What's slim, shiny, supports multi-touch gestures and has just one USB port? No, we're not talking about the MacBook Air, we're talking about the Advent Altro, a £600 alternative to Apple's envelope-loving ultra-portable laptop.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Air must be pretty flippin' chuffed at the Altro's antics. From a distance, without your contact lenses in, you could be forgiven for thinking the Altro is, in fact, the iconic Air. It's roughly the same size -- 226 by 34 by 218mm, compared to the Air's 325 by 33 by 227mm -- although, at 1.6kg, it's 250g heavier than the Apple machine.
The illusion starts to shatter when you get within about 3 feet of the Altro. If the Air is carefully crafted from one solid piece of aluminium, the Altro looks as if it's been slapped together from a pile of melted-down children's toys. Its grey finish looks rather dilapidated by premium-laptop standards, and the lid -- as you'll see in our video review -- seems so rickety, we were worried the screen would come off in our hands.
By imitating the Air so closely, the Altro has inherited some of its flaws. Most notably, the machine is so thin it can't accommodate many ports. The chassis has a built-in audio out port, a single USB socket, an HDMI output, and an MFC port that connects to the laptop's AC power adaptor or an optional port replicator dongle.
If you want to use more than one USB device at a time, you'll need to connect the aforementioned dongle, which is unsightly, to say the least. This unwieldy device provides a D-Sub VGA output, an Ethernet jack and two additional USB ports, as well as a pass-through port for connecting the power adaptor.
It's not all bad news. The Altro's keyboard, which, again, looks very much like the Air's, is relatively good. Each key is isolated from its neighbours by a large gap, meaning typos are rare. Likewise, the touchpad is very good. Its surface sports a glass effect, designed to mimic the look of the Air's touchpad, and is gesture-sensitive. Currently, it supports pinching and stretching gestures for zooming, as well as vertical and horizontal two-finger swiping for scrolling through documents, two-fingered twisting for rotation and three-fingered horizontal swiping for browsing back and forth through documents.
The Altro's component list is a mixture of the good, the bad and the mundane. Its 3GB of RAM represents the good, its 1.2GHz Intel Celeron 723 CPU the bad, and its 120GB hard drive the mundane. 3GB of RAM is 1GB more than you get with the standard Air, and the 120GB hard drive matches the Air's less-than-generous storage, but its CPU is a little pedestrian compared to the Air's Core 2 Duo options.
The Altro's 13.3-inch display is rather mediocre, too. On one hand, it's the perfect size to be used on your lap, or for watching movies in bed. Its 1,366x768-pixel resolution offers enough room to accommodate your Web browser, Twitter client and IM applications simultaneously. Yet it has a limited vertical viewing angle, so it has to be angled perfectly in order to deliver a good picture, and its glossy finish makes it extremely difficult to use outdoors or in any room where the light isn't perfectly diffuse.
That said, the Altro could make a half-decent addition to your media centre set-up. Its integrated Intel graphics card isn't particularly impressive, but, in conjunction with the CPU, it's able to handle high-definition video. Hook it up to your big-screen TV and it'll pass HD video and audio signals via an HDMI cable all day long.
One feature the Altro hasn't stolen from the Air is its fingerprint reader. Nestling between the left and right mouse buttons, this allows users to log into Windows without the hassle of entering a password, or to reinforce Windows security by requiring a fingerprint swipe in addition to a password. The Altro also comes with 'anti-theft software', which lets you lock the system using a keyboard shortcut just as you would by hitting ctrl, alt and delete and hitting the 'lock computer' option.