume. Other than that, extras are few and far between--no Webcam, no fingerprint reader, and no option to add those on the online configuration page, which is a shame. The keyboard and touchpad, however, felt solid and sturdy--sometimes an issue with off-band laptops.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. This provides for text and icons that are highly readable, but the screen seemed a little on the dim side--even with it set to maximum brightness.
|Polywell PolyNote V412iD||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-video||VGA-out, S-video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
While we were disappointed to see that Bluetooth isn't an available option, 802.11n Wi-Fi is, which will help future-proof your system. Otherwise, you'll find a fairly standard series of ports and connections, including an ExpressCard slot, which is slowly replacing the older PC Card slots in many laptops.
In CNET Labs' testing, we weren't surprised to see the Polywell perform on par with laptops such as the Dell Inspiron 1420 and the Acer Aspire 5920, which both share the same Intel T7300 processor and 2GB of RAM. The Polywell excelled in our Photoshop CS2 test, which makes sense given its faster 7,200rpm hard drive. In anecdotal use, Web surfing, playing media files, and working on documents, we found the PolyNote V412iD to be a fine performer, with no slowdown or other issues, as we'd expect from any current Core 2 Duo T7000-series laptop.
Despite the generally good performance and high-end components, we were soundly disappointed by the system's battery life. The Polywell ran for 2 hours and 9 minutes on our DVD battery-drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's far shorter than we'd expect from a mainstream laptop. By way of comparison, the Dell 1420 ran for 3 hours and 29 minutes, thanks to its nine-cell battery. That being said, our DVD battery-drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.