Virgin Media Freedom: Hands-on with the 'free' netbook

Virgin Media's giving away a 'free' netbook with its 10Mbps fibre optic broadband package. We've given one a perusal for your delight

Rory Reid
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The netbook gods are too kind. We've already been blessed with a miniature laptop that bears the insignia of some of the fastest cars in the world, and now we've got one that sports the stamp of one of the fastest broadband companies in the UK. We're not worthy.

This is the Virgin Media Freedom -- a 10.2-inch, hyper-portable, Internet-surfing machine that comes 'free' with Virgin Media's 10Mbps fibre optic broadband package, along with a USB dongle that provides 3GB broadband access wherever you can find a mobile-phone signal (although there's a 1GB monthly download limit).

'Free' is probably the wrong way of describing it, because the total package will cost you £669 -- £20 per month for the first three months, then £29 per month for 21 months. The equivalent Virgin broadband deal (minus the netbook) costs £15 per month for the first three months, then £20 per month for nine months, totalling £225.

During our time with it, the Freedom neither impressed nor repulsed us. We quite liked the glossy black lid, although it quickly gets filthy, and the sturdy, if slightly cramped, keyboard, although both the shift buttons are ludicrously small. The multi-touch trackpad is good, too. It responds to pinching, stretching and swiping gestures for zooming and navigating back and forth through Web pages.

Inside, it's netbook business as usual. You get a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and 1GB of RAM, but be aware that the 120GB hard drive is slightly below the 160GB average. Graphics come by way of an integrated Intel GMA 950 adaptor, which isn't good enough for gaming or playing hi-def movies, although the 10.2-inch, 1,024-600-pixel display is of a relatively good standard if you're willing to overlook the fact that its glossy coating turns it into a mirror the minute it hits sunlight.

The Freedom's battery life isn't very good. In our tests, its 3,400mAh battery lasted 1 hour and 53 minutes, so it's nowhere near the 10-hour battery life enjoyed by the best machines in its class.

Would we buy one? Perhaps if we fancied signing up to a fibre optic broadband service. The Freedom only adds £204 onto the cost of the standard 10Mbps broadband package over 24 months, so it's a decent investment if you can't afford to splash out that kind of cash in one lump sum. If you can, you'd be better off looking at something like the Acer Ferrari One, or another of the top ten netbooks in our esteemed list.

Still weighing up the pros and cons? Have a look at the pictures in our gallery to help you decide.

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Look, it's wearing the netbook uniform -- a glossy black coat. It looks pretty good, we'll admit, but it gets filthy every time you touch it.
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The rear is home to a memory-card reader, Ethernet jack, VGA video output and the DC input socket.
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There's another USB port on the left side, along with mic and headphone jacks.
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Another USB port sits on the right. It's all very minimalist.
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The keyboard isn't bad, although both shift keys are far too small. The large, multi-touch trackpad makes up for it though.
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The 10.2-inch screen is glossy, so it's difficult to use outside.

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