BenQ's Joybook A33E uses an attractive colour scheme -- a cute confluence of two shades of blue. It's slightly larger and heavier than other notebooks in its price range -- namely the Dell Inspiron 630m and Toshiba Satellite M50 -- with dimensions of 350 x 250 x 20-30mm and a weight of 2.8kg. As such, those with significant mobile computing needs should probably look elsewhere.
The A33E is one of the few notebooks we've tested of late that includes some of its ports along the front of the bezel. These ports include one Firewire, two USB 2.0, a headphone jack and a microphone jack -- ideal for connecting external devices (such as a digital camera) on an ad-hoc basis. There are another two USB 2.0 ports on the back, while the left-hand side houses a VGA port, an S-Video port (also known as TV out), a 10/100 Ethernet LAN connector and a modem port.
One qualm we had with the Dell Inspiron 630m was that many of its ports are located on the right-hand side of the unit, which can be an annoying quirk for those using an external mouse, as cords are bound to get in your way. Thankfully, the A33E isn't hindered by this design flaw, with the only component on the right edge being the dual-layer DVD writer.
Two stereo speakers are located to the left and right of the keyboard, so don't expect to be playing any music with the lid closed as the sound gets muffled. The keyboard and track pad are comfortable to use for extended periods, although we would've preferred it if the left and right mouse buttons made a 'click' when depressed.
The notebook is powered by an Intel Celeron M370 (1.5GHz) processor, 512MB DDR2-533 memory and a 60GB hard disk, which is quite reasonable considering its AU$1299 price tag. Similarly, we weren't surprised at BenQ's adoption of an Intel GMA 900 graphics chip, as the A33E is certainly not being marketed as a gaming machine.
Unlike the Inspiron 630m and Satellite M50, the A33E lacks a one-touch instant-on feature, nor are there any multimedia buttons for convenient track navigation. Its networking capabilities are also hindered by the lack of Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth, but thankfully the staples -- 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11b/g wireless -- are present. There's a PC Card slot allowing users to expand the notebook's feature-set down the track, but we were disappointed to find that there's no memory card reader.
The A33E's 15.4" 1280x800 screen is larger than that included on both the 630m and the M50. It's ideal for DVD viewing and the matte finish (as opposed to the gloss coating found on most newer notebooks) is great as it means that the screen doesn't become reflective when used indoors.
Performance and battery life
The A33E's MobileMark2005 office productivity scores fell just short of the 630m and Optima Centoris KN (see graph), but this definitely isn't noticeable during real-world usage. It's a reasonable performer, but as always with a notebook at this price point, don't expect it to work miracles (gaming or heavy multimedia content creation tasks in particular).
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Its battery life performance is quite a way behind the 630m and Centoris KN at just over two hours, but it's still well ahead of the Toshiba Satellite M50. This coupled with its slightly larger dimensions make it unsuitable for significant use on the road, but the battery life should be adequate for those spending most of their time within striking distance of a wall socket.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Service and support
All BenQ notebooks come with a two year pick-up and return warranty, which can be initiated over the phone or through BenQ's website. The warranty covers faulty or defective parts/workmanship, but BenQ won't fix a notebook that's been damaged by accident, misuse, normal wear and tear, or "insect or vermin infestation". We'd therefore advise against bringing it along on your next camping trip!
The A33E is a reasonable notebook for those on a budget, but its dearth of features and low battery life when compared to some of its competitors is undoubtedly a deterrent.