It's not often a laptop comes through our offices with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on its lid (read: never), so the Polywell PolyNote V512NC drew a fair amount of attention while it was on our testing bench. In addition to the customized panel option, which lets you choose from stock images or your own photography for the laptop's lid, Polywell offers a rather competitive mix of specs--including the latest Core 2 Duo processor, fast memory and hard drive, and dedicated Nvidia graphics--in its affordably priced midsize laptop. For $1,482, the laptop impressed us with its well-rounded feature set and strong performance. While we were disappointed with a few elements of the laptop's design and its battery life, we think the PolyNote V512NC is a viable alternative to higher-priced systems from larger manufacturers, particularly for users who don't plan to stray too far from a power outlet.
The PolyNote V512NC measures 14.3 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1.3 inches thick, making it a bit larger than the Gateway M285 and about the same size as the Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80x Ultra. Weighing 6.5 pounds (7.7 pounds with the AC adapter), the PolyNote V512NC falls into the category of laptops that, while portable, are not exactly lightweight.
Like the Velocity Micro and the PC Club Enpower ENP680, the Polywell PolyNote V512NC features a 15.4-inch wide-aspect display with a native resolution of 1,280x800. The screen's glossy finish makes colors in movies and games pop, but it can also produce annoying reflections in brightly lit environments. In a nice touch seen on just a few other laptops, the system's 1.3-megapixel Webcam, which sits at the top of the display bezel, is protected by a sliding cover. The photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the back side of the display is actually a thin print fixed to the lid with strong adhesive. For $55, you can choose from 18 predesignated designs; for $95 you can upload your own image. The photo on our review unit looked sharp, but unfortunately some text appeared pixelated. Nevertheless, the overall effect is attractive, and it beats slapping stickers on your lid (though of course that's cheaper).
As keyboards go, the one on the PolyNote V512NC isn't the worst we've seen, but the keys feel somewhat flimsy and make a light clacking noise that we found grating. We also hated having to adjust our hand position to avoid accidentally grazing the laptop's touch pad while typing (there's no on/off switch for the touch pad). We do appreciate the vertical scroll zone along the right side of the touch pad; we also like the laptop's fingerprint reader, nestled conveniently between the two mouse buttons. Above the keyboard are four small, programmable application-launch buttons. Given the laptop's wide, lovely display, we wish Polywell had built in some hardware media controls--or at least some volume controls--to make it more media-friendly.
For such a low-price system, the Polywell PolyNote V512NC offers all the ports and connections a home user will need. You get mini-FireWire, VGA, S-Video, and three USB 2.0 ports, as well as microphone and headphone jacks. The laptop also includes a PC Card slot and a slot for the latest ExpressCards, plus a three-in-one card reader that recognizes Memory Stick, Secure Digital, and MultiMediaCard formats. Ethernet, modem, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi meet most networking needs, though Bluetooth is not available at all. A double-layer DVD burner rounds out the feature set.
Our PolyNote V512NC laptop costs $1,482 when configured on the manufacturer's Web site. For that price, you get a collection of high-end specs, including a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of quick 667MHz RAM, a 100GB hard drive spinning at the fastest, 7,200rpm speed, and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 graphics card with 256MB of dedicated memory. On CNET Labs' multitasking and Photoshop tests, the PolyNote V512NC trailed behind the $1,999 Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80x Ultra--curious, given that the two systems feature nearly identical components. The PolyNote's performance was more in line with--or even better than--the Velocity Micro on our iTunes encoding and office productivity tests, and the systems' Quake 4 frame rates were nearly identical. We're not convinced that the difference in performance between these two laptops would be obvious during typical use, though the extra $100 for the Velocity Micro might be a wise investment for heavy Photoshop users.
The contrast between the two systems is starker when it comes to battery life. The PolyNote V512NC lasted a wimpy 2 hours, 30 minutes in our drain test, while the Velocity Micro lasted a more robust (but still average) 3 hours, 16 minutes. If you're looking for a laptop that can last for a long stretch away from an outlet, you'll want to buy an extra battery ($63) or choose a system that has a larger battery; the batteries on the similarly configured Gateway M285 and HP Compaq nc8430 lasted closer to 4 hours.
Most consumer laptops are backed by a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, while the Polywell PolyNote V512NC's warranty lasts a full two years. On the other hand, Polywell's toll-free phone support line is open only from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT Monday to Friday and Saturdays by appointment. Fortunately, upgrades are fairly reasonably priced: one year of 24-hour phone support costs $58, while an upgrade to a three-year warranty costs $144. The company's support site includes an exhaustive directory of driver downloads and the chance to chat in real time with a support rep during the hours listed above.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)