If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Apple design team's collective boots must be soaked in a puddle of ViewSonic saliva. That's because the company's 13.3-inch ViewBook Pro is heavily influenced -- to put it mildly -- by the MacBook Pro. Everything from its name to its silvery finish to the way it's packaged represents an homage to its Apple rival. Everything, that is, except the price -- this laptop retails for around just £650. That's £350 less than the low-end, 13.3-inch MacBook Pro.
We hope ViewSonic has some pretty good lawyers, or else it'll find itself in a world of hurt trying to explain away the similarities between the ViewBook Pro and MacBook Pro. The chrome-effect chassis, black keyboard with isolated keys, black screen bezel, and ViewBook Pro motif below the display may not seem the most obvious of parallels in isolation, but, combined, they make the ViewBook Pro look like something you'd buy in the dodgy corner of a market -- just opposite the counterfeit DVDs.
The ViewBook Pro might resemble a certain other laptop on the surface, but look a little closer and you'll see it doesn't have the same premium build quality. Apple's much-vaunted aluminium unibody has been dropped in favour of a standard magnesium-alloy frame that's been painted silver.
The keyboard, although exceptionally comfortable to use, flexes under pressure and doesn't feel as well put-together as it perhaps could be. Also, some of the text on the underside of the laptop that pertains to its specification and operation isn't written in particularly good English.
The MacBook Pro prides itself on using high-end components, but the ViewBook Pro can't be so smug. There are no fancy-pants Intel Core i series chips to be found here. Instead, it uses an ultra-low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU clocked at a modest 1.3GHz, to help prioritise battery life over all-guns-blazing performance.
The laptop also has 2GB of DDR2, 800MHz RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a DVD rewriter and an Intel integrated graphics card driving its 13.3-inch, 1,280x800-pixel display. It's not as quick or well-equipped as the machine it mimics, but it's by no means a terrible specification, considering the sort of tasks it's designed for.
Get hooked up
The ViewBook Pro seems to have more in common with the MacBook Air than the MacBook Pro as far as connectivity is concerned. The bad news is there are just two USB ports, located on the right-hand side. If you're the sort of person that likes to connect a mouse, you'll be left with just a single USB port to play with.
There is good news, though. Along with a D-Sub video-output port, the ViewBook Pro comes with an HDMI port, which makes it quick and easy to connect the laptop to an external display or big-screen TV.
We can't imagine many MI5 operatives wandering around with a ViewBook Pro, but perhaps they should. The laptop comes with a couple of safety features, most notably the fingerprint reader nestling between the trackpad buttons. With this, users can log into the machine securely without having to enter a password.
Usefully, it's also possible to associate specific applications with each of your fingers. Swiping the relevant finger across the scanner launches that application. Most convenient of all, perhaps, is the fact that the fingerprint scanner can be used to log into your favourite Web sites quickly -- you may never have to type a password into your browser again.
The ViewBook Pro isn't particularly quick, but it's not especially slow either. Its 1.3GHz CPU failed to produce a score in our PCMark05 benchmark test, but, overall, the specification is fine for everyday tasks such as browsing the Web, editing video and watching standard-definition movies. Anything more strenuous -- gaming, for example -- will prove a bridge too far.
One would assume that the ViewBook Pro's lacklustre performance would afford it strong battery life, but that's not the case. The laptop lasted 1 hour and 36 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, which runs the battery down as quickly as possible. With less extreme use, you can expect the ViewBook Pro's battery to last in the region of 3 hours.
People will probably laugh at you for buying the ViewSonic ViewBook Pro, as it's such a poor imitation of Apple's MacBook Pro. If you can overlook that, however, you'll find it's a pretty decent laptop. Although slow, it makes for a worthy travel companion.
Edited by Charles Kloet