At a Glance
- Great price-performance ratio
- Handy audio/video tweaking tools
- Big and bulky for an all-purpose machine
- Incredibly tacky faux leather plastic
The JFL9226 cuts most of the right corners to produce a budget-friendly road warrior. It just needs a facelift.
Micro Express has previously topped our charts with affordable portables such as its IFL9025. So our expectations for the company’s first machine with Intel’s Centrino 2 (the CPU class formerly known as “Montevina”) were pretty high. Keeping true to form, Micro Express comes through with the JFL9226, a well-rounded and well-priced ($1299 as of 7/3/08) all-purpose laptop–though it does have a shortcoming or two.
It’s no shocker that the octane-fueled notebook, packing 3GB of RAM and a 2.53-GHz T9400 processor, whipped through our WorldBench 6 tests as if the rest of the all-purpose laptop pack were standing still. Whether burning disc images or encoding video, nothing else could keep pace: The JFL9226 scored an impressive 103 on the WorldBench test suite. The nearest competitor in the category–Sony’s VAIO VGN-SZ2791N–scored about 10 points lower while costing almost twice as much ($2499 as of 5/30). What’s more interesting is that the JFL9226 has the same guts–well, CPU and 3GB worth of RAM–as Sony’s new 16.4-inch entertainment laptop and still comes out slightly ahead. And it does all this while managing to last about 4.5 hours in battery tests.
The notebook’s 256MB nVidia GeForce 9600GT GPU knocked out reasonably solid numbers in Far Cry (95 frames per second at 1024-by-768-pixel resolution). Just don’t expect to play modern, top-flight games jacked up to the machine’s native 1280-by-800-pixel resolution.
At first glance, the 15.4-inch screen underwhelms: Even with the brightness cranked high, I found it hard to get a clear view of video scenes, and the colors didn’t quite pop. That is, until I tapped the handy shortcut key atop the keyboard that activates the incredibly handy WoW Video feature. That button quickly shuffles through one user-defined and four preset video modes, boosting the video quality noticeably. And you probably won’t leave the “movie” setting if you really like seeing the screen in all its glory. Still not satisfied? Plug a larger external display into the notebook’s HDMI port.
As with WoW Video, an equally handy WoW Audio adjustment button camps on the laptop. But you probably won’t be able to discern any difference in sound quality, thanks to the less-than-spectacular speakers. They sound decent enough, if a little hollow, but you can pop in your favorite headphones to appreciate the beats dropping.
The JFL9226 also houses an integrated Webcam and microphone at the top of the display. It has both 1000-mbps ethernet and modem ports in addition to 802.11 LAN connectivity (and the promise of WiMax support down the road). The only slightly cut corner is the hard-drive space, 200GB. That isn’t tiny, but considering all the multimedia tasks this machine crushes, it’d be nice to have the extra legroom inside this laptop. Other choices made to trim dollars off the price make sense. I mean, nobody is picking up this 7.6-pound anchor for its style.
Unlike Sony’s sleek runner-up, Micro Express’s case isn’t conventionally sexy, though it tries. The hard plastic shell’s interior is goofily textured as if to resemble leather, but nobody will mistake this for an Asus U2E. (It’s about as convincing as faux-wood paneling on a PT Cruiser.) Maybe if Micro Express considered a rubberized coating, I’d be a bigger fan of its big-boned design.
Thankfully, the keyboard is satisfyingly solid. It doesn’t bow under finger pressure and gives just the right amount of clickity-clack tactile feedback while typing. It’s no ThinkPad (those models arguably boast the best keyboards in the biz), but I like it. Though the mouse works as expected, larger–or better-spaced–mouse buttons would be even more welcome considering its size, which allows plenty of room.
In the end, she may not be much to look at, but the JFL9226 has the quicks where it counts. By stacking on enough ports, features, and power for the right price, Micro Express has put together another solid notebook.