Hands on With Giga-byte's M912X Mini-laptop

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Taiwan's Giga-byte Technology showed off its new mini-laptop, or netbook, last month at the Computex electronics show in Taipei, and the company gave me a chance to try out their final, production version of the device.

The M912 mini-laptop really has some outstanding features not found on any other netbook currently, and at the price they're quoting for the Taiwan market, NT$19,900 (US$) makes it quite a bargain for the technology on board.

What separates the M912 from the rest of the pack is its 8.9-inch touchscreen that can swivel around 180 degrees. That device is going to ship with Windows XP or a Linux OS, and in future models, Giga-byte plans to use Windows Vista Home Basic.

The device I was able to try out used similar components as rival products, such as Asustek Computer's Eee PC, including a 1.6GHz Intel Atom microprocessor and 1G byte of DRAM.

It took the device 40 seconds to boot Windows XP Professional Version 2002 SP3 (service pack 3), while a model with Vista Home Basic took 69 seconds to boot up. Booting up the Eee PC 901 was faster, but then it uses an SSD (solid state disk) drive, while the M912 has a 160G byte HDD (hard disk drive). SSDs load software faster.

The screen was fun to play with. The company put a stylus in at the top end of the screen that's easy to pull out and replace. You can open the laptop, swivel the screen around to show someone else what you're working on or even lay the screen flat over the keypad to turn the device into a tablet PC.

After Computex, Giga-byte was criticized because the swivel hinge on the M912 they had on display was loose, but the company has fixed the problem with a stronger hinge.

The touchscreen was responsive but there wasn't much software on the device I tried out to take advantage of the touchscreen. The picture quality on the screen itself was about the best I've seen in the mini-notebook category, with resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels, and an LED (light emitting diode) backlight that increases color saturation and brightness while saving battery power.

Considering the screen quality and two 1.5-watt speakers on board, the device is also multimedia ready.

A lack of software was one thing I didn't like too much about the M912. The company plans to ship it without any kind of document suite, despite low-cost or free offerings such as Sun's StarOffice, Google Pack or OpenOffice.

Another drawback was the battery. Giga-byte will only ship a 4-cell battery with the device initially, for about 3.5-hours of power, instead of a 6-cell battery, which almost all rival products are using. A mobile Internet device such as a netbook needs a lot of battery power. Netbooks with 6-cell batteries are rated for about 5 to 7.5 hours of power.

The keypad on the device, something I've found a problem on nearly all the mini-notebooks I've tried out so far, was just so-so. It was difficult to use since it's smaller than a normal laptop keypad, but it wasn't as hard to use as some rivals.

Giga-byte did think of a few add-ons that make the device more user friendly in certain markets. Bluetooth 2.0 wireless data transfer technology is on the device, which is popular in most countries, as is an Express Card slot. The M912 connects to the Internet wirelessly using Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, has a 1.3-megapixel Web cam and a wide array of ports.

The device will be on sale in Taiwan by the end of this month, and in Japan and Europe within a few months of the Taiwan launch.

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