The 10.1-inch VNB101 is one of two netbooks available from display specialist ViewSonic. This model, the more advanced of the pair, is aimed at those who want to enjoy computing on the move for very little money. It's available to buy now from all good outlets for around £250.
The VNB101 looks pretty generic. Like most netbooks, it has a glossy black lid (it's also available in red and gold), which attracts so many fingerprint smudges and so much dirt that you'll question your own personal hygiene. We'll give it credit for being cute, though, particularly as it's small and weighs just 1.2kg.
There are subtle differences between the VNB101 and its rivals. Whereas most netbooks sport three USB ports, this machine seems to think it can get away with just two -- one on the left, adjacent to the mic and headphone jacks, and another on the right. It's unlikely that anyone will use more than two USB ports at once, so this isn't a major deal, but we can't help feeling slightly cheated. The fact that there's a three-in-one memory-card reader, Ethernet socket and D-Sub port at the rear doesn't really make us feel any better.
Keys to the pity
Other 10-inch netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC S101 or Samsung NC10, have proven that such machines needn't have rubbish keyboards. Someone clearly forgot to tell ViewSonic, however. The VNB101 is extremely fiddly to type on. Whereas most 10-inchers allow for fast touch typing with relatively few errors, the buttons on this device are small, cramped and will prove problematic for all but the most fleet-fingered typists.
That's somewhat ironic, because the mouse trackpad is, relatively speaking, enormous. It also supports multi-touch, so two-fingered vertical gestures translate to scrolling, and pinching and stretching motions allow zooming in and out of documents. We're happy to report that the feature works, but it's nowhere near as smooth or satisfying as on an Apple MacBook, for example.
ViewSonic is well-known for selling very good screens, and, while it hasn't had a hand in creating this one (the chassis is also shared by a variety of netbooks, including the Virgin Media Freedom) the display on the VNB101 is pretty good. Its LED backlighting is very even and it has a wide viewing angle both vertically and horizontally, so there's less need than normal to constantly adjust the screen angle in order to get the best picture. The only major drawback is the fact that it's covered in a glossy coating, which makes it difficult to use outdoors or in any area where the lighting isn't perfectly diffuse.
The VNB101 holds few surprises under its proverbial bonnet. It uses Windows XP Home Edition, an Intel Atom N280 CPU running at 1.66GHz, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. Its performance is, therefore, virtually identical to that of the vast majority of other netbooks available on the market today, as indicated by a PCMark05 benchmark score of 1,518.
Its battery life is nothing to get excited about either. In Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, it lasted a relatively rubbish 1 hour and 47 minutes, so make sure you keep the power supply -- and some sort of building with an electrical outlet -- nearby at all times.
The ViewSonic VNB101 is a mediocre netbook. There's nothing tremendously wrong with it, but, by the same token, it doesn't do a great deal to stand out from the crowd. We'd only recommend it to those who have small fingers and low expectations. Otherwise, pick from something else in our list of the top 10 netbooks on the market today.
Edited by Charles Kloet