While its performance is on par with other mainstream laptops that hover around the $1,000 mark, the ZT Affinity N4004i simply can't compete on design or features. Under the hood, this 15-inch laptop features a modern configuration--based on the Intel Centrino 2 platform--and has 64-bit Windows Vista. Unfortunately, that hood is a cheap piece of plastic. Overall, the laptop doesn't feel well constructed, from the thin and flimsy hinges that hold the display to the keyboard that flexes under the slightest pressure. The keyboard is littered with shortened keys, too--a sacrifice made to accommodate the separate number pad. Missing features include multimedia shortcut keys, HDMI and eSATA ports, and an LED backlit screen. These features are offered on the 13-inch HP Pavilion dv3510nr, which costs only $100 more and also includes a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader, a remote control, a budget GeForce graphics card, and a longer warranty. If your budget doesn't stretch beyond $1,000, we'd instead steer you toward the 16-inch Gateway MC7803u (or the cheaper MC7801u) or the $849 Dell Studio S1535-143B.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$999|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350|
|Memory||4GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB, 5400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X4500|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (width by depth)||14.1x10.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.9 / 6.8 pounds|
The ZT Affinity N4004i, from the New Jersey-based ZT Systems (formerly ZT Group), features a MacBook-like silver-and black color scheme. The lid, the screen bezel, the strip above the keyboard, and the keyboard itself are a matte black, while the wrist rest, touch pad, and mouse buttons are silver. Like a MacBook, the Affinity has a sparse design, with only a small, orange ZT logo in the center of the lid.
You won't find anything resembling the MacBook's new unibody construction, however. Build quality here is--how should we put this?--lacking. The Affinity N4004i uses an unattractive, boxy, and flimsy, plastic chassis. The two hinges that hold the display measure a narrow 0.5 inch wide, which result in the screen wobbling with the slightest bump or nudge. Even something simple such as the slide release to unlock and open the laptop is done poorly; it has spiky, raised tabs that are uncomfortable to the touch.
The keyboard flexes under normal pressure, though I must admit I'm a fairly heavy and loud typist. The keys also provide a bit too much travel, either that, or the keyboard is set too low because you'll feel the sharp front edge against the side of your thumbs when hitting the Space bar or any of the keys in the bottom row of the keyboard. And to make room for the dedicated number pad to its right, the keyboard is forced to shorten some of its keys. Heavily used keys including the question mark, period, and right Shift keys are all shortened. In all, not the greatest keyboard design. The touch pad is roomy and comfortable to use and features a responsive vertical scroll area along its right edge.
The screen isn't half-bad either. At 15.4 inches diagonal, it has a standard 1,280x800-pixel resolution. Some 15-inch laptops feature a finer 1,440x900-pixel resolution, so you'll sacrifice a bit of screen real estate here but the result is that icons and text are large and legible. It has a glossy finish, but not so glossy that you'll be bobbing and weaving to avoid glare and reflections. The two small stereo speakers located in the back corners of the laptop produce decent sound for an integrated set.
Despite there being plenty of room above the keyboard, you won't find any media shortcut keys. To the right of the power button is a small strip of four buttons to start Outlook and Internet Explorer and enable or disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
|ZT Affinity N4004i||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone/line-in jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, multiformat card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
It's a longer list to describe the ports and connections missing from ZT Affinity N4004i than the one used to describe its inclusions. Missing: HDMI, DisplayPort, eSATA, and FireWire. Included: USB 2.0, ExpressCard slot, and a media card reader. Wireless networking options are covered, with both Draft N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth onboard.
In CNET Labs testing, The ZT Affinity finished in the middle of the $1,000-or-so laptop pack, though its multitasking score was a tad disappointing. Still, any Centrino 2 laptop will suffice for the majority of users. With integrated Intel GMA 4500 graphics, this isn't the laptop for you if you have even a passing interest in 3D games. Many laptops at this price, such as the HP Pavilion dv3510nr and the Asus X83VM-X1 feature a low-end Nvidia GeForce card that allows for casual gaming. And in general, we've seen better graphics performance from ATI's current integrated Radeon HD3200 graphics than Intel's. See the HP dv4-1155se review for more on that.
The Affinity N4004i ships with an extended-cell battery--nine cells compared with the standard six cells. It sticks out of the back of the laptop for three-quarters of an inch but offers superlative battery life. The Affinity N4004i ran nearly 5 hours, impressive even for a nine-cell battery. It ran 30 minutes longer than the Dell Studio 1535 and its nine-cell battery.
ZT backs the Affinity N4004i with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty. Free phone support lasts as long as you own the laptop and is a toll-free call. You can e-mail technical support through ZT System's Web site, but most of the rest of the online support options are geared toward servers and Media Center inquires. Lastly, we appreciate the fact that ZT includes a Vista recovery CD, saving us the trouble of creating one ourselves, and no bloatware with the system.