The 160GB hard drive on our review sample provides ample room for storing a wide assortment of files. It'll easily accommodate a couple of hundred standard-definition movies, or -- if you're obsessed with music -- around 40,000 average-sized MP3 files.
The dot m/a generally provides a pleasant media experience. Its built-in speakers aren't quite loud enough to fill a room, but they're adequate for enjoying audio in a relatively quiet area. The 11.6-inch display is of a fairly good standard. It has a relatively high resolution of 1,366x768 pixels -- more than you get on the vast majority of 10-inch netbooks. Our only complaint is that the vertical viewing angle is slightly limited, which means you may need to do some fiddling with the screen angle to get the picture just right.
The dot m/a includes 802.11b/g wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, but, unfortunately, lacks the faster and longer-reaching 802.11n standard. This is a shame for those looking for machines with future-proof networking capabilities, but most people won't mind, as the netbook still connects to networks used in the vast majority of public hotspots. Similarly, the dot m/a has an ordinary 10/100Mbps wired networking Ethernet adaptor and not the faster Gigabit Ethernet alternative.
The dot m/a comes with a good amount of software. Most notably, it ships with the Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 photo-editing software, Microsoft Works SE 9, Magic Desktop (it protects your kids from Internet nasties), Norton Internet Security 2009, PowerDVD 9 and Nero 8 Essentials. The last two are rather out of place, since they require an optical drive to get the most out of them, but it's always possible to connect an external DVD drive to the dot m/a via USB.
Despite its slow-sounding 1.2GHz AMD CPU, the dot m/a is actually a decent performer. It feels far more responsive than netbooks that use the 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 chip and it's capable of running apps like BBC iPlayer without breaking a sweat. It wasn't quite up to the task of running HD movies -- playback was choppy, and the video and sound weren't quite synchronised -- but it scored an adequate, if not outstanding, PCMark05 score of 1,611, which is on a par with most 1.6GHz Atom N270-based netbooks.
The dot m/a's battery life isn't particularly impressive, however. The battery lasted 2 hours and 25 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test. We've certainly seen worse, and it's on a par with the 12-inch Dell Inspiron Mini 12 netbook, but we usually don't get excited by a netbook unless it lasts in excess of 5 hours in the same test. The Asus Eee PC 1000HE, for example, lasted a whopping 5 hours and 48 minutes.
The Packard Bell dot m/a is a good netbook, particularly for anyone seeking a larger screen than normal. It's slightly bigger than many of its rivals and its battery life is merely average, but it has an excellent keyboard and would make for a great second computer.
Edited by Charles Kloet